Local Color—Seattle:
Irene & Sheri


This was originally posted on my old website, Life In A Mikeycosm.

Before you read this, I should warn you. This story contains one of the grossest things I’ve ever heard. By the end of the story, things improve and it winds up as one of the funniest things that has ever happened to me… but if you’re at all sqeamish, if you’re the sort of person who just can’t watch some of David Cronenberg’s best movies, you really might want to skip this one.

This is all true. I swear to you. This has not been exaggerated or distorted for the sake of a good narrative… no embellishment could supersede the actual events. Although, one change I made is to divide what happened into three acts, for narrative purposes. It didn’t happen that way originally, it was just one thing and then another, one long sequence, like real life usually is.

O.K. So. I worked for a while at Puget Sound Glassworks, a stained glass studio owned by my friend Patrick. Patrick’s shop, and home, is a loft in the Lincoln Shoe Company building, an old factory building which has been converted to artists’ live/work spaces. Anyway, one day Patrick needed to borrow a circular saw from Irene and Sheri, two artists who shared a loft on the fifth floor.

So, Patrick and I went and knocked on Irene and Sheri’s door. Sheri answered the door, and after getting the saw, stood in the doorway and chatted with us for a while.

As we talked we heard the sound of Irene taken a bath… water rustling & splashing, and Irene moaning… “Aaaaaugh. Ooowwwwww. Auuuggghh.” We looked at Sheri kind of funny, and she said, “Oh, Irene is soaking in epsom salts… she has fiberglass coming out of her body.”

Now, I have the sometimes unfortunate tendency, when told something completely unexpected which begs further inquiry, of ignoring it. (This has gotten in the way of me getting laid many, many times.) Anyway, that’s what I did, and Patrick and I made brief, quizzical eye contact, then let the remark pass.

So, a few minutes later, Irene comes to the door in her bathrobe. Patrick asked her what was going on, and she said, “I’ve got fiberglass coming out of my body. It got under my skin, and it’s moving, trying to get out.”

Now, I swear to you, I made her explain the following to me 3 times, not because she wasn’t being clear, but because my mind simply refused at first to grasp what she was telling me. What it was, was that 2 or 3 days prior she had been ripping apart a box spring, to get the springs out for use in an art project. In the process, she said, some of the fiberglass that had been in the box spring had gotten into her skin through her fingers and dispersed through her body, and was now actually MOVING beneath her skin, in what she supposed was an effort to return back out to the fingertips, to leave her body from where it first entered.

Pretty strange, huh? Like I said, I made her explain this to me three times. She said that for three days she had been extruding strands of fiberglass through her skin… from her arms and legs, from her lips and eyes. Sheri nodded her head in assent and obvious compassion as Irene talked.

“Here,” Irene said, “watch this”. She went slack and let her arms dangle at her sides. Her right arm began to jerk and twitch, and slowly raise. “I’m not doing that… It’s the fiberglass. It’s MOVING.” Patrick and I, at this point, must have had pretty querulous expressions on our faces. “Look at this,” she said. She lifted the hem of her robe to reveal her knee.

Patrick and I, discussing it later, agreed that we had both seen *something* there. Could have been a small varicose vein. Could have been a stretch mark. Could have been a synthetic fiber… buried underneath her skin. “Look,” Irene said, “it’s MOVING.”

“We’ve been pulling them out of her all day,” said Sheri. “Out of her lips, her eyes… look in the sink.” We went over to the communal sink in the hall. In the bottom, in the drain, was about a 9 inch length of what looked, for all the world, like fishing line. We held it up and looked at it. Sheri said, “We pulled that out of her arm.”

After we said our goodbyes, they went into their apartment and Patrick and I headed for the stairs. Once we were out of earshot, we just looked at each other, incredulous. “Patrick,” I said, shaking my head, “I’ve seen some pretty far out things in this life. But *that* took the cake.” Patrick concurred… it was pretty strange.

So a day the next afternoon, I talked to Patrick, and he said that Irene had gone to a doctor that morning, and found out what it was. “And?” I asked.



Pretty gross, huh? A massive cleaning was undertaken in Irene and Sheri’s apartment. I, for one, had decided that if so much as one more person in the building were to catch these parasites, I wasn’t coming back to work there.

Anyway, Irene and Sheri proceeded to pick through, inspect, and bleach if necessary every one of their belongings.

Now as it happened—and by now, we were hanging on for every new development in this surreal little drama—in the midst of all this cleaning, Irene and Sheri found something.

Some sort of cocoons, they said. They were gray and fuzzy, they were all over the apartment, in the furniture, and Irene said she had done a thorough cleanup of the area after pulling apart the box spring a few days previous, and they hadn’t been there then. So, they were pretty freaked.

And, they found something alive in the apartment. In a garbage pail. It looked like a slug… and it was moving.

By now, the building manager, Bill, had taken an active concern. So, they gathered together what they had… the cocoons, the “fishing line”-type worm, the slug-like, presumably adult stage… the complete life-cycle. They put it all in a box, which the manager drove down to the Washington State Department of Health, about an hour or so away in Olympia.

I saw Bill later in the day, after he’d gotten back. I asked him how it went, and he just shook his head at me. He clearly didn’t want to talk about it.


What happened next, I only heard about after the fact.

As it was told to me, Irene and Shelly continued cleaning and disinfecting their belongings. They went through their entire apartment. They filled the tub and washed everything in it.

One morning during the cleanup, Irene showed up at the door of lovely beautiful Christine, a fellow tenant who operated as backup building manager when Bill wasn’t around, which he wasn’t that particular day. Irene had left the bathtub full of mucky water overnight – and something had GROWN in the tub. “It wasn’t there last night,” she said, “And… it’s moving.”

Lovely beautiful Christine followed Irene down to her apartment, into the bathroom. In the tub, something green was floating in the dirty water.

“Irene,” said lovely beautiful Christine, picking the sponge out of the water and holding it up, “this is a SCRUBBIE.” Irene continued to absently point past it into the bath. “Look,” she said dazedly, “it’s MOVING.”

A few days later, Patrick told me the whole situation had ended. The whole thing had been “folie au deux” – madness shared by two. Several days of drug use and no sleep had enfolded Irene and Sheri into their own little two-person mass psychosis. Irene’s condition had all been delusion, including the doctor diagnosing it as worms. There was no infection or infestation. Irene hadn’t had things moving beneath the surface of her skin. She hadn’t been extruding worms out of her eyes, arms and lips at all.

Seems much more reasonable now, right?

And the funny thing is, Bill the building manager drove all the way to the Department of Health in Olympia with a shoebox containing a bunch of lint balls, a strand of fishing line, and a common garden slug!