My Father the Vulture
© Copyright 2014 by Jaka Wescott
I wrote this nonfiction piece after visiting this little town near allentown. Perhaps it was because I'd just finished watching Gilmore Girls, and possibly because I find small towns inherently creepy, but that place was full of characters, events, and situations that just begged to be described and set down. As I stood there, I realized that the only reason I could witness these absurdities was because of my father's unique job. I wanted to write something that was as much about him as it was about how I felt.
We've been driving for an hour when my father finally pulls his camo-green X-Terra up to this storage-unit auction. We had to drive through a small town that I comment to my father looks like it has been struck by an apocalypse – every house has a strange, brown grime on the side, several dogs wander, the road work that made driving in difficult only seems to add to the feeling that every single person I see (not many) has a fall-out shelter and a gun. The banner reading red-neck festival that we pass marks this town as the anti-Star's Hollow.
Upon seeing the storage unit facility, five Canadian geese grazing behind a barbed-wire fence, and a forest backdrop, I want to set an episode of the X-Files here. Even as the auctioneer pulls up the first door to reveal the unit, I can see the mangled, rotting bodies and human-juice drippings as Mulder pokes his finger in the blood and Scully stands back with that “oh Mulder” look. What I really see is an item collage of the average, American life: mattresses, card-board boxes full of baby toys, books, and tools, VCRs and stereos rendered obsolete by the second coming of the digital age, plastic bags hiding almost anything, sweat, dust, spiders, and my father, first in line to look, flashlight in hand studying the crammed blob of human possessions with the intensity of an art critic and a discerning look that separates him from the crowd.
Behind him I see a woman so buff as to have lost her more feminine endowments, the stance of a trucker, and the tattoos to match. At her side, stands a twiggy guy that only serves to make me believe she punches bears for a living and saved him from the Indians before taking him, her handbag-boyfriend. She stands out particularly because the other young women stand off near the cars, their feet tapping the ground while their nails click against the screen of their phone impatiently; they aren't happy. It is Friday night and their guys dragged them to a storage-unit auction. Given the way they all chew their gum, roll their eyes, and click those screens, I don't know who to feel sorry for.
I'm following my father now as he stops before each unit. He is methodical as he looks at them – always left to right, flashlight held high like he is encouraging others to behold the cave of wonders, and pausing only when an item/s of interest appear. I can see how he strokes his beard, coughs lightly in consideration (or is the dust from this unit bothering his allergies as much as it is mine?) and moves on.
My father, the professional player of the real-world, auction house: eBay. He honed his technique playing games like Everquest 2, Runes of Magic, and any other game that has an auction house and rewards anal-retentive behavior and research. Back then, he just wanted his character to have the best gear and after that his guild. (He also got a certain dark glee from having a monopoly running.) So when his comic store closed, selling storage auctions was a natural fit for his insanely methodical, incredibly dedicated to getting the most possible gain no matter the time-commitment, and always willing to crunch the numbers mind. He'd been training for this job his whole life. He has been doing this for two years now, but I remember the first unit. I remember the pride in his eyes as he opened the U-haul to us, his children and wife, and the way his eyes twinkled as he announced what each item could be worth or was worth.
My father, the professional vulture. Macklemore plays pee-wee with Thrift Shop; my father is NFL. He likes to joke about being a professional vulture too; he wears the guy's clothing (t-shirts of Styx) and I sleep in his bed. (It is lavish compared to my old mattress on the floor.) All through our three story, Victorian house items from these units are utilized for purposes both decorative and task-oriented. He could furnish hundreds of apartments with the things he throws away, let alone sells. No other family on our ultra-orthodox, Jewish block has squatters that drive or walk by to dig through their trash. No other family has to bribe the garbage men with coffee and donuts to haul away their twenty garbage bags. In our world, the vultures have vultures – we just wish the homeless would put the garbage back in the containers.
Even now, as I look at all the people, diverse as they are, I know both my father and I are thinking the same thing: “tourists”. Whether it is the thirty guys with neck-beards and t-shirts that don't cover their bellies, the one yuppie lady with her clanking jewelry, Florence Henderson cut, and perfect make-up who is clearly on safari or slumming today, or the boat-load of older gentleman (all named John or Joe apparently) greeting each other with uncomfortable handshakes and tired dialogue about wives and sports, I can hear and see my father shaking their proverbial shoulders as he does his best impression of Tyler Durden yelling at Marla Singer, “Marla, you tourist, I need this!” To these people, this is like the carnival or their hill-billy festival – a spectacle to go slack jawed at.
My father stands apart from the baseball-capped masses with his sheer intensity and discerning ways. He writes on the green ticket give, looks up and smiles at me, and then he is off looking at all thirty units, charming the auctioneer, and then staring at his pre-made list and the closest, packed unit with all the same glee, intensity, and pride that I remember from when he showed me his monopoly on virtual pants in Everquest. He is the ring master of this circus. Even as we pile back into the car having bid on nothing and he begins explaining why, I know someday soon he'll be telling me how he monopolized some collectable and I can finally have that horse I always wanted.
Jaka Wescott is a senior student of English literature studying full-time at the Unviersity of Scranton. Jaka is pursuing minors in philosophy and writing and is a native of Scranton where she lives with her family and neurotic cat. Jaka enjoys gaming, hair-styling, and arguing philosophy on internet forums.