It was the life-style Joe chose, yet he didn’t know what to do with it. He was a hoarder. He’d come to accept that. His neighbours told him, his estranged siblings told him, the town’s by-law officer gave him formal notification, and now… his wife had left. Joe sat amid his hoard and decided to take action.
It took 45 minutes to find the telephone. A precarious stack of newspapers had toppled, burying the small table upon which it sat. Fortunately, finding a telephone book was not a problem. He had a shelf with every edition of the town’s directory since 1974 neatly sorted in chronological order. The most recent copy was three years old, a flaw in his collection, but the number he needed would still be in it.
“Times Past Antiques and Collectables” was on the town’s main street; had been there for thirty years. Although Joe had never actually been in the shop, he’d passed it many times and knew that it sold… old stuff. His plan was to thin his hoard and generate some cash. That would show everyone.
“Good morning, “Times Past Antiques.” Gerald Hadden, proprietor, speaking. How may I help you?”
It took Joe a moment to process what he’d heard. “Do you buy stuff?”
“If you’ve got something old, consider it sold,” chirped the voice on the phone.
Joe assured the shopkeeper that he had plenty of valuable old things; far too many to bring in for assessment. The voice on the phone responded with enthusiasm. Arrangements were made for the antique dealer to visit.
* * *
Gerald Hadden was concerned when he parked his Mercedes in front of 24 Chestnut Street. The house looked frighteningly uncared for. The porch carport was packed with broken furniture and the porch was filled with items covered in plastic tarps. He had dealt with hoarders in the past, and it was never a pleasant experience. In most cases people called in him because a family member became entombed in their collections.
As disturbing as it was to dig through the piles of debris, on each occasion he was able to find a legitimate treasure and was able to acquire it for a fraction of its true cost. The people who called him tended to focus on removal of items ahead of profit, so as long as the hoarder was under control, Gerald could make off like a bandit.
The bell did not appear to work, so he rapped on the frame of the screen door. As he waited, Gerald made note of a sour smell that seemed to emanate from the cardboard boxes to his left. Those on the bottom sagged with moisture and the weight bearing down on them. Through a split in one, he could see fabric. The open lid of another revealed magazines. Gerald wondered if they were pornography.
When the door opened, the man named Joe greeted Gerald and introduced himself. When Joe spoke Gerald could smell sour coffee on his breath and immediately became fixated on how stained the man’s teeth were and that one was missing in the front. He later noticed that Joe wore a clean plaid, but his thinning salt and pepper hair could use a wash and his jaw was covered in stubble. Joe told his yappy, overweight mutt to be quiet and invited Gerald in.
“I’m delighted that you thought to contact me,” Gerald commented as he entered the cramped hallway. “I observe that you have acquired an extensive inventory. I assume you have decided it is time to cull your collection.”
“Yes,” said Joe.
“Well, my specialty is decorative items that are pre-1900, although I have recently started carrying some mid-century décor as well. As you probably know, there is a revival of interest in the mid-century modern aesthetic.”
“So, how to your propose that we should tackle this process? Do you have your items curated or organized by any specific system?”
“Not really.” Joe felt there was something familiar about this man. The plaid jacket and matching vest struck Joe as very formal, but seemed perfectly suited to the antique dealer’s manner. Joe thought that Gerald’s snowy beard and upturned moustache made him look like a character from a book.
“Well then, why don’t I just start browsing to get the lay of the land. If you don’t mind I will poke into a few containers, and if I find something of interest I will set it aside to discuss with you. Does that sound suitable?”
“Sure.” Gerald Hadden. Gerald Hadden. Joe felt like he knew that name.
“Of course the market for antiques is not what it once was. Now people buy their décor at big box stores or online sources. Everyone has the same turquoise vase on their shelf, the one they saw in the commercial with the catchy jingle. The public’s thirst for one-of-a-kind objects d’art is becoming a thing of the past.” Gerald opened a box to find a set of pristine, leather-bound books. It was a matched set. He took out the top volume and ran his fingertips over the embossed cover, then opened to the marbled endpaper and turned to the hand-coloured frontispiece. “These are somewhat interesting.” It appeared to be a complete set of the writings of Walt Whitman. “Where did you come by these old books?”
“Garage sale, I think.”
If Gerald’s memory served, there were only a few hundred sets of this collection printed. He hesitated to take them all out, but it appeared that the set was complete. “You know, some people like the look of old books to decorate their homes. Nobody actually reads them, of course. People download their novels now.” He estimated that a complete set, in this condition, could be worth at least $500. “They smell a bit musty, but I could take this box off your hands for, say… $30.00.”
“Make it $50.00,” said Joe.
“Fifty, you say?” Gerald held the book to his nose, tapped his temple with his index finger and sighed. “Sure, let’s get things started with $50.00.” He put the book in the box and passed it to Joe, who set it near the front door. “Do you have other boxes of old books?”
Joe suddenly remembered, Gerry Hadden. He’d been a high school classmate, a nerdy kid who never talked much. Joe felt a bit guilty taking him for a sucker. The box of old books had only cost Joe $5.00. “Yeah, sure. I’ve got plenty of old shit for you to look at.” Joe