My landlord Gilbert tells me lots of stories. When he’s not talking to Jose on the phone or interacting with his dog Jacy, I’m the receptacle for his 59 years worth of experiences.
The last 25 years of those 59 years have been spent in this house in Lakewood.
Some with his former wife, most with his mom until she died in 2008.
The things in house also tell a multitude of stories.
About a man who can make anything except money.
His mom had been the organizer of things in the house. She kept manuals, receipts, pictures. She kept them in some kind of order, though it had dissipated as my landlord and various tenants over the years left their belongings as well. My landlord Gilbert was never one to organize or structure anything, except the nuts, bolts, and technologies of the house. His mom’s absence combined with his lack of organization resulted in a living room that I could barely walk through.
When I moved in, the living room of the Micro-United Nations had been a dead zone full of what some would call “useless” objects. Scattered on the floor were painting tools, electrical wires, gadgetry, pots, CDs, important looking papers, important-looking receipts from 1983, DVDS, certificates, and pictures.
There was no reason at all for me to hang out in that living room. The television was not operating. It was situated low on a trailer as if we were getting ready to move it out at any second and sell it for meth. His life cycle, a tricycle-like exercise machine was collecting dust. The couch I would sit on to watch that lowly-situated TV felt about as clean as a park bench — I would always put on pants I’d just worn just for the purpose of sitting on the couch in the living room.
Over the past few months, we were able to make this dead room, a living room if not “liveable” room.
The decision to make the dead room a liveable room started with my need to watch Spanish TV every so often. So we pulled out a bookcase from his garage. We situated the television on top of that, fixed the antennas, and voila, I had my dose of Univision available. If I had time usually at the end of the day, I’d go in once in a while and watch it, amidst this room of dead objects. It was pretty damn cold and lonely there.
He eventually found batteries for his life cycle, and has been using that machine to exercise. His goal had been to lose 40 lbs. For the duration of his life, he’d been a thin guy, and his current weight was just all very recent.
In recent weeks, we’d been picking up the cleaning efforts, starting in his backyard and garage. We would weed out plants in his backyard. We would clean his garage, which includes a toilet, a door, a motorcycle, desks, a dryer, lots of furniture, wood, golf clubs, fans, saws, bolts, nuts, nails, stapler guns.
In our cleaning efforts, we would always have a pile of trash, which he kept in a mix of boxes. Instead of overstuffing his trash bin, he would haul off the trash in his sedan to work the next day.
Recently, we started cleaning the liveable room and were able to move some of his tools out of there. The same routine would apply; we’d arrange, re-arrange, decide what to throw out, and he would haul off trash in his sedan to work to dump everything.
Just about one week ago, we did a complete overhaul cleaning of his living room.
In this liveable room, I came face to face with his dead objects, DVDs of Stargate, and he indeed gave me some, Green Day, Motley Crue, objects which made the mess that ate away at his disposition. He gave me boxing gloves that looked like motorcycle gloves.
Everything had to go.
Everything meaning receipts from 1983, old manuals of things he didn’t have.
Everything meaning his first place medals from grade school.
Everything meaning his varsity letter jacket from St. John Bosco.
Everything meaning a picture of him and his pee-wee league baseball team from the 1960s. His dad, a dark Mexican man was coach. To my surprise, there was one Chinese guy in there.
Everything meaning pictures from the 1950s of his aunt and uncle.
Everything meaning pictures of his mom and her school in the 1930s. He didn’t know who she was in the picture. “She’s not here to point it out to me.”
Everything meaning pictures his mom took from her trips to Montreal and the Northeast.
“I have no family, I have no one to pass it to.”
I was sorely tempted to say that I wanted to say that I would be the one to take those pictures. But I’d barely known him a year in his 59 years, who the hell was I? He was the expert of his own life, right? They were his memories, why should I care?
Everything that wasn’t needed was thrown into a brown cardboard box. The box represented lots of things he was and perhaps held onto for so long, but no longer “needed.”
To him, perhaps it was just extra baggage, which ultimately ended up as trash or as Michael Thompson wrote, “rubbish”, something we only notice when it is in the wrong place.
To me, his objects represented moments in history, each a piece of Chicano, Lakewood, Long Beach history. The baseball team, his hair-cut as a young man, his river rafting guides, his blurry pictures of the Sierra Nevada, all diagnostics and symbols of a reality I never got to know, but can only imagine and now strictly listen to, or perhaps watch online, if available.
I thought about my work at a museum-type place and how what was donated was donated by rich people — subsequently rich people’s histories were represented and celebrated. I thought about how and even softly mentioned that if he were Hugh Hefner or some other old rich celebrity, this stuff would be highly valued. He didn’t pay me any mind.
I didn’t want to pay him any mind. I moved the box of trash to the outside front porch, ready to swoop up the box full of Gilbert’s family history into my car’s trunk.
Gilbert wouldn’t leave though, at least not long enough to where I could walk over to the car without that box and raising his suspicion.
As I inched outside, he told me, as had been the end of our cleaning routine the past few weeks, “I’m gonna take this to work right now.”