Junker’s Blues

In my job as a junker, I make a lot of house calls, and when I show up on someone's doorstep, things can get weird. Buying someone's old stuff is a very social business transaction. It often puts the seller in a reflective mood, especially if you're buying some cultural arcana they've held onto for years.

I once went over to someone's house to look at a batch of old 45" records advertised on craigslist. The location was a particularly rural part of the Leicester area, and I had to make so many odd-road twists and turns that, halfway through the trip, I was blessing my garage-sale-scored GPS (the GSSGPS).

I was greeted by a pair of barking pit bulls, excitedly kamakaziing into a fence that was thankfully between them and me. This announced my arrival more clearly than I ever could, so the patron of the house, wearing a red, white and blue do-rag and a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off, came outside and welcomed me. 

I walked inside and met his wife and her mom, who were seated in easy chairs, defining the transition point between the living room and the dining room. His wife had a laptop computer, and she'd take it off the side table by her chair every few moments. She'd look through craigslist, announce some interesting item, wonder if she should call, and close the computer again. My host took a seat in a third easy chair and lit a cigarette.

The other two were way ahead of him. Immediately behind his chair was a gigantic cage housing a huge blue parrot that frequently shrieked during the course of my visit.

I learned that, while the two dogs in the back yard were essentially harmless, I did not want to mess with their mama, who was actually in the house, securely shut away in the back. She was getting old, and had turned mean.

The records were in boxes on one of the two couches in this rather furniture-crowded front room. The family was getting ready to move — not under the happiest of circumstances ("Let me give you some advice," he told me. "Don't rent from someone you thought was a friend.") They were looking to lighten the load. They wanted to sell the records as a lot.

I was not interested in the records as a collection — there were too many dime-a-dozen common titles. But like the old legends about vampires that can't pass spilled salt without picking up all the individual grains, it is impossible for me to not look through every record I see in someone's house. I started to make a small pile of "interesting" records in hopes they'd break up the batch.

While I was digging away, listening to the parrot shriek through the smoky haze, occasionally hearing the growl of a mean mama pit through the wall the couch was resting against, he asked me where I was from. I said I was from Missouri, and instead of asking if I said "Missoureee" or "Missouruh," the man said, "Heh! Missouri! If you don't mind my saying so, man, they have some good weed there. I used to do runs out of there back down here all the time."

I had no idea how to respond. First off, I am a junker, not a judger — who am I to begrudge anyone's way of earning a living? But what do you do when your host announces to you, a total stranger, not to mention in front of his mother-in-law, that he used to run drugs across multiple state lines? I said something lame about being under the impression that traffic went the other way these days and kept digging.

"Yeah, I used to run with a biker gang, and we'd run weed and meth all over the country," he explained. "But I don't mess with that stuff anymore. Except to smoke it."

I said that was probably for the best and kept digging.

All of a sudden, the dogs outside started going nuts again.

"Oh I bet that's Daddy," the man said. "You don't need to worry about him," he told me. "He has Alzheimer's."

I tried not wonder why I would have needed to be worried if the guy who had just parked outside didn't have Alzheimer's, stuck my nose to the grindstone (or, I suppose, in this case, the turntable) and kept digging.

So eventually, there we were: me, the man with the do-rag, his wife checking craigslist ("We're trying to get RID of stuff, not get more!"), her mom and his dad, sitting silently in a fourth easy chair in this room (the wife really was a tireless furniture acquisitioner), the blue parrot, and, somewhere unseen, the mean mama pit bull. And I finally got done digging.

Now, I should make it clear this whole family was never anything less than totally pleasant to me (except for the dad, and he didn't seem to want to talk to anybody). When I explained that, yes, I did sell records but that, no, the whole batch was not worth, to me, what was a not-unreasonable asking price, they were understanding and were glad to accept my inflated per-item offer for the records I wanted to break out of the lot.

They even directed me to the gas station down the street, with an ugly little plastic ATM, so I could get cash to complete the deal. They would have probably even taken my check if anyone had a bank account, which no one did. 

Sometimes, in addition to the junk, you get a little more of a window into someone's past and present than you might have wanted. As a bonus.

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