“We want you to come around the corner of the car like you aren’t expecting us.” Melanie smiled. She used a lint roller on my jacket, spinning me in a circle. I was supposed to walk out between these two Tercels looking like I wanted to make a deal.
It was a very hot day. We stood on the pavement of my used-car dealership. I renamed it Noggie’s Used Cars after Dad died last year. He willed it to me. Back when he owned it he made good money off it. Good money in the seventies, when I was younger and everyone drove cars and wanted a good deal on a nice used one. Now, in this particular climate used car dealerships didn’t really bring home the bacon. Melanie and her small crew were waiting for me. I hated everything about cameras. I was going to have a smoke first.
How did I get this commercial? I won it. It was Wanda, my wife’s, idea to enter a contest and win the opportunity to film a commercial for your business. She stayed at her sister’s a lot lately, helping her with the kids, and noticed the ad in the newspaper.
Wanda couldn’t work because of chronic pain. She used to be a nurse but threw her back out last summer and now she can’t do anything too strenuous. The back is a delicate collection of nerves, bones, and sinews. Wanda needed to take it easy.
Wanda said, all you have to do is tell them your situation and pitch them an idea. She’d do all the paper work. I love her for that. She’d help in any way she could, she was excited about it. That was just great, considering we’d been fighting a lot. I had a habit of bringing home things I found around town, on the curb, in stores—anywhere really. One night I brought home a nice TV for the bedroom, and I cleared off all the magazines and newspapers off the bed to make room for it so we could watch the Late Show and get some snuggles in at the same time. Wanda nearly had a fit. She got all the newspapers and magazines into a box and threw them all over the lawn, shouting about what an idiot I am.
What it came down to us making a life, and if this commercial brought me any business at all, it would help. So the night after we fought over the television being on the bed—where else would it go?—Wanda filled out all the paperwork and sent it off. I didn’t think we’d hear anything else about it.
I walked out from behind the two Tercels. “Hey, do you think I’m crazy? Well I gotta be!” I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I fired them into the air like they were guns, but Melanie hated that, so we did another take where I just walked out with my hands on my hips like a sassy owner of a car dealership and did the line again, ending with “Look at these great deals,” as I swept my hands over the cars in the parking lot. I stayed till the end of the day and sold a car after the Melanie and the cameras left, promising to be in contact soon.
Wanda said she had a surprise for me at home, which meant a barbecue outside—we always barbecued now that the stove wasn’t usable—and then we’d have wine on the loveseat in the backyard.
On my street, I slowed to a crawl. There were cars and trucks all up and down it, and four huge, metal GOT JUNK? bins right on my front lawn. The backyard loveseat was being heaved into one as I stopped the car. People were everywhere, cameras everywhere, and there was Wanda, one hand on the small of her back with a spatula in her other talking to Melanie.
The crew on the front lawn went to the back of the house when they saw me pull up. I snapped my belt off and stared. My throat tightened. Men came out of the back of the house carrying some of my horse keepsakes. Had she brought everyone over for a barbecue? It was more than a barbecue now.
My hands tightened on the steering wheel. More men emerged like ants, unloading stuff from my house onto the lawn. Melanie turned toward the car and Wanda spotted me too. She ran up to me in her cut-off jeans. I got out, went around to the other side and sat in the passenger seat. Wanda knelt down and took my hand, setting the spatula in the grass. Melanie and the camera crew inched over. Wanda put her hand on my leg and looked up at me. She took my hand. “Noggie honey, I have something to tell you.”
I stared at the house, the stacks of boxes in the windows so high you couldn’t see in or out.
Melanie stood near us, listening to all Wanda’s baby hunnies and sweet potatoes. “Noggie hunny, this is Melanie, she’s not a director, she’s a psychologist. There was no commercial, they are all from a show called Packrats.”
But there had been a commercial. I stood up and walked away, wanting inside my house. When I got to the front door, I pushed it open as far as I could and slide through the crack. We hadn’t used this door in years. Inside I climbed over stacks of magazines, old aquarium equipment, Barbie and her friend Midge, fuzzy handcuffs, something sharp, some vacuum-sealed hardcover Hardy Boys mysteries, a box of Halloween costumes and a stack of collapsible sun chairs.
I slid down the other side on plastic garbage bags into the hallway that led to our bedroom, kitchen and my room of collectible magazines and Dad’s horse keepsakes.
Standing in the hallway I could see that the shrink and the cameras had cut across the lawn to the back door, trying to intercept me. They had already found my teacup collection. It was missing from inside the oven.
Wanda appeared at the back door first. She banged and tried to budge it open. There were stacks of boxes behind the door next to the fridge. Wanda was determined to get in. She used all her strength, her shoulders, and pushed, my little bull, sliding her back down the door, her leg against the door frame, forcing the door open.
She had got one leg in the door when I finally yelled, “Does this mean that the commercial was a big fucking joke!”
“Yes!” Wanda screamed. “But you can win three thousand dollars if you agree to go to counselling and let Packrats take this mess away!”
“This isn’t a mess!” I looked around at the stuff on the stove, the boxes of Mini Micros in front of it, stuff I stored inside the oven. I looked at Wanda and screamed, “be careful of your goddamned back!”
Wanda looked at me. She was getting tired, I could tell. Fuck, did she ever look tired.
Wanda and Melanie—the shrink— had pushed themselves both inside. Wanda was huffing on a chair, Melanie standing to her side. I couldn’t look at them. Outside, through the slit opening in the door, cameras loomed. None of us could move until Melanie broke the silence, saying the sleep trailers were coming tonight, and everyone would be here for three days.
“However long it takes,” Wanda said. “Hunny, there was no commercial, it was all a lie.”
“Of course it was a fucking lie!” I kicked a bag of sweaters in front of me. What were they going to do about the footage they shot though? Didn’t I at least have that?
I got up off the ground. Wanda waved a fly away from her face, and looked up at Melanie. “Consider this an intervention,” the shrink said. “Let us help you with all of this.”
“Three days?” I looked around at my stuff. Growing up we always had stuff. Dad would bring home stuff all the time. Car parts, things from dead relative’s houses. He once got bread, Q-Tips, and a box of Cup-A-Soup’s from a dead person’s house. Most of this was his. What was I supposed to do about that, all of his stuff?
The door moved. A camera guy tried to push in, but the shrink shut the door.
“You aren’t a hoarder. Earlier you called yourself a hoarder,” the shrink said. “You aren’t a hoarder. No one is calling you that.”
“I didn’t sign any goddamn contract!”
“You didn’t. Legally we can still proceed with gutting the house. It technically is your wife’s home. We will gut it. We just won’t show your face,” the shrink said, looking over at Wanda. I realized just then Wanda had fixed up her hair. Usually she just wore a braid but she’d done something new with it. And she might have even been wearing mascara. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t look at her.
“You could take this as an opportunity, Noggie, to get rid of this mess and participate. Take this as an opportunity to better yourself. We’ll supply you with the footage from the commercial. Yes, there is footage. Yes, you may have it,” the shrink said.
“It’s the best thing,” Wanda said.
“And your collection could be worth money,” the shrink suggested.
“It’s not. It’s mostly junk. Some of the tea cups I think are worth money, some of his father’s jewellery maybe,” Wanda said.
“Most of the stuff’s valuable,” I objected to any devaluing of me or my inheritance.
“Most of it’s from the Dollarama! That whole bag behind you is Dollarama stuff!”
I turned so red I climbed back over the pile to the bathroom on the other side, throwing the fuzzy handcuffs and aquarium pieces over my shoulder, sliding down the other side and locking myself in the bathroom, which had been stripped bare except for the puffer-fish shower curtain and matching towel set.
They took the door off the hinges when they came for me. Wanda, with the shrink, a fat boy chewing gum and the camera and sound guys had cleared a path from the front door to the bathroom. It might have been hours of me laying there unresponsive while they worked. Wanda was red in the face. The porcelain was cool. They came and picked me up and put me on the lawn. I didn’t fight them. I didn’t move when they laid me down on the lawn and circled me, saying my name over and over until they got tired and left.
I couldn’t move. I lay on the brown grass and saw that the passenger side of my Passat was still open. Did I leave the keys in the ignition? Workers unloaded my stuff into the GOT JUNK? bins.
I lit a cigarette, watching the house. The front door was open. A dozen workers, all wearing the same green t-shirt, working together to carry away my shit. The shrink came up behind me, grabbed my shoulder. “Noggie, this is really the best thing—”
“You said that already!” I imagined flicking my cigarette into her face.
“All we are doing is organizing your house,” the shrink said. Two women holding a cracked full-length mirror averted their eyes, but I could tell they were tuned in.
“Some of this stuff is my father’s! You have no idea what is and what isn’t!” I picked through a box of random objects—a Marmaduke statue that used to live by the bathroom sink, another box of old shampoo bottles and loofahs, and the movie posters that I had plastered behind the toilet—they were all there. All the bathroom stuff. I pulled Marmaduke out and looked at him. “This is my father’s.”
The only thing left in the bathroom were the ants climbing in and out of the drain. Wanda appeared behind me with a can of Raid in her hand. “No,” I said, “leave them.”
Wanda stood in front of the bathroom mirror and pulled her hair clips out. I went into the bedroom looked at the TV sitting at the foot of the bed. I got undressed, and heard Wanda humming in the bathroom. I picked the TV up to move it to the floor and stopped. I walked out of the room, through the path in the living room, adjusting the TV in my arms while I opened the front door. Wanda turned from brushing her hair. “Noggie, what the hell are you doing?”
The television wasn’t that heavy. I hoisted the fat little thing up as far as I could and heaved it onto the lawn. It didn’t smash as much as I wanted. I went back to bed. I slept all damn night with Wanda trying to get her arms around me.
I woke with Wanda’s hair in my face. Sat on the edge of the bed. I slipped on my underwear from yesterday and found a shirt under the bed but a Mars bar had melted in it. I stuffed it back under the bed.
I got dressed and washed my face in the sink and took a look outside again. The shrink sat in her Subaru. One worker held her coffee and another was pointing to a clipboard. She slapped it out of his hand. He was one of the guys who carried me out of the bathroom. The fat boy with the chewing gum.
I bumped into a pile of records and bags of 8-tracks on my way to the kitchen. Gordon Lightfoot looked up thoughtfully at me. Wanda came out to see what had happened. She had pinned up her hair and put lipstick on. A sundress I hadn’t seen before. “Your dad loved those records,” Wanda said. I turned to see the fay boy coming in the back door. “Hey, I`m Udo.”
The shrink cornered me. “I need you to cooperate. I have two episodes to film in the next two weeks. I need to clear your episode in the next few days. We’ve been generous giving you the space you need.”
“Offering me a commercial then telling me it doesn’t exist?”
“It exists. You can have the footage like I said. Most of the time we were filming.”
I lit another smoke. “So you go around offering people things they need to get them out of the house so you can go through their homes?”
“We could have arranged a day at the spa or a night on the town but decided on the commercial. You were very excited about it, do you remember?”
“Channel that excitement into today.”
“Who gave you permission to rearrange me?”
“It was inevitable. The city would have come.”
Wanda came over with her hair looking perfect. From the sleep trailers Udo looked up and took a few steps over. “Is everything alright?”
“The city would have come, huh?” I flicked my cigarette into the grass.
“They would have.” Wanda nodded.
“We live here.”
“I thought you said you stay at your sister’s.” The shrink turned to Wanda.
“Then stay there!” I screamed.
“Noggie, she is concerned about her house.”
“It was my parents’ house, Melanie.”
“We won’t know the damage to the house until we remove all the items,” the shrink said, looking at Udo, then Wanda.
“There’s nothing wrong with the house!” I said.
“There’s damage everywhere—the walls, one of the windows in the spare room is broken. There’s something living in the walls. I hear it at night. It knows I am there.”
“It will move out.”
“You move out!” Wanda cried.
“You already did!”
I could go to the dealership, but it was depressing. I could go there to escape. Go away until this was done. They would never show me on TV and Wanda could have all the airtime she wanted with her perfect, birthday-cake hair. I could stare at all the cars that would never move.
It was nowhere near lunch time. None of the workers had taken anything out of the house since yesterday. Now that they could walk a clear path from the front to the back maybe they would lean off a bit. “What are we gonna do with your Dad’s stuff?” Wanda appeared in the doorway. It was stacked all together, organized, in the other bedroom.
I didn’t know what to do with it. His suits didn’t fit me but they smelled like him. When they didn’t smell like him could I let them go?
“All that horse stuff.”
“Dad loves horses,” I said.
I couldn’t deal with anything happening to the horse stuff. The shrink said “We’re going to start gutting the place. Everything is coming out now.” She walked across the lawn, gesturing like a meteorologist as the workers brought out broken chairs, mouldy board games, two chandeliers. I wandered through the house, peeked in on Dad’s stuff. I moved the horse stuff to a safer place. As I came back into the kitchen two guys tore out the oven from the wall. A green chair remained safe in the middle of the lawn. I sat there, had a smoke. The shrink shook her head and pointed for the camera guy to catch me sitting.
Wanda walked by me to her car and came back with paper plates. “Why don’t you help?”
“I`m just letting things happen.”
“Just letting life happen!” Wanda laughed.
I scowled. The shrink filmed me from a few feet away.
“You can’t show me on your show!”
“We’re going to blur you out. It will look like Wanda is talking to a blur.” The shrink had her hand around her mouth like a bullhorn.
Once the living room and bathroom were cleared, an inspector came and told us the floor under the tub was completely rotten. The pipes would need to be replaced. “This all comes up with old houses regardless.” The inspector said when the shrink asked if it could have been prevented if the hoarding hadn’t gotten out of control.
The living room carpet was black with mold, kind of tangy-smelling. One of the blue GOT JUNK? bins was being taken away. I called the dealership. We had sold one car. Nine hundred dollars. I closed my phone. We were making progress.
Wanda was out of hamburgers. She fed the crew then they started moving again. One guy put a lamp shade into the back of his truck. When he left I punched a hole through it.
The living room was bare except the wet stains and the little maggots Wanda had poured bleach on. “You must really hate me to have the place come to this,” Wanda said.
I said nothing. Behind her I noticed they left the bed in the bedroom for us but I didn’t think we’d be sleeping there tonight.
“You must really hate me,” Wanda said again.
‘We did this together. This is what togetherness does.”
We weren’t even done. There was another day still. I took the jug from Wanda, and poured bleach on the patches she missed.
The shrink came over to beg me to just do a five-minute testimonial on cam and sign a waiver. “Are you in the market for a used car?” I asked her from the green chair.
“I am not,” she said, rolling the waiver into a tube.
Udo carried a garbage bag full of shredded carpet out of the house. They were really going above and beyond, this TV crew. They even pulled Wanda off my car after she kicked both doors in with a pair of steel-toed shoes. We couldn’t look at each other. Her birthday cake hair had fallen. “You’re an asshole. A real wide asshole.”
I went into the house because I hated seeing Wanda so upset in public. Inside, all the doors and windows were open. I opened the door that my Dad’s stuff was in. The boxes were still there. Nothing was touched.
I couldn’t tell if Wanda was mad because they wouldn’t be able to show me on television. She had gotten what she wanted. The house was cleared out. I showed that I could change and let go of things.
I could hear Wanda in the kitchen slamming things from the toilet. Everything echoed even more since everything was gone now. We had nothing to sit on except for the bed. But then again, Wanda was probably going to her sister’s. At the bottom of the tub the ants crawled in and out of the drain, and I wondered what all they had brought down there with them.
I flushed and stood out in the yard as it got dark. The workers were back in their trailers. Supper time. I went out on the front lawn and tried to bring the green chair into the house. I had a hell of a time trying to get it back inside.