Heat waves shimmer on the tarmac. A zillion metallic garage-style doors disappear into the horizon. The restless crowd moves back and forth. A woman who could easily pass for your sweet Aunt Mabel suddenly turns her stink-eye on you when you inadvertently take a step forward.
“Back off,” she hisses. “I don’t mind getting arrested for assault again.”
She spreads out her already-wide body in front of you which not only prevents you from seeing straight ahead, but effectively fills your nasal passages with her sharp-cheddar-gone-bad body odor.
A young, lanky guy whose tattoos cover every inch of his skin which, due to the hot weather and, apparently, his disdain for clothing, is pretty copious. He catches your eye, licks his lips, and smiles at you. You’re not sure whether it’s the missing teeth or just the inappropriate gesture that makes his grin seem ominous.
So this is a storage auction. You’ve heard of storage auctions, but this is your virgin journey to one. Should be interesting.
The auctioneer appears between the crowd and the storage units like a magician materializing out of a cloud of smoke. Except that instead of a cloud of smoke it’s a Chevy Tahoe. She’s what your dad would call a “large lady.” She wears aviator sunglasses and carries a clipboard in one hand and an impossibly large to-go coffee cup in the other. You’re curious to see how she opens the storage unit door.
“Okay,” she says so loudly that you peer closely, looking for a microphone. “My name’s Billie Jean and I’m not your lover.” She waits for laughter that never comes. “Here’s how it works. I open the door to this self storage unit, y’all take a quick look, and then we start the bidding. Nobody steps foot inside the unit unless you want me to step my foot inside your unit. If you catch my drift.”
As if on cue the Aunt Mabel look-alike in front of you passes gas.
Oh for Pete’s sake. What the hell is this, try outs for Fear Factor?
As you shuffle sideways a foot or two, Billie Jean unlocks the padlock on the storage unit door and with one monstrous heave, flings the sliding door upwards until the unit is fully exposed. You’re just peering into the unit when you do a quick double take because you realize that Billie Jean’s hands still contain the clipboard and her coffee.
How on earth did she open the door? Ohmygod. She really is a magician.
It’s fortunate that you’re tall, as you have a pretty clear view of the contents of the storage unit over everyone’s heads. You see a sofa, a couple of La-Z-Boy recliners—one still in reclined mode with a can of soda in the built-in armrest cooler, as if the occupant had suddenly fled mid-game—a refrigerator, and what looks to be several mattresses piled on top of each other. The rest of the space contains floor-to-ceiling cardboard boxes, which you assume go all the way to the back of the unit.
Nothing too special. Unless those stained and kicked-in boxes are filled with pirate loot, a mint condition, first-edition comic book or the uncashed royalty checks from a major pop band, it doesn’t look like you will be retiring any time soon.
“Looking for a $500 start,” says Billie Jean.
A buyer in the crowd raises her arm, Billie Jean makes note on her clipboard, and then for the next two minutes she speaks so rapidly it sounds like the Chipmunks on helium in fast motion. The minute your ears are able to catch up to her words, you raise your hand and the auction is over. Not unlike your first time having sex. Minus the raised hand, of course.
“Sold, for $1100!” Billie Jean barks as she points at you.
You move forward and finally step into the unit to see whether you’ve just doubled or lost eleven hundred big ones. A stocky man with a baseball cap, Lions jersey, and plaid shorts snickers as you pass him. You’re pretty sure he just muttered “Loser,” to which you respond by taking the high road: looking him up and down and saying, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
The furniture in the unit is used, but in decent condition. You pull down a few random boxes to get a sense of what might be inside of them and freeze. Four pairs of unblinking eyes are trained on you.
“What?” you say to no one in particular.
The wall of cardboard boxes was only one box deep, built to hide the family of four who is clearly living in the unit. And evidently in the middle of breakfast when the unit door was suddenly opened. Plates, cutlery, cups and napkins form a circle on the floor behind the boxes. A thin rope is strung between a lamp and a bookcase to fashion a clothesline on which undergarments hang.
Billie Jean comes up behind you with her clipboard.
“Gonna need to see your driver’s license, honey,” she says.
You turn to her and point to the family living in the storage unit you just purchased.
“What about them?”
Billie Jean pulls her aviator glasses down her nose a bit and looks over the top of them at the two adults and two kids still sitting frozen in the same spot.
“Huh,” she says pensively. “Whaddya know.”
“Whaddya know?” you repeat. “What I know is there’s a family living in my unit!”
“Keep your voice down,” she cautions, glancing over her shoulder, “or everyone will want one!”
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