USA Decon
"This headband totally covers my bald spot."

The Grim Sweepers

The drive to Beaumont took more than an hour, and I thought about death the entire time. These weren't your run-of-the-mill musings on mortality (although that would've been very alliterative of me). I was on the way to meet the guys of USA Decon, a Pearland-based trauma cleanup service, to watch them mop up the remains of a man who'd spent the last two weeks decomposing in his two-bedroom apartment. I expected to see some blood and guts. I'd read enough about death — and seen enough episodes of CSI — to know it wasn't going to be pretty. What I didn't realize was how hot it was going to be.

The guys suited me up in hazmat gear after I arrived, and it wasn't minutes before tiny puddles began forming in the fingers of my rubber gloves. My hands would eventually end up more wrinkled than a Dan Rather metaphor. The professionals weren't immune to the heat either, and soon we were a wizened bunch.

But you're probably more interested in the macabre details...

The old man's body had been removed, as it always is in these situations, but there was a couch covered in fluids and some coagulated chunks on the floor. I had expected to get sick or even pass out, but, really, no lie, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I'd imagined on the ride there. You kind of disassociate yourself from the whole thing, think of it as just another mess.

But on the drive home, the sight of the fluids on the floor kept flashing in my mind. Two days later, I was barbecuing some hamburger patties, and as I shooed away the flies, I couldn't help but wonder where those little suckers had been. And then a day after that I took out the trash, opened up the lid and that smell — rotten, organic, overwhelming — brought me right back to that two-bedroom apartment in Beaumont.

An old man died, alone. And I was there to see the mess.

I don't have what it takes to be a death cleaner. Think you could handle it? I'd suggest reading this Thursday's Houston Press before you answer. — Keith Plocek

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