A text woke me at 8am. It was a friend asking if I knew anyone who wanted to make some money loading boxes of photographs from a storage space onto a truck. I went back to sleep for a couple hours. When I got up, there was another text, as well as an email. I answered that I didn’t know anyone and went about getting the day started. But it kept eating at me, so, an hour later, I texted him that if he was still there in an hour, I’d swing by.
My friend travels around collecting photographs and art. He’s a treasure seeker. There’s TV shows about people like him. Every so often he rolls through town and tells me about his adventures, always careful to leave out names and telling details. His business is all about secrecy. I don’t have even a trace of this discoverer’s instinct, but I’m fascinated by people who do. It’s often a consuming obsession which no prize, however precious, can ever sate. The best pop-culture evocation of it is the great BBC show Detectorists. The two guys’ lives on that show are so totally guided by their quest that personal relationships suffer or are subsumed to it. I don’t know that my friend suffers like that because of his avocation. I like to think he doesn’t. He always makes it sounds like fun.
When I arrive at the storage facility, he’s at the loading dock with another friend, making calls, as this is the only area of the facility where he can get a signal. Apparently he’s bought a locker in an auction and wants to unload a bunch of boxes into his truck to haul away. But before we can do that, we go across the parking lot to another building so he can look at another storage space. He says some other collectors have found out he’s storing things here and is afraid they might break in. There’s been a rash of thefts lately. The area he’s looking at doesn’t even have walls. He will have to hire the guy showing us the place to build them. As we walk back, power tool sounds can be heard from behind sheetrock and plywood walls which don’t reach the ceiling of the warehouse. The guy tells us there are a lot of interesting people here.
Back by the loading dock, we take two carts up to the fourth floor. Three guys who were evidently at the auction come with us to check out my friend’s haul. We go through a labyrinth of lockers before locating the right one. We pull out 1’x5’s and furniture to get at the shelves which line the left side of the space. We pull out one long cardboard box after another. Each is filled with dozens of cardboarded and sleeved comic books. My friend keeps pulling random ones out, showing us and guessing at their worth. I tell him I have no clue what any of them are worth. He seems to be having a debate with himself whether it’s a fortune or just a pain in the ass. Part of it is that he doesn’t want to tip his hand in front of the other guys too much. Everyone’s here to make a buck and getting over on a competitor is a big part of it.
We make three or four trips down to the truck until all the boxes are loaded. We’re covered in sweat. My friend is trying to work out a deal with the guys for the tools and furniture in the locker. They’re not his thing; he’s only into art and photos. I drink some water and wonder whether this line of work would suit me better than pouring beer. I decide it wouldn’t. I have no enterprising spirit. In fact, I probably have the opposite. Where my friend is here trying to turn trash into treasure, I’m trying to sell off all I’ve made at thrift store prices.
Before I leave, he asks me about the self-portrait he asked me to paint. I tell him it’s almost done and pedal out into the rain.