On weekends and over the summers I earned money doing jobs for Johnny McKeon at his From Attic to Seller Consignment Store. Johnny felt obligated to me because I was Shann’s boyfriend.
Usually, the jobs required cleaning the store.
Secondhand stores are like vacuum cleaners to the world: They suck in everybody’s shit.
History shows that, like Ealing, when towns are dying, the last things to catch the plague are the secondhand and liquor stores.
Johnny McKeon was on top of the world.
Sometimes, Johnny would receive new consignments out in Grasshopper Jungle, and then leave me to go through and sort boxes, unroll and sweep off rugs, and clean out the drawers in dressers and nightstands.
I found a lot of condoms and Bibles in them.
Johnny told me I could do whatever I wanted with those things.
I threw the Bibles in the dumpster.
Robby and I climbed down the ladder. It deposited us, like visiting aliens, into a common back room that connected Tipsy Cricket Liquors with From Attic to Seller.
The ladder was attached by metal brackets to a plasterboard wall where the electrical panel box for the store was located. I’d seen the ladder there plenty of times. I had even noticed the Roof Access sign posted on the wall with an arrow pointing up, as though you might not know where a roof could be, direction-wise.
I never thought about going up on the roof of the mall before I went there with Robby.
On the other side of the wall was the shop’s toilet. It was such a small space that you would be looking straight across at your own face in the mirror, and could reach the soap and paper towel dispensers and wash your hands in the sink while you were sitting on the toilet.
Ollie Jungfrau could never take a shit in there.
There was a sign on the door that said: No Public Restroom
Everyone knew the public restroom was at the launderette, or between the dumpster and the couch in Grasshopper Jungle if you couldn’t hold it that far.
There was a homeless guy who’d come riding through on his rickety old bicycle about once per week or so. His bicycle was always teetering, precisely and ridiculously balanced with huge bundles and bags strapped to any available rusted crossbar. Robby and I called him Hungry Jack, but we never asked him his name.
Hungry Jack didn’t have any front teeth.
Hungry Jack fought in Vietnam.
When he came through, Hungry Jack would stop and climb into the dumpster, dig around for things.
Robby and I caught him taking a shit one time, between the dumpster and the couch.
I have read that the human memory for smells is one of the most powerful bits of data that can be etched into our brains. Although it seemed so foreign to me, being inside From Attic to Seller in the middle of the night, the smell of the place was entirely familiar. The shop had this constant, perfumed odor of sorrow, death, abandonment, condoms, and Bible verses; that was like nothing I’d ever smelled anywhere else.
I felt as at home there as you’d have to feel, lying in your own coffin.