Paul McGuire © 2010
Lizzy's grandmother grew up grew up under tough circumstances. Money was tight back then and even though Lizzy's grandmother married into a predominately wealthy family, she still had foundation of savings. She had a difficult time throwing things away. She saved everything. It's not that Lizzy's grandmother was miserly, on the contrary, she enjoyed spending her money. Her hoarding problem intensified when Lizzy's uncle was killed in Vietnam and a few years after, Lizzy's grandfather passed away after a heart attack.
Lizzy's grandmother lived in a ten-room house. The outside was perfectly manicured. Lizzy's grandmother paid top dollar for the best landscaping company in Pasadena. The inside of the house, however, was an appalling opposite of the outside. You couldn't walk five feet into the house before you were panicking because of a claustrophobic labyrinth made up of hundreds of files cabinets, bankers boxes, shoe boxes, shelving units, milk crates stuffed with junk mail, and plastic bins stacked to the ceiling.
For five weeks every summer, Lizzy's grandmother went to a spa Colorado. Lizzy's sister drew the uneviable task of house sitting. She was afraid to enter the house because it was a "death trap, fire hazard, and smelled like dead cats."
Lizzy's sister offered her $100 to keep an eye on the house. All she had to do was take in the mail once a day and pay the landscaping crew once a week. Lizzy is a Trustafarian, which means she's constantly broke, just got back from three months in Cambodia, and smokes my weed. All. The. Time.
Lizzy and my friends are what you call functioning addicts. We're constantly chasing the next high. The problem is that the next high isn't cheap so we're figuring out every way possible to make money or score drugs on the cheap -- without actually breaking any laws or selling our bodies for prostitution. Heck, Lizzy refuses to get a job. Period. So how can someone as lazy as her get up early enough to turn a few tricks?
Lizzy was convinced that she could find a potential bonanza of stuff at her grandmother's house -- which she would pawn, fence, or sell on e-bay. All we had to do was sort through the piles and piles of junk. Lizzy convinced me to join her and a Midnight raid of her grandmother's house.
What was supposed to be the family room was completely unorganized clutter -- bags of clothes, empty containers, Betty Boop memorabilia, canned goods, grocery store fliers, and boxes of Christmas decorations. Everything was piled on top of each other like ever shifting sand dunes. You would try to climb one pile and have a couple of feet of junk topple over you and you're caught in an avalanche. One mountain of crap rose up from the middle of the room and shot up to the ceiling. Lizzy nicknamed that ten-foot behemoth: "Mt. Everest."
Lizzy had a theory that her granny hid everything of value inside that room because it would be too tough to steal it underneath the mountains of trash and crap. She wanted that area to be the main focus of her salvage operation. I saw it more like tomb robbing.
Lizzy brought a can of raid to kill all the spiders and other critters. I wore dishwasher gloves to avoid any potential spider bites. I also wore ski goggles just in case. I made a mental note to buy a SARS surgical mask because the excess dust complicated breathing.
After about an hour of sifting through a couple of suitcases filled with magazines and old newspapers as far back as 1979, I suggested that we look for pills and raid the medicine cabinets. Lizzy found pill bottles... hundreds of them... in boxes near her grandmother's makeshift bedroom which was actually the hallway. Her grandma slept on a couch in the hallway because her bedroom became over run with racks of dresses and boxes of shoes.
Lizzy found dozens of labeled bottles but expired for several years. She was ready to experiment and twisted off a cap.
"Wait...," I shouted. "You don't know for sure that's the same pills that supposed to be in that bottle. Think about it. Granny can't even keep anything in order, who's to say that she didn't mix and match by accident?"
"Shit, you're right. But what do we do?"
My plan was simple... gather up every possible bottle and bring them back to Lizzy's house. Which we did. We had two pillow cases filled with bottles and retreated to my apartment. We snorted lines at the kitchen table and four of us identify each pill individually. Bodie and his girlfriend brought their laptops. They were our researchers. We'd describe a pill and they'd check the internet. You'd be surprised how easy it was to figure out what kind of pill you had by simply heading to Google and typing the shape, color, and any markings on the pill. If that didn't work, all you had to do was post your discovery on the message boards at Drugs.com and fellow junkies or actual medical practitioners would respond with the correct answers.
Lizzy's grandmother didn't horde any pharmaceuticals of interest to us. She had plenty of blood pressure and hypertension pills. We found a couple of bottles of expired Percodan. I didn't think they made that anymore, but the effects were similar to Percosett. We didn't know what the dosages would do, so we all popped one to see how we felt and would reassess our condition in four hours.
Lizzy found a bottle of muscle relaxers and something for migraines. We were disappointed that it took us two trips sort through two medicine cabinets, granny's dressers, and the entire hallway outside of the master bedroom.
Lizzy decided that we needed to return to the house and take on Everest. You couldn't even walk on the floor and sometimes you were two feet off the ground. Lizzy was convinced that there was gold buried underneath Everest.
"How about a Jaguar?"
"Fuck you! Are you gonna help me or not? My mom said there's gotta be some jewelry hidden somewhere. If it's anywhere it's gotta be underneath Everest."
I let Lizzy lead the Everest expedition. I opted for a more practical mission: seek out higher end items that we could fence like electronics, pieces of art, and old vinyl records. Bodie and I each took a different floor of the house and wrote down items that we thought could be of value. Once we finished compiling the lists, we strategically went for the best stuff. Bodie found a brand new Casino keyboard lying underneath a stack of sweaters. It was still in the box. We quickly loaded that into his car and tried to figure out how much we could sell it. He was overestimating and thought we stumbled up a $2,000 score. I told him we'd be lucky to get $200 in craigslist.
In the former den, one of the shelved walls contained hundreds of books. Getting there was the tough part. Once we cleared out a path way, we went in search of something of value that we could sell. Bodie dropped out of high school to become a professional skateboarder, so he had no idea that there was a difference between John Grisham and Shakespeare. To him, they were both writers -- equally the same. That's why he looked at all of the books and couldn't figure out which ones had value and which were junk.
I told him to leave me alone in the den to sort through books. I suggested that he dig in the other corner and look for vintage records. Who knows what sort of old jazz records that we could find and eventually sell at a second-hand music store where hipster spend $50 for a scratchy vinyl version of Blonde on Blonde.
I found mostly text books and old science manuals that belonged to Lizzy's grandfather. I had no idea what I as looking for, but I tried to make two piles: books I wanted to keep for myself and books I wanted to sell. After three hours, I only found two books worth pawning (what appeared to be an original copy of Gravity's Rainbow and a signed copy of Breakfast of Champions). The other pile had about a dozen or so books that I wanted to read and then later on try to sell for like $2 each at the flea market on Fairfax.
Lizzy emerged in tears and heavily bruised after Everest swallowed her up a couple of times. She was tired and frustrated and hadn't slept in four days snorting coke and crushing up Adderall every eight hours. She was pissed too that all we got out of our salvage operation was a keyboard, a couple of books, and menopause meds.
"Don't forget about the six pairs of Santa Claus and Mrs.Claus salt and pepper shakers we found," I reminded her.
"I have no idea what granny was doing with those. She's Jewish."
Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.