“Oh God, please don’t do this to me now.” Larry Tarkesian stood poised as a lawn jockey in the middle of his kitchen holding a six-week old carton of fermenting orange juice at arm’s length. Careful not to drip the sticky aperitif on his suit pants, he lowered it into the sink where it nestled amongst a mossy riot of unwashed dishes and beer bottles. He was running late for the auction, his coffee maker was on the fritz and, to make matters worse, the gritty tongue bump he’d tantalizingly sucked between his teeth the previous night had blossomed into a full blown ulcer. The orange juice stung. It really pissed him off.
Larry didn’t mind dressing for big occasions. Except for the odd visit to traffic court, he never got to wear his nice threads. He decided to attend the auction in a suit, his very best, and waited for the doorbell to ring as he ironed his shirt. Instead his phone buzzed on the kitchen counter.
It was Eva. Cool as a cucumber, mocking him with her poise. “We’ll be there in half an hour.”
“Half an hour?” Larry shouted, before matching her placid tone. “But, Eva. Don’t you think we’ll be late?” Please don’t do this to me you cruel dominatrix.
“It’s not even nine AM. We have plenty of time.”
“Where’s Dominic? Does he know what time it is?”
“He’s asleep,” she said. “I need to shower. Good bye Larry.”
“Eva, listen. Wake Dominic up and… Eva?”
For the next forty-five minutes Larry paced the apartment attempting and failing to tie his tie.
A crowd was gathered in front of the podium as the top of the hour drew near. The breeze had died with the passing of the morning shadows and the lot baked under a relentless mid-morning sun. Storage lot custodian Angel Jimenez handed out paddles for the crowd to fan themselves. Proprietor Bill Lockyer greeted the seated guests - a mixture of thugs in track suits and gerontologii wearing canvas vests with fishing lures attached. Men in sunglasses stood at the rear frowning and fiddling with their PDAs. Others stood in solitude or phoned directives to their assistants in hushed tones. These were the professionals, the resellers - the meaty, beefy, protein positive bottom feeders of the mercantile world. Peppering the salty lot were the women: the wives who waited for the heat and excitement of the day to heap vengeance on their husbands, and the nurse’s aides helping men in wheelchairs, pushing oxygen canisters, toting colostomy bags.
Lockyer twisted the microphone in its stand while Auctioneer Curtis Nightstaff sat behind him, picking his teeth, studying the audience, flipping them like a cat playing with a mouse before she devours it. He turned his attention to Lockyer. Today would be a big day. A very big day indeed.
“Nice suit, slick.” Dominic leaned into the steering wheel and tilted the seat of his two-door orange, ‘65 Rambler Coupe.
“Well good afternoon Sleeping Beauty,” Larry said as he fell into the black vinyl seat.
“Relax man.” Dominic flipped the visor to have a look in the vanity mirror. He fingered the caterpillar sideburns that crawled up his cheekbones, into his curly brown mop. “We’ve got plenty of time. With any luck we’ll be over the BayBridge by, oh… ten-fifteen.” He rubbed Eva’s leg. “Isn’t that right baby?” She groaned as she watched two junkies humping under a sleeping blanket in one of the Haight’s Victorian porch stoops.
“Step on it, man, if we’re not there when they call my unit I’m screwed.”
As they travelled Oak Street beside the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, Larry fumbled with his tie. He scooted to the middle of the seat and found his reflection in the rear view mirror. Dominic snatched it and readjusted it for himself. “Oh come on Larry, enough already, what’s with the monkey suit?” He laughed and like a needy dog, turned to Eva, begging for a reaction. She yawned. Casually uncommunicative, she draped herself across the passenger seat with her legs tucked at her side. Her straight brown hair was streaked with sparkles of red and rust in the dappled panhandle sunlight. With dark eyes set wide above cheeks glowing with a shower fresh blush, she studied the world behind neat, condescending bangs.
Larry, cognizant of being both ignored and ridiculed, panicked, “I can’t tie my freakin’ tie.” He wrapped the big end one way across the little end, and then back again, pulling it under the intersection of thick and thin. “Man!”
Dominic scoffed and downshifted as he took Fell Street across the Market Street junction. “What do you need a tie for anyway?” he said, watching his friend struggle in the mirror. “You’re such a geek.”
Larry directed an expletive at the back of Dominic’s head and continued to fumble with the knot. “Damn it. Dominic. Help me tie this thing.”
Dominic pulled to the curb and leaned into the back seat. He twisted the ends of Larry’s tie like a pair of Maypole ribbons. “Hold still man.”
“Jesus, don’t choke me.”
“Hell, I don’t know how to tie this thing.”
Eva shook her head. “You guys are such morons.” Her mere whisper couldn’t hide her contempt. “Drive,” she said and leaned into the back seat.
Eva set about tying Larry’s tie with the relish of a gallows judge. Larry tilted his head back, embarrassed for having to be dressed like a child. Eva though, tugged the tie – gently, and sometimes not so gently to get Larry to pay attention. While she was measuring out the ends, Larry looked down the V-neck of Eva's sweater and was treated to an unencumbered view of her bare breasts. He closed his eyes and bit his lip as her hair brushed against his face. He twitched and twisted, diverting his eyes, trying hard not to peek – or rather, get caught peeking.
“Hold still,” she said. Her lips were pursed tight, her eyes fixed with concentration.
Larry’s stomach dropped as his predicament revealed itself. Dominic was his friend, his buddy. He shot a glance at him, as he looked out the driver’s side window, checking out who was checking him out, no doubt. And Eva was his friend’s girlfriend – who hated him – but he liked her. She was a down to earth – well, a bit aloof, but a no-nonsense, smart, into cool shit - he stole another peak down her shirt – woah…he lost it. “Yeah, uh, Dominic man, hey.” He squirmed and tried to chatter his way through the excruciating ordeal. “Yo did you get your Shellac tickets yet, man? It’s gonna be a kick ass concert.”
“Uggh!” Eva snapped the silk fabric behind his neck. “Keep still Larry or I’ll never get this thing.” She loosened her grip and shifted her knees to drape her body across the seat “I used to work in a department store, so I’m used to working with dummies.” She winked at Larry. “But not ones that move.” Larry looked at Dominic in the rear view mirror. The car erupted in laughter. Larry was sweating and laughing, and tears were streaming down his face. It was the first time he’d heard Eva tell a joke, and it was a good one.
“It was hotter than hell when we crossed the Yangtze in August of… of… oh, dang-it Agnes, where the hell are my heart pills?”
The mood on the lot was testy indeed. Old geezers toppled war stories over one another like the marines who’d hoisted the flag at Iwo Jima. Others waved their programs in the air and fantasized about what goodies the lockers contained. “Ok here we go, Unit E-118, right there, and, uh, Unit F-113, let’s see, there. And.. oh, unit B-120…” Three pages, stared at, picked at, rubbed and scratched at, the numbers repeated aloud, the back of the sheets examined for evidence of any extra units that may have revealed themselves like ciphers between turns of the page. At the foot of the stage, a man in a battered corduroy suit whose garage was up for auction stood and wept - for pity, for attention, to influence the bidding and let him have a crack at his belongings? Who cared? This party of war veterans and eBay traders didn’t come for tea and sympathy.
Onto the lot strode Larry, Dominic and Eva. Upon learning the auction was about to commence, Larry sprinted to the office where he accosted Bill Lockyer's fuchsia haired wife Oksana and foisted his bidding fee upon her. He clutched fistfuls of her Leopard skin suit and demanded she point them to the stage. “Find it yourselve, you blind?” and burst helter skelter onto the driveway, past Eva, past Dominic, dashing madly until he collided with a nurse who was collecting donations for a pair of Guatemalan peddlers who Lockyer allowed onto the lot to sell carnations. “See, that’s the kind of posy-pandering, weak-kneed, chicken-shit I’m talking about,” Nightstaff said to a bobble-headed Angel.
Dominic strolled up to Larry with a smirk on his face, “Gosh, Larry. You didn’t tell me we were bidding against the Alameda Elks Lodge. If I’d known I’d have invited the Cole Valley K of C. Blow up some balloons and let’s have a parade.”
Larry was giddy with anticipation. “Don’t laugh. These guys are serious. They live for this. They feel entitled, to everything, to all our stuff. Trust me I’ve seen them in action. They resent us. They loathe us. We’re the grandchildren they never had because they were off fighting in some jungle somewhere. And they hate us for it.”
Eva shifted her most favored hip forward and raised a hand to shield her moon-tanned face from the sun. “Jesus, would you guys chill.”
“Yeah, Larry,” Dominic said. “Dude, you’ve seriously got to work on making peace with your inner Chi. Let your worldly possessions go,” he said embracing the crowd like an alt-rock messiah. He was all boho chic in moccasins, jeans and a v-neck hemp pullover – spiffed up to make an afternoon coffee house splash while the rest of the world padded around in their sweats. “You know what? Today, I’m going to teach you a lesson in humility. Today, we’re going to separate you from your earthly goods. Today you will find peace at last.”
“Gee thanks Siddhartha,” Larry said. “Now be quiet, the auction is about to start.”
The audience settled into their chairs and the noise died down to a whisper of paddles fanning hot air. Lockyer stepped onto the platform, 10 minutes late, but the bidders were in no hurry. He smiled at the crowd, nodded to Angel and Nightstaff and blew a kiss to his wife, but as he gripped the microphone, he felt like Malcolm X waiting for the ultimate betrayal. It was tough being alone.
“Alright,” tap, tap, tap… “Testing one, two… There once was a man from Nantucket…” A few of the older sailors picked up the rhyme before stumbling through the bawdy middle couplets. “Okie-dokie. Welcome back to Lockyer-Own Auctions.” With Nightstaff and his crew noting his every inflection, he felt paranoid, a singular and unique failure. “Uh, Storage… Lockyer-Own. Right. I see some familiar faces. Good to see you again.” He pointed toward a gentleman whom he no more recognized than he would his own father, the mercurial rogue who’d split when he was only a kid. It would have been nice to have some advice, a partner, a Bill Sr. to share a word about how to stop a crooked business associate from stealing his franchise, his wife, and Angel, well, he had nobody to blame but himself for relying on Angel. “For all of you first time bidders, welcome to the greatest show this side of the Joachim Miller expressway.” He glanced at a cheat sheet, unfazed that his joke had fallen flat as a draft beer at an A’s game. Who’d he have to thank? Oh yeah. “We’d like to thank our sponsors… for today’s event… the… the…” Lockyer looked to Oksana for help.
Oksana shrugged her shoulders and rolled her kohl lined eyes, “Zee… Alah…ala… meeda… Dog… Doktor… somezing or other… how zsut I know?” She smiled demurely and adjusted her ample backside on the plastic seat. Lockyer reached to stroke his estranged pet, his once cute little bug-eyed whirly-gig of a mutt now a shaggy mongrel castoff, the offspring of an animal husbandry experiment gone awry. It stopped squirming long enough to stare at him and growl.
“Anyways,” he said. “We got donations to give and all that good stuff. But now, let me introduce the man we’ve all been waiting for… the one and only Mr. Curtis Nightstaff.” Lockyer grinned and held out his arm like a ringmaster presenting an ill-tempered lion at the end of a short whip.
Larry Tarkesian was at the back of the crowd watching Nightstaff approach the podium in all his dark glory. His leather coat flowed like a black cloak of fire, and the only sound on the lot was the click clack of his cowboy boots that snapped like bones on the hollow floor of the stage. He clutched a walking stick – ebony, hard and black with a silver-plated wolf’s head on the end. When the crowd applauded, Larry folded his arms. He was kicking the dust off his polished shoes when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Hiya Larry, guess who?”
Larry stuck a finger in his ear and hunched his back to the auctioneer. “Felicity. What do you want?”
“Well hello to you too,” she said. “I’m here at the Pig Sty having breakfast with Goran?”
“Hi Larry.” Goran Evenlietchavitz could be heard in the background speaking through a mouthful of granola.
“Yeah, right. Listen Felicity, I can’t talk now.” He glanced at Eva, who blew on her bangs and sniffed, snarled at his cell phone.
“Hold on a minute,” Felicity said. “You’ll never believe this… I was like, walking down Haight Street with Mojee? And this guy comes up to us? And he’s like ‘right on, pull it down girl,’ but creepy like? And he’s like ‘So I’m a photographer, right,’ and I was like no way. I could see where this was going and, Mojee, she’s like an artists’ model? So—”
“Hey you know what Felicity,” Larry said. “I’m at my storage unit. My place is being auctioned. Remember?”
“Oh, right on. So how’s it going? Did you get your stuff back?”
“It hasn’t started and if I do get it back, it’ll be no thanks to you.”
Felicity tsked and continued. “Oh well, anyway, this cute guy? I mean he’s creepy but in a cute way? And he wants me and Mojee to pose for his tattooed chick next-door thing? Isn’t that perverted? The nerve I mean… Like he wants us to pose for him? And he’s cute but a real creep—”
“Felicity, I gotta run. Later.”
“One thousand, one thousand to the man in the Three Stooges shirt… Thousand Two… thousand two… to the gentleman in the USS Hornet cap… Do I hear a thousand four… Thousand four to the gentleman in back… Thousand five… Thousand five to the…”
The three friends sheltered from the sun in an empty unit and watched as the auction of the contents of unit C-127 hit legendary heights. Dominic, sensitive that such active bidding would demoralize his buddy tried to lift his spirits as only he knew how.
“So how you feeling champ?”
“Nervous, man. I have years’ worth of stuff in that locker. Stuff from my parents, gifts handed down from my grandparents. Stuff from freakin’ Lithuania from the turn of the century. Stuff they hid and smuggled away during the Nazi pogroms man. I could care less about my stuff.”
Dominic scoffed, “Oh yes you do. Zappa? Eno? Lou frickin’ Reed? The Sonic Youth Daydream Nation purple vinyl gatefold? Your records man. You haven’t shut up about them since the day we met. Oh, and your prom pictures and your letters from your girlfriends. How precious.”
“Kiss my ass, Dominic.”
“Listen, dude, we’re here because your ego has run amok, so don’t try to make some Ken Burns documentary out of your freakin’ garbage to sooth your itty bitty materialistic mind.” He watched the man in the battered corduroy suit wringing his hands, waiting till the last gasp to place a bid. “Take a look at that guy.” The man’s shoulders were shaking. “That’s you Larry. Standing there sobbing. Groveling. How does it feel to look in the mirror?”
“Oh shut up Dominic.” Eva stormed out of the unit and Larry, his head a mess of emotions, threw up his arms and followed.
“Eva? Hey wait up.”
They stood side by side at the back of the seated gallery. She was stewing. Her lips were clenched and the soft triceps of her arm were damp, darkening like a peach at the edge of her sleeves.
“Let’s get out of here,” Larry said.
Eva was stuck to the pavement like an iron post. She dug her sneakers into the molten asphalt. “No. We’re staying. I don’t get to Alameda very often and we’re not leaving till we pick up your stuff.”
The auction was nearing its passionate crescendo as the bidders soloed, or riffed off one another other like virtuoso performers in a jazz big band. They’d lay down a note here, lay down a note there, point and laugh at their fellow bidders and sit back and enjoy the bravado their opponents would aspire to. Nightstaff orchestrated it all like a gruff Charles Mingus, teasing, taunting, daring his performers to reach new heights; improvising with the frenzied pitter-patter of paddles swatting the air. And then the anguished, the crier, the star performer appeared. Drifting out of the wings he came. The audience gasped like when the spotlight hit Billie Holiday as she stepped to the mike to deliver her stoned, poems to heaven. They held their breath to hear what glorious hollers and moans would pour forth. But this Billie was a man, broken by debt, and unemployment checks bounced, by health insurance doubled and doctor’s bills handed to collection agencies, broken by school bills unpaid, and rent in arrears. He stood in front of the audience on the strength of a smile from the girl in Human Resources who promised his COBRA would cover his wife’s condition, that a recommendation and severance pay would pave his way to bigger and better things. So he placed a bid and pleaded with the crowd, mesmerizing them with his tales of woe till his was the only paddle showing. And when he was finished, when he’d turned out his pockets, told his life story and collapsed to ground, the audience paused. Everyone was silent.
“Two thousand two… Do I see Two thousand two? Two thousand one going once to the man in the corduroy suit… anybody? Anyone else? Two thousand one going once… Going twice…”
Aw, screw it, Dominic thought, sorry dude, but my homey needs to learn a lesson. “Here,” he said, raising his hand. The audience was stunned. Unsure of whether to continue they turned as if to seek permission of the ruthless bidder. Dominic shrugged, and the auction resumed. The paddles punctuated the air like tympani mallets. Eva was aghast. Her legs went numb and she shook as anger coursed through her veins. Larry caught her as she fell, staggered by the heat and the insolence of her callous boyfriend who was now busy chatting on his cell phone, oblivious to the anguish he’d precipitated.
While Larry applied a cold compress to the fair brow of Eva, Nightstaff’s henchmen escorted the broken soloist off the lot by the scruff of his neck and Lockyer resumed his place at the podium. “Well, you can’t beat an auction for entertainment. Y’all wanna take a break before we resume? Make a potty run? No? OK, next up we got, oh, dang, unit B-120 of one of my favorite tenants: the estate of Sir Larry Tarkesian, third Duke of— just kidding. Larry’s a good ole’ boy, but you never know what he may have hidden back there. Go on and have a look for yourselves, but no touching. Auction starts in ten minutes.”
The auction kicked into high gear the moment Nightstaff struck the gavel. Invigorated by the brisk workout they’d received in the previous round; if the audience were a beehive their keeper had given them a brisk shaking.
“Seven Hundred Fifty Dollars, do I hear Seven Fifty?”
“Now? Should we bid now?”
“No way Larry, not yet, we want the pace to slow down, not speed up.”
Larry tugged at his hair and grabbed at his hands to calm them. “But maybe if they see I’m extra motivated—”
“Oh, for crying out Larry. Let’s face it, you’ll never outperform the basket case from earlier, so keep your hands in your pockets. And it’s my money we’re playing with, so I’m the one who should be nervous. Right?”
“Eight hundred, do I hear Eight oh oh…”
Larry erupted, “Those are family heirlooms in there you moron.”
“He’s messing with you,” Eva said. She was standing next to Larry, ignoring Dominic. “Just act normal, if that’s even remotely possible.”
Larry watched Eva. She’d regained her Cleopatra-esque calm, and stood fanning herself with her auction paddle. On his other shoulder stood Dominic, the jester, laughing into his fist, his shoulders shaking with glee. Meanwhile Larry’s behavior piqued the curiosity of some punters at the edge of the crowd who reflexively raised their paddles.
“One thousand. You must have liked what you’d seen in there…Whose gonna get it for a thousand…”
The bids soon hit $1,500. Larry couldn’t go much higher than $1,800, and he watched helplessly as his breaking point approached. He turned to Dominic, who feigned empathy, and pursed his lips.
“Seventeen hundred… Do I hear One thousand seven hundred? OK - 17 to Sir Lawrence, the Duke of Bay Farm…”
The auction continued apace, leapfrogging Tarkesian’s limit on the trot. Dominic grew bored, and stopped bidding altogether. He would have missed a closing bid had Larry not intervened.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I told you earlier, I’m teaching you a lesson.”
“Cut the crap already.”
“I actually don’t have enough money,” Dominic declared.
“I’m paying you back – I can give you eighteen hundred dollars cash right now and I’m good for the rest.”
“Twenty-one… Twenty-one to the man on the respirator going once…”
“Here,” Larry said, raising his paddle. “Dominic, you know I’m good for it.”
“It’s already three-hundred over what you’ve got to spend. Dude I work in a clothing store. I don’t have a fancy dot-com job.”
“Yeah, well neither do I now… so we’re even. Help me out here.”
“Twenty-four… Twenty-four hundred…. Who’s the lucky fellah gonna…”
“Here.” Larry raised his paddle. “What am I going to do? I’m screwed. I can’t play this anymore and now, not only have you humiliated me – in front of the crowd, in front of Eva —”
“Hah. You did that all by yourself,” the hipster sneered.
“And now all my family possessions are gone,” he said and prepared to deck the boho mannequin.
“Twenty-Five… Twenty-five hundred…. Going once… Going twice…”
“Thanks Dominic. You’ve screwed me over good this time I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
“Here...” A raspy female voice snake charmed the crowd. Eva raised a pinkie in the air like a Sri Lankan princess calling for more tea.
“Eva?” Dominic said.
“Eva?” said Larry.
“Twenty-five-fifty… Going once to the young lady in the back… Going twice… Sold.”
“Eva!” Larry leapt and toppled her into the back of a husky, carpet salesman. He was hugging her, kissing her cheeks, kissing her forehead. The girl of my dreams, beautiful, calm, composed, likes good music - into cool shit - but hates me, I think. When he hugged her, he thought he may have seen her smile – but it was only Eva wincing, extracting Larry’s auction paddle out of her rib cage.
Dominic separated the pair and pulled them upright. “What did you do that for? I can’t freaking afford that.” He crossed his arms over his head and under the scrutiny of the auctioneer walked into an empty container to sulk.
“I know you can’t afford it,” Eva called after him. “I’m paying.”
He retraced his steps. “What?”
“Yep,” Eva said. “This one’s on me. I’m paying.”
“Oh man, yes, yeah, cool, Eva, I —”
“And before you lie to me any time further, you will pay me back.”
Dominic’s easy gait had acquired a limp as a pebble had wedged itself between his calfskin loafers and a knuckle of his foot. “Eva,” he said. “You can’t do this.”
With a beatific smile on her face she locked arms with Larry and Dominic and lead them toward the office. “Oh, yes I can,” she said.
Dominic pulled out and stopped. “But… He’s my friend.”
About this story
"The Auction" is an excerpt from novel Lockyer Self Storage, 2011, Ninth & Broad Press for sale on Lulu. Thanks for reading.