Because I know the ending of this story, I can tell you now it’s not going to be as funny as I thought it might be as I was living it out. At the beginning I was carried away with the possibilities as they unfolded because at the beginning I was an idiot. Oblivious to the existential ramifications of a seemingly holistic and innocent act of high spirits and a can-do attitude.
I’ll try to start at the top but you’ll forgive me if I jump around a bit. Honestly, I’m not even sure how I’m going to make it to the end because in my head this is one of those stories that is far too true to end. I really do try to be honest when I’m writing and sometimes it ends up funny and other times it sucks and I can’t help but feel if I stay within the stifling confines of honesty that this one might suck a lot.
I’ll skip the back-story about how I ended up at a storage auction because otherwise this short story will end up a novel. Actually, if I were ever to have the urge to sit and bang out a 400 page book I think this would be as good a story as I’m going to get, but I can’t be bothered so I’ll just skip ahead to the good parts.
I was at a storage auction. For those that don’t know, these are held when someone stops paying for their rental space/locker so the storage facility puts out a public notice and a bunch of vultures who own secondhand shops and thrift stores swarm in and bid on the contents. There are a bunch of reality shows out now that romanticize the proceedings but without the editing and dramatic music it’s really quite a depressing collection of people blindly bidding on stacks of dusty boxes in the hope that buried somewhere within them is something worth selling. Of course, my friend didn’t pitch the idea of attending in quite this way so I agreed to go and check it out.
I bought a locker.
The last one of the day. I was the last bidder and then silence. I don’t know why but I just shot my hand up and won the damn thing. At the time it seemed hysterical. We both had driven there in minivans so we were actually able to load all of the boxes into them and head back to my place for the big reveal. I have to admit I was a bit giddy at what might lurk within the various boxes and unusually large number of duffel bags. Who owns 10 large duffel bags?
As I write this you can probably tell my tone has improved and you’re waiting for some funny stuff to unfold as a result of the purchase of said contents of the storage locker. I feel it as well because I’m forgetting for a moment how this ends and remembering how I got all caught up in the excitement of it.
When I got home my friend and I unloaded all of the boxes and bags onto the front lawn and decided to go through everything thoroughly just like they do on the TV shows. We joked about the possibility of the bags containing severed heads or cocaine and we circled them for a few minutes, almost hesitant about beginning.
Over the next 5 hours we found out that these were the belongings of a guy named Dennis. He had died 4 months beforehand and that explained why the storage locker had been up for auction in the first place. We found out he died from Google, after we learned every damn thing about him which obviously included his name and where he was from. Here is where funny and sucks parted ways. He had been 57 when he passed away, he was somewhat mentally handicapped and spent years working at a grocery store. We knew this because he had kept his time cards and the hat he had worn to work. He had been married for awhile but his wife had left him. We found this out reading the painful letters and cards he had kept. He had spent the last years of his life in a group home.
He was so fucking human it was beautiful, there were multiple boxes filled with a mix of bibles and various religious material sitting right on top of a breathtaking collection of hardcore porn. For awhile when we were separating things into what we were going to throw out and what we were going to keep we actually put them in different bags but then agreed that it was much more appropriate to throw them out together. They had been partners for years so it seemed cruel to make them split up at the very end.
It was a heartbreaking five hours. Going through all that was left of somebody on this earth was brutal. Dennis even provided us with a moment right out of the movie Se7en when we found notebook after notepad filled with lists of everything that had appeared on QVC for weeks at a time. Every item and every price. His handwriting was neat and deliberate and to think of him sitting in front of a TV writing down this stuff for what must have been months was so creepy that there was absolutely nothing funny about it.
I’m not sure how the people in the TV shows do it. For the record, Dennis had an amazing collection of old records and Elvis memorabilia that when we sell it will make us literally thousands of dollars. As I only paid $200 for the locker you’d think this would fill me with an unquenchable enthusiasm for going and buying another locker, but I swear if I could do it all again I would have kept my hand down and just walked away empty-handed. Throwing out the clothes and toiletries and bank statements and framed pictures and unbelievably large number of calculators and wallets (apparently it must have been hard to find that special gift for Dennis) belonging to somebody you never met and you know you’ll never meet is hard. Looking out at the end of your driveway and seeing it all waiting to be picked up by the garbage men the next morning is brutal.
Hooking up the old VCR wasn’t too difficult. Deciding to watch a video we found of his 40th birthday party seemed only natural, a nice way to pay our respects. Watching the video of his 40th birthday party was surreal and despite the nervous laughter as the characters that made up his life were introduced one by one we both felt the knot in our stomachs forming. We watched every minute, a whole fucking hour of it because to turn it off somehow seemed unconscionable.
We booed and hissed when his fat whore of a wife appeared with him, we knew how it would turn out, although at the time Dennis himself was blissfully unaware, but we also choked up when they kissed as Barry Manilow sang Mandy in the background.
This isn’t the first time I’ve found it difficult to capture something with words but in this case you should be glad. I almost want this story to be as awkward and clumsy as possible to spare you from actually feeling some of the shit that we felt. Better to think I suck as a writer than view yourself, however briefly, as nothing more than a bunch of boxes and bad videotapes waiting to be tossed after being picked through by either loved ones or strangers or people that might be both. I mean, how many people knew Dennis kept his porn with his bible study stuff?
At the end of the video Dennis was presented with a birthday cake that was in the shape of a girl wearing a bikini. The candles on her breasts served as flaming nipples and were the kind that after you blew them out they lit up again so as his family pressed around him he hammed it up for the camera trying unsuccessfully to extinguish them. He then cut the first piece of cake and chose to take the slice from out between the cake’s wide open legs which left a giant inappropriate gash oozing some sort of red filling that the children took no notice of but had us smiling despite ourselves. That was so Dennis.
I now know 100% that there are no such things as ghosts. I always believed it, but I now have proof because if such things existed there would be no way in this world or the next that I wouldn’t have been awaken in the depths of night by a confused or even angry apparition wondering why I was throwing all of his stuff away. No visitation. Except for the rumbling of the garbage truck outside hauling away all that remains of Dennis to the dump.