“Have you ever gone trashing?” Billie looked at me as we sat in lawn chairs in her toasty front yard one summer, with an expression that indicated she had just asked me the most normal question in the world.
You’d think I’d be used to Billie’s little surprises at this point, but I was still trying to pretend that I had a regular life. Completely giving myself over to the expectation of the weird was something I wasn’t ready for. Yet.
“I don’t know what that is.” The Old Country Store had been plugging along nicely. The only real problem I still had was how to keep consistently restocking a 3,000 square foot building on very little capital. The gay landlords filled it with furniture, but I only received a ten percent commission off of that, and sales on big pieces were few and far between.
“Well,” explained Billie, “I go trashing two or three nights a week. Basically, you go around on trash night, and look for good stuff that people are throwing away. You’d be amazed what you can find.”
Oh God. First I’m placing fake personal for sale ads in the Recycler Classifieds so that I don’t have to pay the dealer fee. Now I’m thinking about scrounging around stranger’s garbage to stock my antique store? No way.
“Uh, I don’t know. That seems kind of…” what was the word I was searching for? The one that wouldn’t insinuate that I thought she was a freak?
“Look,” she said, “I know you’re thinking that it’s kind of embarrassing to do something like that, but really think about it. After all, it’s just going to be thrown away, right? Shouldn’t it be saved and put to good use? Isn’t it a waste to just leave it for the garbage?”
She was very good. Especially when it came to the word “saving”. She was saving the animals. She was saving the garbage. Of course it made perfect sense. Now to explain to my husband what I would be doing between ten and two a.m. that night.
“You’re kidding, right?” He looked at me as though I had finally given up on reality altogether. He fancied himself the philosophical intellectual, and despite our rather meager existence and his tendency towards the slovenly, he maintained an above-it-all stance.
“Look, it’s just for tonight. She swears that she gets great stuff all the time, and I’ll confess I’m curious.”
He gave me the look. That one that always said to me that we were the last two people on earth that ever should have been together. But I would deal with that later. I had trash to attend to.
We set out that night at ten p.m. It was Tuesday night, and the good people of Sherman Oaks were dragging their trash containers to the curb. We waited until then because most people would have taken their trash out, and gone to bed. Less complications, and more pickings.
As we slowly drove down the street in her old-school, bashed up, solid steel behemoth of a Suburban, I felt like the biggest idiot ever known to man. My humiliation barometer was peaking, but I was trapped in the launching pad: the passenger side where I could easily leap out and grab someone’s discarded treasure and hurl it in the truck before I was discovered. This was lame. Why didn’t I have the truck so that I could do the driving, and she could do the leaping? I now understood why she had let me in on the location of her gold mine. She needed someone to do the dirty work.
We spotted out first target. There were the requisite cans, but next to them in the darkness of the quiet neighborhood were larger items of an indeterminate nature. Billie slowed down to a stop. It was so damn dark.
“Go see what it is.”
Shit. That meant me. I sighed and jumped out of the truck. My legs were literally shaking. It was silly really. I wasn’t stealing anything, and even if someone saw me, it’s not as if I’d ever see them again. But at that time I was still so filled with the toxicity of my early years as to not be able to get past certain situations. Anything involving being seen as something less than perfect and respectable was hell for me to deal with. Since I was the farthest thing from perfect on a daily basis, you can imagine the stress without adding digging through other people’s trash into the equation.
As I got closer to the items, an outdoor light flew on. Almost peeing myself in terror, I blindly grabbed an object at my feet and dove into the truck.
“GO,GO,GO!” I screamed at her, and she did the best impression of peeling out that she could in the tank-like vehicle. She drove down several side streets before she slowed down to a stop. We were both breathless with the adrenaline of the moment.
“What happened? What did you see?”
I looked down at the item in my hands. I couldn’t believe it. “Hey,” I said, “Turn on the interior light.”
The light went on and we both stared at the thing I had grabbed. It was beautiful. It was a small wooden, hand embroidered foot stool. It was definitely antique, probably Victorian, and in really good shape. Only one of the legs was a little wobbly and needed to be glued. But it was ours. For free.
“Let’s go back.” I said.
I was hooked. I even got one of my best buddies from high school, who was making piles of cash as the head of a cruise ship company, to go trashing with me in Beverly Hills one night in his convertible. It was better than yard sales. We found jewelry, boxes of old Christmas ornaments, a wagon wheel hanging lamp, more old furniture that could be restored, a box of antique dishes, old books, toys, and tons of little knick-knacks. I might never have to buy another thing for my shop.
There was one tiny glitch that I overlooked however. I was doing this intoxicating new pastime with Billie. The crazy lady. With the weird haunted house. Things couldn’t be awesome forever. The first night something went south on one of our expeditions was when her Suburban wouldn’t start. I was actually surprised every time it did start, but Billie took it very bad. We had my two door Bonneville Pontiac – seventies style – but it wouldn’t hold nearly the loot the Suburban did. Plus – we wouldn’t be able to haul any furniture. It put Billie into one of her dark moods.
She was nasty and snippy when those moods hit, so I would typically leave when she got to that point. They wouldn’t usually happen until she was into her second beer six-pack, but the car not starting thing set her off this particular evening. I needed my trash fix, so I was willing to put up with her.
“Come on Billie, let’s fill up the car, and then we can drop it off and go back out again.”
“Fucking waste if you ask me!” Apparently she had perfected her growling technique from the dogs.
“Okay… well, I could go out alone and…”
“Steal everything for yourself! Oh no. I’m going with you. Let’s get this over with.”
It was destined to be a jolly time. We drove in silence, Billie in the hot seat now with me in the luxurious driver seat. This didn’t help her disposition at all. After we had stuffed an unusually large amount of useless crap in my car – again I was partnering with someone whose perception of “sell-able” greatly differed from mine – we headed back to her place to add to what was now becoming a complete hoarding experience at her home.
My two door all steel Pontiac had these enormously long, heavy doors on it. Due to the supposedly sleek seventies design, when the door was fully open, the bottom corner came to a sharp point, like the tip of a pair of metal wings. Billie was stomping around, yanking stuff from the car, and shoving it into increasingly tight crevices in her garage. I stood by the car door, helping her dig everything out. We finished the first load, and for whatever reason, she slammed the door shut. It turned out I was standing a little too close to the car, and the tip of that metal wing sliced across my shin.
I screamed. I looked down, and blood was gushing out of an inch long cut. The worst thing in my mind about the whole experience, was I didn’t have medical insurance. She was immediately contrite, and flittering around in a nervous, breathless panic.
“Oh no, oh dear, you have to go to emergency. Oh no, oh dear.”
I looked at my leg in dismay. “Do you have a band-aid or something?”
I couldn’t go to emergency. That would suck away all my trash profits!
“Band-aid? You need stitches!”
Stitches. That sounded expensive.
We eventually did go to emergency, and the intern who was there on his first night, didn’t seem too keen on giving me stitches either. We both agreed a butterfly bandage would be in everyone’s best interest. Except for the scar that I have to this day. It’s a nice back line on the front of my leg, a reminder of a night out trashing with Billie.
Next week, I’ll go further into my journey with Billie. It continues in the realm of the bizarre, with some of the creepiest paranormal encounters I’ve ever had. Or ever thought would be possible to have.