UNITED STATES—The storage locker complex was deserted much of the time; in fact eerily so. Most people came and went silently, and they didn’t lose a lot of smiles. It reminded me of sex motels in Mexico, where it’s possible to have a tryst and food and drinks delivered to your room; never deal with the presence of motel employee, or other person, other than to slip some bills or a credit card through a slot.
The manager of U.S. Storage confided to me, “I often see people when they are not at their best.”
People between places or people having to leave in a hurry, leaving stuff they want to keep, but that they may never see again. In this four day journey, I had come from resentment to peace with all that stuff of ours. My mother and I had no big scenes, no battling over whether to part with some trinket or keep it. Instead, the hostilities brewed in front of a locker down from #122.
A family pulled up next to us, in a lumbering SUV, full of empty potato chip bags and fast-food debris. In the front seat an old woman with a scraped face sat grimly behind fingerprint-smudged windows closed. The one doing the driving was deeply sunburned, and her mouth was as dirty as the SUV. It was not clear at times if she was raging at the three yapping dogs or the old woman in the front seat, or a teen buried all the stuff jammed in the back seat of the SUV.
The drama culminated with the younger tanned one shouting, “You’re not gonna get out of the car! I can beat you! The law gives me the right to beat you.”
I was afraid to look at these people the wrong way. And any way I looked it was gonna be wrong, showing me repulsed, disgusted, sad or condescending. I was glad when they drove off without me having to step in and break something up.
The next day we were going to be free and clear of the “small” locker. We had started Wednesday and were ready to call it quits on Saturday. The Goodwill was mostly helpful—they took our old clothes, even Dad’s gambling books. They did reject a humongous Samsonite case, for having rusty chrome fittings. (Goodwill wants no rust or clothes hangers, either.) With no stomach to add it back to the heap o’ stuff, I ditched the suitcase, feeling potentially dazed at every moment in the parking lot of the taco joint whose bin the Samsonite now hogged, and then drove off stealthily.
“I don’t want to go back,” my mom said on Saturday, as she had said every day on our way to the locker. This time she added, “It’s sure going to be good to be free of this locker.”
I quickly wheeled the last of the boxes, an old-school card table, and kitchen pots, pans from the “small” to the “large” locker. As the corners opened up and the floor became visible mom was very good about sweeping up. We improvised a dust pan out of a piece of cardboard, to rid the peculiarly fine dust that seeped into the hermetic locker, and the mice droppings.
“Let’s stop now,” Mom said, but we weren’t down to the bare walls yet. This was the kind of project where I really had to keep a picture present all the time of that perfect cleanness we were aiming for. And then, magically, unequivocally, sometime late Saturday afternoon the walls and floor of locker #122 were bare.
In the back of my car I’d brought a bottle of champagne, pre-chilled in the fridge at home. There was suspense because the bubbly lay around mom’s house so long waiting for a festive occasion; it might well have gone sour. The Moët & Chandon was good. We poured it into the glasses I had brought.
The managers strolled by and smiled in our direction. They didn’t bust us or shut us down for drinking. We toasted and cheered the sweated-for occasion that had long eluded us. And I poured a cup for my dad who couldn’t be with us. Free at last!
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” now in paperback on Amazon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.