Joe says March is it. Of course he has been predicting doom consistently for the past nine years. Not Washaway doom, Doom doom. It is a testament to his intelligence and wit as a conspiracy theorist that he has lasted in Erika’s Collection of Favorite Eccentrics these many years.
I told him that at my job as a gardener, where I rake leaves and pull weeds of fancy people who live by the lake in Seattle, I have recently noticed unusually high numbers of eagles zipping around, and two hawks, one living, one dead.
“Yes,” he said. “The animals will tell us.”
So then I told him about an article I read about the “Go-Bags of the Rich and Famous.” What’s in the bag you run with for the apocalypse? Designer Betsey Johnson has a special Ralph Lauren belt with a pink rabbit’s foot, Jennifer Aniston’s real estate agent has meditation beads, someone else has a pen from Hunter S. Thompson that can write upside-down. Only photographers have any sense. A Vogue freelancer known as Mr. Street Peepers said he’d bring a carton of cigarettes and Slim Jims. “I’ve seen enough prison movies to know you can trade these for anything if it really goes down.”
Like the weather forecasters of the Pacific Northwest, he can predict the worst and I love it when he’s wrong. Nonetheless, I thought I better stock up. The problem with emergency food supplies is they should be tasty enough that you could eat them if you had to, but not so delicious that you consume them immediately. (See also: Apocalypse Booze Challenges.)
So I went to Merlino’s in Westport to stock up on their canned tuna belly, known as Ventresca. $7.50 can seem like a lot for a can of tuna until you have tried it. The guy said supplies were low, that he’d have to go in the back to get it. I said, “Get me six!”
Nowadays I strive for Spartan minimalism, but at one point I was an avid practitioner of junk collecting. So, it seems, were the people who previously owned my beach property, Roy and Gloria, aka Rowdy and Glo. They alluded they might “clean up a little,” but I inherited a museum of rust just the same.
So I started frequenting Joe’s Perpetual Yard Sale in Grayland, bringing him junk, specifically metal, in trade for water from his hose. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But, boy, they were characters. He, his wife Malissa, and daughter Katrina kept a menagerie of birds that anyone would deem unusual.
There were domesticated crows that you could kiss on the mouth, if you were so inclined, that would eat pelletized dog food from your hand. First there were Snow and Bubba. When the third crow showed up, his health was uncertain, but his name was not.
“Whether he lives or dies tonight,” Joe declared, “his name is John Boy.”
There was a parrot named Loverboy who, to my way of thinking, was a disincentive to keep parrots. Sure he was beautiful, and I suppose he was formidably intelligent, as they are, and he could speak, but only his name, delivered in a menacing, I-want-to-kill-you holler. “LOVERBOY!”
One day there was a trailer for sale in Joe’s lot. It had great architectural style, but serious interior design challenges. Carpet squished underfoot, vents were open to rain, and it had a distinctive aroma of cat pee. Joe said “Seven hundred.”
Very, very sweetly I asked, “Would you respectfully consider five?” and he said that he would, that that was the scrap-metal price he could get for it. I said I’d think about it and started to walk away. His Hungarian-French-Canadian pirate brogue came booming across the parking lot. “Errryhhkaaa, four bills and it’s yours.”
Arrangements were made. Me, my ex, Will, and this guy Ned known for Demo skills would show up, gut the trailer, offer its contents to Joe for resale appraisal, then put it in his Dumpster. We all had our jobs. Mine was carting the junk on a hand truck out of the trailer up to Joe and the Dumpster. His daughter Katrina, who was ten, wanted to be my helper. Little girls think big girls are cool. For a second I perceived her as a pest, then remembered idolizing my babysitters, ’70s cool in their Dr. Scholl sandals.
Katrina is her father’s daughter, a knowledgeable, seasoned junker. I made a bad call separating salvage from garbage. “Copper pipe, always valuable!” she scolded.
Malissa was telling the guys an elaborate tale, to which I was not paying much attention, except to overhear something about human urine eventually beginning to smell like cats. When the cabinet of dried beans, canned soup and mac and cheese was unearthed, I couldn’t understand why Joe wanted it all put in the Dumpster.
“Well, I like mac and cheese,” I said.
“Put it in the Dumpster!” Will screamed. “DON’T EAT THE DEAD BOY’S FOOD!”
For Malissa had told them the story of a troubled young man. “They don’t know how he died.” Ensuing cleanup had unearthed antidepressants and a card from a girl that said, “Dear Dave, Hope it all works out for the best.”
Later that evening, Ned, who is from San Francisco, started getting all spooked and woo-woo and insisted we “perform a ceremony.” So we did, putting the Dear Dave letter in a bottle and sending it out to the open sea.