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Another Man’s Trash

Another Man’s Trash
Hank Henry

Hello, and happy Friday to all of you. There should be an exclamation point there. I know this. But I’m just not quiiiiiite able to put myself out there like that. What if someone were to think less of me? Eight hundred i’s are no problem, though.

For the second week in a row now, I don’t have any particular story ready to share in this space. My apologies to anyone this offends, though I don’t think you exist. I apologize for that as well. Last week I was at least addled by cold and cold medication. This week I was thinking of writing something about my great-uncle, but I realized that would require a little bit of research, and I was all, “I don’t want to do that.” Maybe another time.

Instead I’m sitting on my couch, watching my Thursday morning synchronized swimming. And now I’ve just dated this thing, haven’t I? Two paragraphs ago I was wishing everyone a happy Friday and then, like a fool, I almost immediately let slip that it’s actually Thursday. And not even yesterday-Thursday. We’re talking a Thursday eight days ago, when the Olympics were still a-going strong and a person could find amphibious clown hive-minds dancing competitively on a major TV network. Times like this I wish I knew how the backspace button worked.

At any rate, I’m watching synchronized swimming. This would be a better way to spend the morning if I liked synchronized swimming, or even didn’t hate it, but I really, really do. And it’s not because it isn’t a sport and shouldn’t be in the Olympics. I don’t care about that; dressage and all of the other horseback events have an even more tenuous claim to sport-hood, but they don’t make my skin crawl. Synchronized swimmers have to wear makeup, underwater. They have to smile inhuman smiles. I know they’re all consenting adults, but somehow it still seems cruel. This must be what happens to the girls from Toddlers and Tiaras when they grow up and have to go to greater lengths to get people to look at them.

That was too mean. I’m sorry synchronized swimmers, I really am. I don’t know you, but I’d be willing to bet that you’re delightful people. Every room you enter is made better because of it; the world is better because you’re in it, happily dedicating your lives, or at least your free time, to something most people will never understand. I’m glad you get this moment, once every four years, to shine. And I loved you on Pushing Daisies.

Anyway. Even though I’m watching them right now, the Olympics have been over for a week and uninteresting to talk about for probably twice that. Time to move on.

***

Those three asterisks were meant to represent my going to an antique store to buy a birthday present for my sister. Because that is what I did.

It wasn’t a good antique store, though. Or it was, in the sense that it was huge and full of things a normal person could afford, but the reason that a normal person could afford those things is that a normal person would never want to. So no, it was not the kind of antique store that keeps a chiffonier of courtesy ascots in the foyer just in case the servants made off with all of yours in the night but you still need to look presentable while you purchase an escritoire that the Earl of Marlborough once nodded his approval of at a fete thrown by an old school chum of his because your salon needs sprucing and you’ve no time just now to have new neckerchiefs tailored and even if you did, your ascot-man is at a secret nature preserve on an uncharted Caribbean island, hunting teenaged orphans for sport. But it is definitely the best place to buy racist tchotchkes that someone found in the back of a cupboard when their grandmother died.

I browsed for half-an-hour. My sister is difficult to shop for; she isn’t into ceramic Asian gentlemen, all inscrutable and Fu Manchu-ed, whose heads pop off so you can store stuff in their hollow bodies—not even when their enormous, conical hats are helpfully labeled “Rice,” so you don’t have to make up your own mind what to put inside.

There was a box of oxidized Victorian coffin handles, but that didn’t seem quite right for a birthday. A Batman Forever TV tray. A bucket of gum. So many naked dolls, the most fortunate of which merely suffer from painful skin conditions. Tintypes and ambrotypes of judgmental spinsters, dour proctors, and open-casket infant funerals hung from peg-board walls wherever they would fit, and yes, of course, any one of these would be an excellent gift, but the wealth of options was overwhelming—I literally could not pick just one. I had to find something else.

It was right around this time that the proprietresses of the shop began to follow me. There were two of them, both in their seventies, both small and wan. I had trouble distinguishing between them. Maybe they were related, or maybe they’d worked together so long that the edges between them had started to blur. I suspect they interpreted the camera I carried as the tool of a man doing recon in advance of a heist. Regardless, they tailed me through their store in some kind of complex, rotating surveillance pattern, obviously worked out in advance between the two of them for situations just like this. One would move a ways ahead of me and hide behind a stack of license plates or something as the other, close-by and in the open, pretended to straighten, for example, a shelf of California Raisins figurines, while in fact keeping me trapped at all times in her peripheral vision. When I advanced past the one tidying up and into another section of the store, her partner would emerge from wherever she’d concealed herself and take a turn as the eyes of the operation. And the cycle repeated. If you picture a sun at the center of the store, and think of me as a planet in orbit around it, and the two old women as moons orbiting around me, then you’ll have a good idea of what we looked like as I browsed. It was uncomfortable.

But I did find, whilst under constant observation, that the store had a pretty good selection of antique beer. Maybe “antique” isn’t the right word, so much as “used.” An empty bottle of Rolling Rock like I could find in my neighbor’s trash would only run me three dollars here. Heineken would cost me four. And there were cans that once held Billy Beer, the only beer ever named after Jimmy Carter’s younger brother. I took a photo, and the shop-owners exchanged a significant look (one of them had to poke her head out from under a table to participate). The woman closest to me reached for her cellphone; it seemed like a good time to leave.

I still needed a gift, though, so I snatched a stuffed and mounted wolpertinger—a winged, Bavarian jackalope —out from under a Family Matters lampshade and carried it to the register. As I paid,  the woman ringing me up gestured with her chin at the security camera over her shoulder. I nodded and left.

 So they’ve got me on tape. Even so, I’d be willing to bet that those old, empty beer cans are spending their nights from now on locked up tight inside the store safe.

Hank Henry spends his nights digging through his neighbor’s garbage. You can e-mail him your garbage at [email protected].

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