Her name was Billie. I met her through a free Los Angeles rag called the Recycler, a big newspaper of ads that had everything from lawn furniture, pets, yard sale postings, musicians wanted, and of course, antiques and collectibles. It had it’s hey-day in the eighties when The Recycler was the only thing you had to find awesome stuff at a steal. Remember, this is pre-internet and eBay days.
As I said in my last post, I needed to find new and creative ways to sell my stuff. Fortunately, I had caught on fast and was able to find things such as an antique pen in a leather case at the bottom of a box at a yard sale for a quarter, and then sell it to an antique pen dealer for $85. But sometimes I just didn’t have a connection for some of my things. So when it got a little slow, I turned to my friend The Recycler.
Now, you could put in free ads as a private party, but dealers were supposed to pay for ads. That sort of didn’t work for my whole “I-have-no-budget” lifestyle. So, I was careful to only put in a few items every once in a while, and use my home number as a contact. Then I would meet the person at a coffee shop or something to see if we could strike a deal. I was only able to do this with things where I had such a huge margin (like the pen) that I could afford to let it go at a steal.
This is how Billie came into the picture. It seemed that Billie had the same strategy for using The Recycler. She was definitely a dealer, she just didn’t have a shop. She would buy and sell to various dealers, and made her living that way. I would find out later that she was a widow with a home in the somewhat tony area of Sherman Oaks, someone who believed she would marry Clint Eastwood one day because of one look they once shared, an alcoholic, an animal hoarder, and insane. But the night I met her, I learned something even more disturbing about her.
Typically, dealers have a specialty that they focus on. This way, you can know a lot about this one area, and spot a deal from a mile away. Billie’s first love and expertise was jewelry; I had a similar inclination. She answered my for some signed rhinestone jewelry from the forties and fifties, and we met at a Mexican restaurant in the Valley to see if we could do business. She asked me up front if I was a dealer, and assured me that it was fine, she was too and did the same thing. The transaction was fantastic, and we both felt we could do business again.
She also gave me the impression of being a little kooky, but I had been bred on kooky. She was in her mid-forties, at least twenty years older than me, but still dressed in super tight jeans and these blousy tops to hide the giant midriff roll she had to yank up to fit in the jeans, that was then oozing out the top. She spoke in a sort of breathless Marilyn Monroe voice, but was far from looking the part. She also smoked constantly.
Once we did a few more deals at various restaurants, I was comfortable enough – and wanting to avoid anymore restaurant bills eating (haha) into my profits – to just meet her at her house. She had a nice little three bedroom bungalow that was where she and her late husband had lived. He died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She said he went to sleep and just never woke up again. I hate to sound cruel, but once I got to know her, saw ( and smelled) all the animals, and found out about her weird house, well…I might have also just gone to sleep and never woken up. She claimed the doctors could never give an explanation as to what happened. In retrospect, this could have also been one of her dramatic stories – akin to the “Clint Eastwood glance” – that she liked to tell.
When I arrived that first evening, I was given the official animal instructions. The healthy cats (about a dozen) were kept in the bathroom off of the hall. I should never, ever open that door. It was imperative that she control where they went, so that they wouldn’t get mixed in with the ones that had distemper, or some other incurable kitty sickness. Those cats were kept in cages out on the patio where she had built a big area with rabbit hutches (with many rabbits), and were gated from the rest of the yard where the outdoor dogs were. Yes, there were indoor dogs. I forget exactly the difference between the outdoor dogs and indoor dogs, but it may have been a size thing. One exceptionally chosen and blessed dog – a whippet that shivered and shook constantly – was given the coveted spot on her bed. Maybe it sensed the dead husband vibes, who knows.
There was a continuous cycle of moving these animals around. She would corral the indoor dogs into a room with much chasing and yelling, then twice a day open the bathroom door for the cats and scream “OUT!”, and they would pour out to their bowls in the kitchen. They would then get about fifteen minutes of in-house freedom, and then she would scream “IN!”, and they would all race back to the bathroom. It was actually quite amazing. She would do a similar routine with the dogs, so that the indoor ones could at least shit outside occasionally.
Billie claimed that she had saved every one of these creatures from a horrible fate at the hands of some other horrid pet owner or pound, or that they were strays she had rescued. She used the word “rescued” a lot. It’s amazing to me that I didn’t fully grasp just how cruel she was being to these animals, but at the time, she was such an animal rights expounder, and constantly talking about how she had “saved” these animals, that I somehow thought she was doing a good deed. Plus, there weren’t reality shows about animal hoarders back then. Sometimes television just has to tell you what to do.
Okay, so the same night I met the menagerie, I also met Starchild. This wasn’t her real name, and what I mean is, she really wasn’t using her real name. She was using her alien name. Starchild was renting a room from Billie, who was finding it harder and harder to make the mortgage payment. This young girl was about my age, and was some type of artist, but really, other than hide in her room for days without emerging, I’m not entirely sure what she did.
So after some awkward introductions and unintelligible comments from Starchild, we retreated to the kitchen to conduct our business. It was at the back of the house, with a door leading to the backyard where the outdoor critters were. Another door I should never, ever open. Every time one of the outside dogs would bark, she would freak-out and scream at them to “SHUT UP!”. She said she didn’t want the neighbors to complain about the noise. The only thing the neighbors were likely to complain about was the incessant screeching. For someone with such a quiet voice, she could really shred the decibel levels when she wanted to.
Yet none of this craziness prepared me for the next phase in my relationship with Billie. As I sat at the kitchen table that night, I was facing the window to the backyard. She was facing me, with her back to the window. It was pitch black out, and halfway through our negotiations, I saw it.
(To be continued next week)