I know a place you will love, says my friend Tinks- she’s tiny and blonde, fine features and delicate hands; it’s… amazing. It’ll be a little bit like that urban exploring thing you do, only different.
She was right, on all counts. It was amazing. And I loved it. And it was just like urbexing… only different.
It’s actually a business, Tinks explains as we drive there, forty five minutes away, the Doctor accompanying us- two tiny women on one vast, desolate lot in the middle of urban farming land seems not only irresponsible but almost gothic. The man who owns it, he just likes.. stuff. He’s a natural hoarder, but he sells it off again. Some things have price tags on them, most don’t… you just ask him what we wants for it. And it’s never much… fifty dollars for a knee length mink coat last time I was there.
So there’s clothes there too? I’m surprised- most junk dealers, no matter how reputable, bother dealing with clothes or fabric that soil and mould easily.
There is everything, replies Tinks. Just… everything. Clothes, books, shoes, furniture, crockery, records, trunks, electronics, toys… the shed is an eighth of an acre and the whole thing is full, there’s stuff stacked everywhere.
The theory is that there’s been some deal going on with skip bin companies, that this man allows them to dump their load with him rather than pay the exorbitant tipping fees… then he salvages. One’s man trash is another man’s treasure, as they say… this guy not only recognised this, he reveled in it. He took his treasure, and fair salvage for others as well.
The block of land we’re looking for is massive, typical of urban industrial market land- big ugly corrugated sheds; brambles and spiky blackberry bushes twined up and amongst stringy ropes of overgrown grass. There are abandoned cars and trucks, farming equipment that is not ancient enough to be vintage but still has that used-up look, powdered with rust and snared with dead growth.
We pass the driveway four times, and if Tinks hadn’t have been navigating we may not have found it all. We drive in, flanked by a rusty carnival food van and a house that seems out of place. There is no one here, not a soul, and we keep driving, past a row of sheds that seem to contain a hundred cars stacked on top of another at strange angles, compressing them into a single melted entity.
That’s it, says Tinks, and we park in front of one long, silver shed in a row of five. It seems different from the other sheds in some way that can’t quite be quantified. While the other sheds have junk piled in them, next to them, lining the informal driveway that led to them which is two foot thick with squelchy mud- for one of the first times ever I actually use the that A/T in my Subaru; Shed 5 has an air of organised chaos. In fact, as your mind adjusts, picks out the aesthetics amongst the rubbish, you see that Shed 5 has a discernible courtyard…
In fact, you could even call it a garden.
Shed 5 feels like someone has lived bits of their life there. That’s the difference. Rather than a desolate dumping ground, Shed 5 has the essence of people, of conversations and laughter, and the things here feel warm, as if they still have life and use and purpose in them.
There’s a small demountable room at the front of Shed 5, and the area surrounding it is fenced off with pieces of scrap metal that are elegant and delicate- gates and fire guards locked together to form a boundary for a garden that suits it’s surroundings perfectly. It’s all spiky, hardy cacti, succulents and aloe, growing rampant from a dozen mismatched pots. It seems to have spread out from the water tap on the outside from wall of the shed… it’s thicker, there, as if someone began by placing a few salvaged plants- hardy ones like cacti, that could take a ride in a skip bin and still come good- around the dripping tap, using a few salvaged garden pots he had stacked out front… and the garden grew from there.
Closer to the demountable room there’s been a walkway left that leads to the massive corrugated tin sliding door that protects the trashes (treasures) behind it. We knock, yell, peer in the crack in the door… I can see a vast expanse of space filled with… things, a veritable Aladdin’s cave protected not only by the tin door, but also a mesh one behind it. We knock on the door of the tiny demountable room, and I get distracted by the detritus that lays around it. Garden ornaments… buddhas and fairies and mushrooms, elephants and hanging pots. There is a whole display of heads, decapitated, ceramic and pottery, colored and neutral; and I don’t think I need to tell you just how damn creepy a severed head collection is. I don’t care what the medium, or the intention.
There is no one here. Not a soul responds to our calls, although we can hear faint voices and the occasional diesel engine from the shed furthest down the line. It was exactly like this last time I was here, say Tinks, all closed up. Nothing has moved in a month. He’s normally always here, somewhere…
The Doctor wanders away to investigate, and Tinks and I look further, fascinated. Between Shed 5 and the next- last in line on the opposite side of the voices, and empty bar a few rusty car parts and deteriorated spare tires- is an alley of junk, real junk, rubbish… the actual garbage, probably, that was left after the skip bins had been cleared of anything worth rescuing… anything functional, beautiful, practical, or necessary, even if the man who salvaged this stuff couldn’t see it himself… he realized that other people might see value in this, even if he couldn’t identify what exactly it would be. The alley of junk is somewhat divided into drifts of crap- tiles here, toilets and bath tubs there, old bike frames and nonfunctional prams here. It’s depressing.
The Doctor returns with news we didn’t expect… the hoarder, the man who owned this mess, he’s dead. He died two months ago, and his shed has sat idle since.
What happens with it now? asks Tinks, and I can feel her worry… for some reason you can sense that the bloke who curated this collection cared for it, wanted it to
be reused and passed on. Skip bins, replied the Doctor. The guys down there say they’re bringing in skip bins to clear it all out.
All this stuff, bits and pieces that this man saw could have value to people, objects and ornaments and fittings and items that he could see hadn’t quite outlived their usefulness, rescued from becoming rotten, broken landfill… only to be returned to ugly skip bins, and sent to a vast stinking dump anyway.
It seems pointless. Sad. Like someone’s been messing with an electrical circuit that used to work just fine, despite being held together with tinfoil, and they’ve re-routed the current back the way it came, bypassing any good that energy could have done.
It feels OK, now, to take things.. they belong to no one, and it feels as if their temporary guardian would have wanted people to take them, use them, appreciate them… There are things here that would hide just perfectly in my fairy garden- gnomes and cement toadstools, a fairy in a tiny tea cup. I select carefully, taking only the things I know I will adore.
It’s feels unfinished, but there is not much else to do…. we leave, knowing we’ll be back. There is a whole shed full of secrets here to play with.