In a recent episode of This American Life (#399: Contents Unknown), one of the stories is about people who go to abandoned/seized storage locker auctions. There, they open up the locker (but no one gets to step inside) and after seeing the stacks of boxes and things contained, they’re auctioned off. You never know what you’re really going to get until afterwards; they talked about how usually you just end up with worthless stuff, but occasionally you hit the jackpot and find jewelry or such.
While listening to this at the gym earlier in the week, it reminded me of an old roommate of mine, whom is now referred to solely as “AR.” AR ended up being a living example of how having a friend become a roommate can sometimes result in no longer being friends. (It’s why when my friends Rob & Peter mentioned they don’t rent their English Basement apartment to friends, I absolutely understood and agreed instantly.) Within about six months of moving in he started paying his share of the rent and utilities later and later, he was an absolute slob, and generally an unpleasant person to live with. My biggest regret is that we believed him when he promised things would change (and let him renew the lease for another year with us), but as he turned out to also be a pathological liar and a thief, we were hardly the only ones to ever get conned by him.
We got rid of him by ending the entire lease when it expired. My other roommate was going to school at American University for a law degree and got an apartment near campus, and I got a one-bedroom place and have lived by myself ever since. AR skipped town still owing us two months rent and utilities, going initially all the way to Arizona (having burnt all bridges here) and then off to Greece to live with family for a while. Fortunately right before he left, I had the foresight to go through his bookshelves and retrieve all the books of mine that he’d taken (including a few that he’d even put into boxes already!). But it’s the boxes that are the heart of the story here.
About a year after he moved in, an aunt of him gave him some boxes of stuff; I think she’d moved out of the area, or at least into a different home, and given him things she didn’t want any more. One of the boxes was marked, “AR Kitchen” and it sat in our kitchen for months on end. When AR finally skipped town, that box was still sitting in the kitchen, taped shut, forgotten in his haste to get away. My other roommate and I had been wondering for ages what was inside the box, and had taken to calling it Schrödinger’s Kitchen, after the famous cat in the box that is both alive and dead until you finally open it up and see what’s inside.
With AR gone, the mysteries could finally be revealed. What excitement was inside this box? Would it be something good? Something bad? A dead cat? As it turned out, mostly garbage. I remember there was an old phone in there that had mold on it (ewwwww), which was promptly thrown into the garbage. Some old plastic plates and cups. The one exception, though, was a straight-from-the-’70s fondue set that was still in great shape. I’ve still got it today. And if AR ever finds out and objects, I’d be happy to sell it back to him for the cost of two months rent. (I’m offering a discount, no need to pay the utilities.)
There’s something about that mystery of what’s in the box that is always so exciting; it’s part of why I love Christmas, with the idea that anything could be under that tree even though you know the majority are things you’ve asked for. There’s that eternal possibility that you’re going to open up the box and find something you never saw coming. (I think it’s part of why I was so entranced by the “anything can be in the box” Disney Vinylmation figures on my recent trip to Disney World.) But I think I’m going to draw the line at storage locker auctions. I have stuff of my own to start buying it from other people!