A pungent skunk smell quickly overtakes the usual earthy undertones of the store as the front door opens. It trails behind a young man dressed in head shop chic, he moves slowly and deliberately, a look of bemusement on his face.
Christian’s eyes wander in the man’s direction, who utters a meek, “sorry man” to Christian, acknowledging the obvious.
Fast on his heels is Art, a judge in nearby Candor. He’s a frequent customer and friend of Christians.
“Whoa, what are you doin in here Christian,” he says, cracking a smile as he approaches the glass counter.
Christian lets out a laugh, “It’s the hippies man, I can’t help it.”
“Those damn hippies,” Art jokes back, before turning to look at a low rider bicycle.
“I don’t really know a lot about anything, but I know a little about a lot of things,” Christian says, his hands busy organizing a shelf of CD’s.
He stands roughly 6 feet tall; his face bright and youthful, although a dirty blonde beard gives him distinction. The penny sized black plugs in his ears and black beanie add to his sense of youthful mischievousness.
He walks slowly around the store, tinkering with the items he’s amassed since converting an antique store into the mishmash of subcultures known as Boris’ Garage. Small adjustments, an action figure moved here, a knife moved there. Deft eyes examine boxes of items purchased earlier in the day, looking for tell tale signs of value, stamps and serial codes tell more about the items than any Google search could.
“It’s all buy, sell, trade,” Christian explains. “I sold a Transformers toy today for 20 bucks, but what I traded for the crate the toy was in, was only worth around 20 bucks anyway, see, so we’ve already made our money back on that one piece.”
It’s how the store operates; it’s how Christian operates.
“These beads,” he says picking up a necklace. “As a necklace they’re junk, but take it apart, pick out the good ones, people who make jewelry will come in and know that they’re valuable. Every thing here is worth something to someone.”
To him, the “junk” in Boris’ breathes. It waits with a blank stare, longingly searching for someone to once again find it useful. Not unlike an animal shelter, if the junk could wag its tail.
“There’s an art to junk,” Christian says dragging off his cigarette. “That foam mattress topper,” he says, pointing at the dumpster several hundred feet away from the building, “that’s memory foam, I’m going to go take that and use it to insulate my door.”
Boris’ Garage floats in a sea of blacktop. The storefront is surrounded by empty parking spaces; littered with jumbles of rusted bicycles, old furniture, and anything that might be found in a hoarders’ attic.
Its inside consists of everything from beer signs, to death metal skulls, to Ducky from the Land Before Time. Childhood toys sit next to camouflage army jackets, some still embroidered with the names of fallen soldiers.
Music emanates from the back of the store. Songs ranging from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven to Kanye West’s Stronger play over the circa 1990’s grey stereo, amplified by the much larger black speaker it sits next to.
Rows of glass display cases are arranged to create isles for customers to walk through, and they litter the main room. A basket of vintage Pez dispensers sits atop a glass display case full of knives. Snoopy and Woodstock stare at army knives whose stories would make Charlie Brown fear for his friend’s livelihood.
Pictures of fantasy warriors adorn the walls, while a jukebox full of CD’s occupies a corner. Two of the glass display cases, both upwards of six feet long, are full of knives, some with blades as wide and long as a person’s arm.
A rack bursting with Japanese manga sits next to them.
Moving towards the back most reaches of the store reveals a sign, “18+ to enter: Boris’ Back Room.”
It’s about cultivating an image with an edge, Christian explains, but keeping it safe enough for all subcultures to exist.
“I used to work at Abercrombie, that’s how I learned all this layout shit,” he says smiling at a five-foot something mannequin.
She’s adorned with a modern military vest, a World War two helmet, cut off camouflage shorts so short they’re barley visible, shiny pink lipstick, trendy sunglasses that cover most of her face, and an Arabian scarf. She drips rebellion and sex appeal.
“We get everything from redneck contractors to hot college girls, they all have to feel safe here, and you can see everything in the store, so they feel safe here.”
Across the room a dark haired boy sits on the couch, flanked to his right by Christian’s cat Panda, who’s named for obvious reasons, and to his left an Aztec patterned blanket.
“It’s all of the bad boy image, but without any of the bad boy bullshit,” Christian explains.
The “18+ to enter: Boris’ Back Room” sign hangs over Christians head as he starts to reveal what lies behind the jet-black curtain.
He pulls it back, exposing a room no larger than an average bathroom, filled on all four walls with vintage pornography.
“You’d be surprised who comes in and goes in this room,” he pauses before finishing his thought. “A lot of Cornell sorority girls, and a few pretty prominent public figures from around town.”
“You alright out there Seneca?” he calls out to his diminutive companion.
From the boys vantage point the porn filled room is invisible, recessed in a hallway away from the public eye.
There’s no indication of any eroticism. No indication of the time a local magistrate playfully paddled another customer after she sassed him.
“I don’t put up with any bullshit, I’ve thrown people out by the seat of their pants,” Christian says, losing his grin and becoming stone faced.
As he turns away from the time machine of pornography, a mother and her two children browse the store.
She wears a black North Face jacket, a beige winter hat and a small blonde child tucked under her arm. Aimlessly walking towards the back wall of the store, she stops only to stare at a knife block no bigger than a Rubik’s Cube.
Her son, holding a long slender stick undoubtedly just broken off a tree branch, moves across the store as if on some heroic quest, pausing to look at action figures, until Panda catches his attention.
Seneca and the boy exchange a fleeting look, acknowledging that the cat is indeed the coolest item in the store, before moving on to their separate ventures.
“Christian, why does the man have a stretched out neck?” Seneca asks thumbing through pages of a Marvel comic book.
“That’s his super power, see, he’s made of plastic,” Christian replies.
“Do you want to help me put away some things?”
He hands Seneca a post card sized picture depicting a farm akin to Little House on the Prairie, printed on paper old enough to be yellowed.
“Now you go over there and put it with the rest of the pictures, find a place it looks nice. Mommy should be here to pick you up soon.”
Panda, annoyed she’s no longer the center of attention, sulks on the couch, oblivious to the wall of porn behind the jet-black curtain.
A rusted out Cadillac pulls slowly into the parking lot before turning it’s engine off, revealing a mammoth of a man in the drivers seat, Andre the Giant, and his stick figure friend, T, on the passengers side.
The two saunter inside where T slams down a cardboard box full of odds and ends onto the glass counter. It’s filled with old clocks, plastic fans, books and a few children’s toys.
Probably worth less than the box it’s in. Christian thinks to himself.
“30 dollars takes the box,” Andre the Giant says.
He inspects the box with experienced eyes, looking for manufacture’s marks, hoping to add anything of value to his store, but anticipating nothing.
A deft movement of hand quickly removes a small red toy no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, and sets it on a nearby counter.
“What do you think is the most valuable thing in this box?”
“Uh that GI Joe, it’s in the box and it’s in good condition. That’s from the 80’s,” Andre answers.
It’s a planted item, something visually appealing of little value that’s supposed to make the box worth the 30 dollars. The Go-Bot’s out of the box, now that shit really is the most valuable thing in there.
“I’ll give you fifteen bucks for the box.”
T and Andre start discussing what seems like raising the price from the fifteen offered.
“Ok,” Andre pauses, staring daggers at T. “Fine fifteen takes it. Deal.”
Good thing they tried to bullshit, they had no idea that Go-Bot was worth 40 bucks.
It’s 12 pm on a blustery November morning when John, a “picker”, someone who delves into old barns and estate sales looking to turn trash into treasure, walks in the front door carrying a tattered brown cardboard box filled with toys.
He’s wearing a backwards baseball cap, black sweater and oversized blue jeans. While not old, the lines on his face suggest that he’s lived a less than comfortable life.
“Check out this metal batman, it’s heavy as hell,” John says holding up a plastic bag. “I’ll take 50 bucks for all of it.”
His statement starts a delicate waltz, their steps perfectly in time; the first one to break rhythm loses.
Christian inspects each toy individually, his eyes searching for anything of value, “I’ll trade for the stuff, what are you gonna do with the fifty bucks?”
“Buy more toys.”
“Well…..I’ll think about it.”
There’re probably a few valuable things in the box and the rest is shit. No problem waiting him out.
He walks over to greet a new customer, a smile flashing across his face.
“Looking for anything specific?”
“I’m looking for a hatchet, or an ax, either a hatchet or an ax,” she says.
“Why?” Christian replies, with an undertone of suspicion in his voice.
Large rimmed hipster glasses hang off her nose, and her hair is well kept, dark and shoulder length. Her clothes are clean and freshly ironed.
“I’m using it as a prop….and I might split bamboo with it. It needs to be sharp.”
Christian’s face contorts to resemblance a mother who’s caught their child in a lie.
There’s no way this twenty something girl is going to be splitting bamboo with a hatchet. She wouldn’t know how to make a hatchet sharp enough to split bamboo.
“Well this is what I’ve got right now, go ahead and look through them”
After several searches of the wicker basket full of hatchets, she leaves empty handed.
Forty-five minutes later, John and Christian stand outside the large, overhead garage door affixed to the front of the shop.
John drags off his cigarette, “You hear they’re gonna start taxing items bought on eBay?”
“Well, if the government wants to start taxing eBay, they have to start taxing everything,” Christian inhales deeply, billowing smoke on his exhale. “So what else are you up to?”
“Me? Sellin stuff to you, but you’ve already been sellin stuff, come on Christian, you bought the Tron, you’re gonna get 20 bucks for that.”
“Yeah…but your shit’s still not worth fifty bucks.”
John laughs and fires a quizzical look at Christian. “Ok, 45 bucks. Since I’ve been here you bought Tron, sold Mantenna.”
“I haven’t sold Mantenna yet.”
“But you will.” John’s foot taps on the floor, his hands attempt to reach past the bottoms of his pockets. “How about 40 bucks, and a trade.”
A sarcastic smile spreads across Christians lips, “What, do you want….” he pauses for a moment, “Halo?”
John lets out a short breath of displeasure. “Alright, let me see what I want.”
He carefully picks out a Zippo lighter emblazed with a skull, a robins egg blue toy shaped as some form of monster, and a plastic red sarcophagus, no larger than a matchbox.
“Make sure the zippo works.”
Christian fills the zippo with butane gas, “It’s tricky when you don’t have any lighter fluid.”
He rolls his thumb across the flint wheel creating a spark that ignites the butane, encompassing the entire lighter in flame, sending the zippo spiraling to the floor.”
“Whoa!” they gasp in unison.
“Yeah…I guess some butane gas escaped…well, at least we know it works,” a shit eating grin spreads across his face. “You’re trading for it.”
“Jesus Christian, I’ve almost been shot here, stabbed, talked to death by old ladies…now set on fire. I’ll take these things and the 40 bucks.”
“You want small bills right?” Christian smirks, looking pleased with himself, and hands John two twenty-dollar bills.
“It’s like each little thing has a life to it, an energy to it, there’s like a wave to it and that’s how the whole store functions, on that wave,” Christian explains from behind the glass counter.
“I got this piece in two days ago,” he says referring to a black bicycle made to mimic a low-rider motorcycle. “And I’d already sold it the week before that, but it’s way cooler now with the naked lady sticker on it.”
His eyes flash, and he remembers another story.
“I also had a guy come in here a few weeks back, he wanted to buy some adult furniture for his “dungeon,” right, shit I’d never heard of. And two weeks later some biker dude comes in telling me how he does metal work, and he makes adult furniture, and I’m like whoa, so I hook them up together.”
Today, business is slow, a trough in the wave that has, for the moment, flat lined.
The five-foot something mannequin that once dripped sex appeal now wears a blue hat emblazed with “If You Think I’m Tough, You Ought To See My Wife,” a cheetah print scarf, white long sleeve shirt and a knee length pink skirt.
Someone has bought her former clothing.
The Pez dispensers are gone, replaced by a bowl of hippie beads, necklaces made from wooden orbs decorated with tribal patterns. A sticker denotes their price, “50 Cents each”
The rack of Japanese of manga has been altered; a Shonen Jump magazine now sits in the middle of the display, outlined by graphic novels, the result of some trade now only remembered in Christian’s business ledger.
“With the stuff here, everything has a value to someone. Some one will take it eventually.” Christian says, a satisfied look crossing his face. “Every thing that comes in here will eventually go back out the door.”
The grey stereo still plays, and Christian still sits behind the glass counter.
Boris Garage waits for another picker to arrive, ready to waltz with Christian. For another child, ready to pet Panda, or for another “prominent public figure,” ready to eschew from the public eye, and enter Boris’ Backroom.
The never ending wave of junk marches onward.