A Crate of Crap
Cromwell the Expert Buys Some Abandoned Pottery
“We normally don't keep stuff this long after they don't pay the rent, but somehow this unit just fell through the cracks. We didn't know this crate was in here until we rented the space to a new customer.” The property manager jangled one of those big jangling key rings that always remind me of Captain Kangaroo. In fact, the manager had that Down East Yankee look vaguely reminiscent of Mr. Greenjeans. The day was warming up. As the manager bent over to unlock the door, I looked around me. This was one of the four or five new storage complexes that had popped up in Ruby Beach in the last few years.
“What's your occupancy rate these days?” I asked.
“Oh, we're almost always full. People just don't have the room for all their stuff anymore, it seems.” I wondered why people would keep so much crap that they couldn't have it in their homes. Did they come visit their stuff? And what was this “stuff”? The manager pulled open the overhead door.
“Well, there it is,” he said.
It was a standard shipping crate, about three feet by three feet, with a built in pallet for transport by forklift. The top was pried open and some packing was spilled out. It was the excelsior type of packing, the kind of thing you don't see anymore in this age of plastic and styrofoam everything. Shoving his arms deep into the crate, he pulled out a small terracotta figure and handed it to Cromwell.
“What is it?” I asked. It looked pretty crude and pretty old. Cromwell blew and brushed the dust and packing straw away. “That's Mexican, isn't it? I asked.
“Yeah”, Cromwell said. He was staring pretty hard at the thing. I heard gears grinding somewhere far off.
“Just some cheap tourist crap somebody left behind.”
“Well, what do we do with it?” the manager asked. “How much is it worth?”
“I don't sell any of this stuff in my shop but you might find someone who wants it,” said Cromwell. I noticed a weird glint in his eye. I had seen it before. “I don't have any use for it myself.”
“Well, darn. OK, well, I tried.” The manager looked as though he was at a loss. “Problem is this is the only 10x12 unit I got left and that darn crate has got to go or I'm gonna lose a customer. Seems a shame to throw all this stuff in the dumpster. I was hoping you would want to take it off my hands. You were the only pottery shop in the yellow pages in Ruby Beach.”
Cromwell looked at the guy like he was a panhandler outside a saloon. “Well, what do you want to do, pay me to haul it off?” He looked at me with a very theatrical 'Can you believe this guy?' look. I have found myself playing the straight man for Crom more than once. I looked at my watch, which I wasn't wearing.
“Look, Crom, this trip to the museum was a blast but I've got to get back to work.” I started to walk back to Cromwell's big Dodge van. The outside bell for the storage place's office telephone started ringing. The manager was torn. The phone kept ringing. Cromwell cut loose with another dramatic turn, cupping his chin in his hand and gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling of the storage unit.
“I guess I might be able to unload some of this junk at the flea market in Daytona next week”, he said. That was a pretty good one. He didn't even have any idea if there actually was a flea market in Daytona. If the pottery thing ever went flat on him, Cromwell had a promising future as a used car salesman. “I guess I could give you twenty bucks for the lot of it.”
“Sold!” yelled the manager over his shoulder, already hustling back towards the office and the ringing phone. Cromwell watched him go, then called out: “I'll need a receipt!”
He turned to me. That glint in his eye was a positive flame now. “Quickly, Blix! And for the love of Montezuma don't even scratch any of these little fuckers! He went to the back of the van and got a big two-wheeled dolly and pulled out the ramp built into the back. He could move pretty fast when there was a profit involved.
“These are the real deal, aren't they?” I asked.
“We gotta get this crate out of here pronto,” he said. “Lift up on the corner there and let me get the dolly under the edge.” We wheeled the crate up the ramps and into the van. It was heavy and this was starting to feel like a regular job. Cromwell was on fire. He threw the ramp back into the undercarriage. He hustled around to the driver's side, jumped in behind the wheel and off we went. He stopped at the office door. “Look,” he said, handing me a twenty dollar bill. “Get the receipt and make sure he puts the shop name on it and not mine. And make sure he dates and signs it.” I took the twenty and got out of the van.
“Am I on the clock, Boss?” I asked.
“Just hurry!” He wasn't in a joking mood. I went into the office to get a receipt from Mr. Greenjeans.