I’m a hoarder. I’m one of those A&E weirdos that you see on TV. I can show you my gum wrapper collection if you want. I mean, I have like six-thousand (6000) gum wrappers because I’m like, what if I need to spit my gum out —into the wrappers I mean. I need to have at least one wrapper for each piece of gum I eat, but I usually spit my gum out and flush it down the toilet. There’s this one (1) piece that’s stuck on the side of the bowl and last week I drank three (3) pints of water just to try and piss it off. It didn’t work, incase you were curious. I keep my gum wrapper collection underneath my porno mags. I like to chew a stick of gum, stick in a DVD, stick it up and stick it in. That’s not what I’m about though –I still believe in love.
I’m trying to watch less porn and more art. The Pulp Fiction kind I mean, I’ve got no patience for any other. I’m running out of space though. In my apartment I mean. I’ve just got so much stuff that, like if an archeologist came in here he’d find enough shit to fill up a museum. Exhibit A: Barely Legal Cream Teens 3, missing DVD sleeve. Exhibit B: The Shawshank Redemption, unopened. I’ve found a solution though. Three (3) weeks ago I installed fourteen (14) aluminum bars in my apartment. They run –at chest height– horizontally from wall to wall, dividing the room into upper and lower halves. There’s an aluminum machining place not far from where I work –it is only six (6) minutes away, seven (7) if the streetlight is red.
The intersection has one of those smart sensors that knows when a car is waiting to cross. It’s usually very empty around the Pinewood Call Center (where I work), so the stoplight is actually more like a stop sign. I added one (1) minute to my time estimate because sometimes the light doesn’t turn green, even if there are no other cars waiting to cross. I think it’s because I drive a Smart Fortwo –for one actually, since my mom passed away– and it only weighs sixteen-hundred (1600) pounds. Maybe there’s a weight sensor that doesn’t recognize anything under two-thousand (2000) pounds. After all, four (4) very fat people and a skinny dog weigh about as much. I am not even taking into account their size twelve (12) shoes and XLL clothes, which probably weigh another ten (10) pounds. I guess you wouldn’t want the lights to turn green as you and your friends are crossing the street.
Still, I don’t know anybody who is five-hundred (500) pounds, and even if I did I don’t think he’d have three (3) friends who were also that heavy. My Smart car weighs between one-thousand, seven-hundred and thirty-one (1731) and one-thousand, seven-hundred and thirty-four (1734) pounds with me in it. If I weighed four-hundred (400) pounds I bet the stoplight would turn green for me. Too bad I don’t even weigh half that, but I’m only nineteen (19). I still have time. Even a Honda CR-Z weighs two-thousand five-hundred and forty-four (2544) pounds.
I know this because Daniella drives a CR-Z and she said the lights always turn for her. She works at the call center with Bobby, Rick, Patel, and me. We (together), are the Pinewood Extended Warranty Call Center Representatives.
I love my job. Pinewood is this big-box store that has locations all over the southwest. They offer extended warranties on fishing lines and BB guns and laptops. There are three conditions that must be met before a customer can receive a replacement or refund. I will outline them for you:
- The customer must be able to provide us their original sales receipt
- We do not cover accidental damage, we only refund or replace defective items
- The extended warranty is a two (2) year extended guarantee.
My job is to:
- Process refunds and exchanges (or repairs!) for items that are eligible for the extended warranty
- Make no allowances on ineligible items (Pinewood sends us posters that say: Be Polite But Firm! Allowances are not tolerated!)
I am good at my job. There are days where I make zero (0) allowances. I don’t like to make allowances unless there is something wrong with the product. It really grinds my gears when a customer tells me how they put their phone in the wash or spilled coffee on their laptop. They don’t take care of what they have. And they always ask for an exchange or refund. Nobody wants us to repair their fishing line or BB gun. They want brand new products, and want nothing to do with the old ones. They throw away the products that are broken, and forget about them entirely. I once got an award for saving Pinewood eight-thousand (8000) dollars —in a month! They gave me a Pinewood lapel pin and two (2) fifty (50) dollar gift cards to Red Lobster. I invited Bobby, Rick, Patel, and Daniella.
Here is a list of the people who didn’t show up to Red Lobster:
Out of the five of us, Bobby and I look the most similar, or at least everybody says so. We are both white and nineteen (19). The call center likes to hire students during the summer (I don’t go to school, so I work here all year). Of course, Daniella is white too. She is even nineteen (19), but Daniella is:
a) a girl
Patel is twenty-three (23). He is Indian, but not the Iroquois or Sioux kind. He has brown skin even darker than the teak-wood walls in my apartment, which are warped and have grown darker with each passing year. Bobby makes fun of him for his poor English, but Patel doesn’t seem to mind. He says, ‘Bobby, what does it say about me if I feel insulted by a man like you?’ Bobby doesn’t like riddles, so he takes a yellow rubber band out of his pocket and shoots paperclips at the back of Patel’s head. Patel’s wife (he is married!) used to make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every morning, but now Patel gets up extra early to make curry, which Bobby hates. They both secretly like each other though —Patel invited Bobby over to his house last summer, even though I’ve always wanted to see the inside of Patel’s house. I wonder if it’s like mine; I’ve never been to an Indian person’s house before.
Rick is older than all of us. He used to be a pilot in the United States Air Force, where he flew a CH-47 Chinook in the Vietnam War. Rick talks very slowly. He doesn’t want to get his words mixed up, but he does anyway. The managers at Pinewood want to fire him, but I think they’re all afraid of him. Bobby tells me that they can’t fire Rick even if they wanted to, which I guess makes sense, because they definitely want to fire him. Bobby also tells me that Rick took military grade LSD in Vietnam, but I don’t know if I believe him on that one. It would explain a lot though. Rick just reads a lot of thick paper-back books with shiny embossed letters on the front. They’re always written by this man named Clancy, and the covers always look so serious, just like Rick.
Daniella is Daniella. She is super thin and pretty and smart. She’s like the girl in every Velvet Underground song. I even gave up weed for her. She hates Pinewood, which is why she also works part time as a nude model. It twists my heart into knots just thinking about her standing cold and naked in front of art school students and pervy teachers. I don’t even want to imagine her naked, that’s how much I like her. I just want to throw a blanket around her shoulders and kiss her and start a band together, like —she could play the drums and sing and I could play the electric guitar and we’ll always play it slow. We’ll call ourselves the Cruel Kings and collect distortion pedals and guitar strings. That would be perfect, except she’s one of those people who can say ‘I love you’ without feeling it, and I’m one of those people who can love someone without saying it.
Greg is not a Pinewood Extended Warranty Call Center Representative, but he does work at Precision Metal Pro, which is where I bought my aluminum bars. The thick-armed man who works there custom-made them for me. When I got home I installed the bars with Rick’s metal-boring drill. Rick did not ask me why I needed one. After placing a couple dozen 8 x 8 planks on the bars, my formerly one (1) floor apartment has since become two (2).
The first floor is about three (3) foot high. I have to get on my knees and crawl just to get under there. I use the space as my general living area. My bed (now on the second floor), has been replaced with a roll-out bamboo futon. It is cool to the touch, which is nice, since the AC doesn’t make it past the second floor.
The second floor is about five (5) foot high. I keep all my stuff up there. There is the coffee table that was there before I moved in. Its legs are turned upwards like a tipped-over cow. Next to it is my mother’s dresser, a solid thing with heavy oak doors. It was just one of the many personal items that I got to keep after she died. The titled property belongs to someone else. Inside the dresser there is:
Two (2) photographic albums of me and my mom (sometimes together)
One (1) marriage certificate to a Frank C. Webber (ripped up and taped
One (1) carton of Newport cigarettes, half-full
One (1) name-tag on a lanyard. It reads: Barbara A. Webber
Twelve (12) vintage decorative plates
Fourteen (14) shirts, faded and wrinkly
Nine (9) skirts, four (4) of them black
One (1) dress, looks like something Daniella might wear
Across from the dresser there are two (2) bicycles. One is a green children’s bicycle, complete with creaky training wheels. The other is a vintage Schwinn Cruiser. Hung on the handlebars are faded pom-poms, stereo/VCR RCA cables, and a plastic bag full of beanie babies (lightly used). Frayed posters and flea-market paintings line the walls while an array of plastic army men litter the floor. Everywhere there is junk mail, newspapers, and as seen on TV products. Knick-knacks and wind-up dolls defend themselves against toy dinosaurs and a stuffed griffin. I now own three (3) bargain basement sofas. All of it is conveniently stored on the second floor. I still have my clean living space downstairs. It makes the mess bearable.
For a whole year I’d been living in the clutter of my apartment, moving around the place with increasing difficulty. I finally decided to install a second floor after stepping on a particle board that left splinters in my foot. It took me an entire weekend to install the bars, and another two (2) weekends to pile everything onto the second floor. Today, to celebrate, I have invited the following people to my (newly renovated) apartment: Bobby, Rick, Patel, and Daniella.
Patel is first, and the only one to arrive on time. He comes in quietly and takes off his shoes, sliding them into the only unused corner of my apartment. I gesture proudly at the new installation, which he looks at with open-mouthed surprise. It is brief though —he quickly swallows, shrugs, and gives me a slow thumbs up. I know he is trying hard not to shake his head. I give him the nickel tour. It takes me twenty (20) seconds.
Next to arrive is Rick. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen who still wears a hat everyday. He comes in slowly and takes off his jacket before turning towards me. ‘What the fuck?’ he says, his eyes narrowing. I turn to answer before I realize that he’s making a statement. Patel puts a hand on Rick’s shoulder as Bobby knocks. Bobby is the only person who knows what I’ve been doing the past couple of weekends. He is excited to see the changes that I have made. I get a high-five and he tosses me a beer, which I don’t catch. It falls with a crash. I kick it into the corner.
Daniella doesn’t come.
The housewarming party is going well. I took my friends to the balcony —we had to crawl through the first floor just to get to the sliding door (Rick is a surprisingly fast crawler). I showed them my Nesco Five-hundred (500) Watt Food Dehydrator, which I purchased from Walmart for twenty-seven (27) dollars and eighty-eight (88) cents. I have marked up the instructional booklet that came with the dehydrator —selected passages read as follows:
1. Select foods to dry
2. Lay food pieces evenly on trays. Don’t overlap food pieces.
3. Drying times vary. Keep records to help predict drying times. Note: my records read six (6) hours for one-eighth (1/8) inch cuts of beef.
4. Meats should always be dried on the highest temperature setting
5. Promptly package all dried foods. The shelf life of dried foods will be extended three (3) to four (4) times.
I keep the beef jerky in mason jars. I have dozens of mason jars all full of jerky, the dark red meat cut into thin strips, preserved indefinitely in their airless environment. This way, I can keep them for years and years. They look like splotches of congealed blood, but I am just being gross. Patel is very interested in the dehydrator. He asks me a lot of questions, then he texts his wife. She responds a minute later. Patel flips his phone open, reads her text, and turns to ask me how much I paid for the dehydrator. I tell him and he types the numbers into his cell-phone. This time, his wife does not text him back. Bobby peers into the jars with keen interest. Rick inspects them mistrustfully.
We are all interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. I crawl through the first floor and open the door, hoping that Daniella has come. It is not Daniella. Instead, it is Mrs. Pollock, my land-lady. She is like the fish, all skinny with an overbite. I swear she has an Adam’s apple. Mrs. Pollock and I have never gotten along. She thinks I’ve gone crazy ever since my mom died. To her, my cluttered apartment looks like a byproduct of the intersection between laziness and mental illness. What she doesn’t know is that I keep my apartment the way it is for good reason: I had just turned eighteen (18) when my mom passed away. In the days and weeks that followed I received letters from lawyers who wanted to examine her will and cards from coffin makers. I got bills that I had to pay and brochures detailing funeral expenses. The death industry is about as robust as the health industry. I think they make less money though. I kept all the letters because I didn’t know what to do with them. As time passed I just decided to keep everything. Who knows what’s important and what’s not? You never know if something might come in handy.
Of course Mrs. Pollock understands none of this. She looks at what I’ve done to the place and gasps. It is silent for a few seconds as she takes in the changes. Then she slowly points at me with a knobby finger and hisses ‘are you insane?’ through gritted teeth. The old lady pushes past me and fumbles with the stuff I have on the second floor. She sweeps the army men onto the first floor of my apartment. They clatter and shower my friends, who have just crawled out from underneath. Upon seeing the bolts in her wall she shrieks and rips at the plastic bag on the handlebars of the Schwinn Cruiser. Beanie babies fly past my head. ‘Mrs. Pollock,’ I try to explain, ‘the installation, it’s safe. I did a lot of research you see–’
Patel looks very anxious. Bobby is trying not to laugh. Rick stands with his arms dangling at his sides. Mrs. Pollock is livid. I try one more time, ‘M –Mrs. Pollock, the bars are drilled into the wood studs behind the wall. It’s safe.’ At the last word she twists her neck and turns to me. ‘Safe? Safe??’ she screams, waving her arms as if she were going to burst, ‘You call this safe you idiot? You prat. You’re your mother’s child all right. You fool. Buffoon. Empty-brained lunatic.’ She recited it like an incantation, kicking and swiping at the things I owned. I don’t know what to say. I don’t understand why she is so angry. Does she not know I plan to live in this apartment for the rest of my life? It has become a place I never want to leave.
Now Mrs. Pollock has fully transformed from fish into painter. At this point she is making these wild gestures, a flurry of tornado-like motions. I decide to let her tire herself out. I hope she will die down like a Texas twister. Sure enough, she makes a few more frustrated movements and slows like a wind-up doll. She turns very quiet. I can tell she is thinking, and that makes me very nervous. The room has become deathly still. Bobby looks at Mrs. Pollock. I look at Bobby. Rick looks at me. Mrs. Pollock faces the wall. Patel’s phone rings. It is his wife. He will not get to own a dehydrator. I try, unsuccessfully, to stifle a laugh. I have made a very bad mistake.
Mrs. Fish n’ Paint turns and smiles at me devilishly. She is a fish again, all slimy and glossy. Before I realize what she is about to do she storms off, climbing back up to the second floor and heading straight towards my oak dresser. I raise my hand in protest but it is too late: she rips the drawers open and I hear the sound of plates shattering. I close my eyes and suddenly feel very hot. She takes the carton of cigarettes and shakes them, dumping them out in a shower of nicotine. Newports scatter everywhere. The woman knew my mother, why would she do this to me? She reaches for the photographic albums, then hesitates when she sees my face turn red. But it is too late. I fling myself at her, my eyes seeing daggers, my mouth contorted, making incoherent sounds laced with scarlet words. Patel grabs me by the waist and drags me back, protesting in his stilted English, ‘stop, stop. Please... Bobby! Help me out here!’ Bobby grabs Mrs. Pollock. She stares limply. I can tell she is scared.
It takes Patel ten (10) minutes to calm me down. At this point I am shaking. I hear the land-lady whispering furiously in the hallway, ‘he’s got to go. He’s a hoarder and a menace and I don’t want him living here.’ I hear Rick’s voice, slow and measured as always, ‘why not ma-make a deal with him. You don’t have to t-turn the boy out.’ They go back and forth for a couple minutes before their voices subside.
Everything is settled now. I am not getting kicked out of my apartment. However, I will have to remove the aluminum bars and throw away the 8 x 8 panels, leaving my apartment permanently one (1) floored. In repayment for breaking my mother’s plates, Mrs. Pollock will pay some repairmen to patch up the drywall. She says I will have to sell some stuff to replace the carpeting, which has since become dirty and mottled, and the teak-wood sidewall, which is starting to look like a ship that has caved in on itself.
Now I am standing outside my apartment with the Pinewood Extended Warranty Call Center Representatives, everyone minus Daniella. Everyone is patting me on the back, telling me about how cool my two-story apartment was, telling me how glad they were that they got to see it before it was torn down. Everybody minus Daniella, that is. I’m not too upset with the results of my fight with Mrs. Pollock except for the fact that I have to pick out the things I want to sell, which is nothing, of course.
We all sit down on the grass and help ourselves to my home-made beef jerky. I thumb through my phone. I have a missed call.
I scroll through my recent contacts. There is a solid line of Mom and Home, which I have to scroll through with three swipes. Then a few Bobby’s and Patel’s. Then the Ranch Water District, the Survey Solutions Group. Mrs. Pollock and Bobby a few more times. Then, at the very bottom, in pulsing red MISSED text: Daniella.
Daniella has never called me before. I first met her when we were both sixteen (16). She only works summers, so I get to see her for three (3) months and go another nine (9) without seeing or hearing from her. I imagine her showing up in her typical outfit, an abbreviated camisole that shows the dimples in her stomach and the small of her back, and her long, inky black jeans that taper off into two thin ankles and a pair of off-white sneakers. Maybe I’ll get to kiss her today. I press Return Call.
She picks up immediately. Her voice is bright and soft and sweet. She says, ‘Wilson?’
I love it when she says my name. I swallow nervously. ‘Is this Wilson?’ she says again, her voice trailing off. I think of the vintage bicycle and the dress and the posters and I want to show her everything and let her choose which one she wants, and then I want to give her everything. ‘Yes it’s me,’ I answer. Everybody is staring at me. I press the phone closer to my ear. She gathers her words and speaks again, ‘I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it today.’ I want to tell her that it’s okay, that it’s no big deal. I want to tell her that there’s still one more month of summer left, and that there’s time for us to hang out and for me to show her everything I wanted to show her. Instead, I didn’t say a word. She continued, ‘I was having –ugh– I was on this awful date today and he told me –in the end he– ugh, you know what, I’ll just tell you at work, it’s easier that way. I’ll come by next time, I promise.’ ‘Okay,’ I say, ‘I guess –I guess I’ll see you later.’ She hangs up.
I drop my phone and lie down on the grass. The blades feel cool against my arms and neck. Bobby crouches down next to me. ‘So she’s not coming?’ he says, examining an empty snail shell. I nod weakly. ‘She never comes,’ says Patel. ‘Screw her,’ says Rick. Patel rubs his arms. I must have scratched him while he was holding me.
I am not surprised that Daniella has found yet another excuse not to visit. I am disappointed as always, but not surprised. She is always disappointing me; perhaps I am only disappointing myself. I’m not sure which it is anymore. I know I should give up already. I will be twenty (20) in two (2) months and then I will have known her for four (4) years. That means I will have loved her for one-fifth (1/5) of my life. In five (5) years it will be for one-third (1/3) of my life. I am afraid I will love her the rest of my life. That is too long for somebody who doesn’t love you back. There isn’t anything I can do about it though, so I just shrug it off. I think to myself that I will invite her over again next summer, next time to a house that is clean and orderly. It has to be, since I have to sell my stuff to pay for repairs. There is one man selling beanie babies on eBay for a hundred-thousand (100000) dollars. I think if I try very hard I can save Pinewood that much money in a year. I sit up and walk back to my apartment. My friends follow me, cracking jokes about Mrs. Pollock and Daniella. I only laugh at the ones about Mrs. Pollock.
My apartment has become even messier in the land-lady’s wake. I sigh and bend down to pick up the things that are scattered across the floor. I put the little plastic army men and beanie babies in one (1) bag. I gather up the Newport cigarettes and put the photographic albums in another. There are some items that I think hard about, like the vintage Schwinn bicycle that I wanted to give to Daniella. Bobby tells me to throw it away. Rick says it’s garbage. Patel wants it for himself. I decide to keep it, and roll it into the only unused corner of my apartment. I carefully go through each item in the room. It takes me a long time to decide how to sort them. Bobby has ordered pizza. We are all sitting cross-legged on my roll-out futon (only Rick is standing) and I am feeling a little bit better about today —I am done sorting. We tell stories about our worst customers and laugh about the silly motivational posters that Pinewood sends us. I go through the bags one final time, making sure I haven’t made any bad decisions regarding which items I want to keep and which items I have to sell. These decisions are hard, but they are decisions I have to make.
Here are the contents of a notepad I have affixed to my fridge. Please pardon my handwriting:
0 16 0
1 17 1/17
2 18 1/9
3 19 3/19
4 20 1/5
5 21 5/21
6 22 6/22
7 23 7/23
8 24 1/3
There are only twenty-six (26) days left before everyone has to go back to school. This year I think I will join them. The local community college is offering free courses, and Bobby and Daniella will be there. Of course I will miss Patel and Rick, and I will miss my job at Pinewood. I cannot save Pinewood one-hundred thousand (100000) dollars this year, but I’m sure they’ll understand. I remind myself that I can go back next summer, but next summer is a year away. I don’t know what will happen in college. Maybe I will learn something new. God knows there are things I have yet to learn.
Jan 16th, 2014