Behind Bernice’s Tavern, through a cluttered kitchen, past a staircase to a second-floor apartment, and out the back door is a former horse stable. Beyond a steel door secured by two padlocks and a deadbolt lies a treasure trove. Over the past few weeks I’ve been going back there and trying to make order out of its chaos.
Crates filled with toy train tracks form leaning towers stretching upward to twelve foot rafters; sagging, decades-old cardboard boxes hold paperwork, photographs, tchotchkes, and tools; rusting tin signs and dust-covered neons advertise beers long forgotten and years out of circulation; stacks of gilded frames lean against canvases depicting creepy clowns or barely started, abandoned student art assignments; speed racks, cocktail napkins, and glassware, all sealed and unused sit waiting on shelves, buried under layers of ceiling debris. Every time I go in I find something unexpected.
A collection like this takes time to assemble. Along with discarded and discounted goods are personal writings, children’s doodles, and keepsakes going back at least fifty years. On the one hand this is just a room full of stuff, on the other it is a historical record of a family’s life and how it was lived. It’s a great privilege to be allowed to comb through someone else’s belongings. It is also much easier for a stranger, who has no sentimental attachments, to organize them into some sort of coherence. Were these my boxes of past, each opened cardboard flap might send me down a rabbit hole and sidetrack me from the task for minutes or hours, but because these things are someone else’s I can categorize them coldly, for the most part. But there’s no denying the Antiques Road Show element of this thing I’ve undertaken.
A box full of matchbooks I opened a few days ago is like a history of Bridgeport. There’s a set of six naked beauties who advertised the tavern back in the 60s and 70s, while others promote restaurants and stores so long gone that even the buildings which housed them were demolished decades ago. I’m no professional picker, so I don’t know how much of this stuff is truly treasure, but I have no doubt that a good lot of it can be turned over for a profit. The question is whether the man who has amassed it all will be willing to part with any of it.
In the weeks I’ve spent pushing boxes and furniture around I’ve wondered about what it means to want to gather things for decades in this way. Each new discovery must represent a need fulfilled and all of them together are a buffer against some inner lack or emptiness. There’s no way not to feel the sadness in this room. All these things should’ve filled the void but by being piled back here abandoned have obviously failed. Still, picking up one of those matchbooks or dusting off an old beer neon, I can feel a bit of the charge of possibility they each contain.
When everything is sorted and organized in a couple months I won’t profit financially but if these last couple weeks are any indication I’ll certainly gain a measure of peace. When I go back into the garage everything else disappears. The raping swindler holding our country hostage can’t get in and neither can any other global or personal misfortune. I’m already dreading when this job will be done.