Universal Junk Store by Jen Beaven

Conscious Creation Journal – an aspect of consciouscreation.com – published by Kristen Fox and John McNally

Printed in the Conscious Creation Journal
February 2004

Universal Junk Store
by Jen Beaven

There was a big old barn, a few smaller buildings and just acres of junk as far as you could see. The early morning sun made sparklies of dew still on the grass. I wondered if they just covered the junk at night – it was all in pretty good condition – or if they carried it in at night and out in the morning. Way too much stuff for that, I decided.

We were here to poke around and shop, but mostly to find something Mom liked. Dad wandered off towards the vintage magazines, and Mom and I peered into a big, den-like room with an unused fireplace in one of the smaller buildings.

Over the fireplace, exactly where you might expect a moose head, was a beautiful sculpture carved out of a huge single piece of gemstone – carnelian, I thought. It took my breath away – I turned to Mom, but she didn’t even want to go in the room – the other things in there looked equally pricey. “Why bother to even look?” she said. I knew she was right – I could never afford it.

There seemed to be only one guy running the place – a crotchety-looking old fellow with scrappy bits of white hair who I mostly saw the back of. He was wearing red suspenders that crossed in the back that held up dusty green jeans; his long-sleeved yellowing shirt seemed to be made of long underwear fabric. Frustratingly, he was never around when I had a question, and I could never catch his eye when I could see him.

Suddenly something told me Mom had found what she was looking for; I turned and saw a small bench made of beautifully polished dark wood with a large gemstone cameo inlaid into the wood. The cameo was carved out of what looked like moss agate – parts of the stone were clear as glass, parts luminously cloudy and what appeared to be delicate tufts and clumps of moss were captured inside. I could tell she loved this piece.

I smiled to myself; here was something I was familiar with! I’d seen several similar pieces last weekend and knew that, at most, they were priced at $200 to $250. This I could swing easily, even if Mom wasn’t ready to go for it. We searched for a price tag and were even happier to find the original price crossed off and $80 written in, in bold red marker.

Before I could even offer, Mom was off to the central desk where a vintage cash register presided. Miraculously, the old guy was there and perfectly ready to take her money! It figures, I thought.

As Mom wrote out a check, the old fellow told my Dad and me to go to the barn and collect the bench Mom was going to get. “Not that one?” I pointed to the one she’d fallen in love with. He abruptly said that was the display model and turned back to Mom. Dad and I shrugged and went into the barn. We found the stack of benches and lifted out the top one.

It was very different – not as highly polished, a little wobbly, but worst of all the inlays were glass, not polished semi-precious stones; and looking closer I could see that the glass was cracked and even starred in some places. “This isn’t right.” I said, and went to find the cheating old geezer.

I saw him talking to a plump woman in a dark wool cape coat with a big silly hat. He handed her some small object – I couldn’t see what, but it was gleamy and expensive looking. Her face lit up and she closed her eyes with joy, clasping whatever it was to her chest like a kid with a longed-for toy. The old man beamed.

The woman thanked him as if he’d just found her long-lost family; then she practically skipped away. I hadn’t even seen any money change hands! Were some customers more equal than others?

I was plenty mad at the guy already, and he was already turning away from me when I reached him. “Just wait a minute!” I said. To my surprise, he did. Up close, he reminded me of Boothby, the tough yet wise groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to say. Oddly enough, I’d stopped him right next to the bench Mom had just paid for, so I just pointed to it. “She paid for that one!” I said, trying to make my voice dangerously quiet.

“I know,” he said, and smiled.

Of course, this just made me madder. “You’re not helping!” I went on. “She already expects to be cheated at places like this!” His smile got bigger and I got even madder. “That lady in the hat got what she wanted and I don’t think you even charged her!”

He just looked at me, grinning like a maniac.

“So, what is it?” I demanded, “Was the lady in the hat some kind of… ” (I made it sound like some specimen of garbage eating bug.) “‘Preferred Customer’?”

“Bingo!” he nearly shouted, and laughed out loud.

I was still mad, but I felt like I was getting somewhere (and the old man had a great laugh.) “So how does someone get to be a Preferred Customer then?” I asked.

He looked at me, amused, but also a little incredulous. “You just ask!” he said. “How else?”

“So wait a minute.” This was making my brain hurt. “If I ask to be a Preferred Customer, I get to get what I want and maybe not even pay for it. What the heck kind of way is that to run a business?”

“It isn’t,” he said, “but then this isn’t exactly a business. I’ve got all this stuff; it’s got to go somewhere. It’s mostly special orders that people wanted but never picked up, for one reason or another.”

“It’s still worth something!” I said.

“Sure it is, but, well, I’m seventy-eight years old and I’ve already got more money than God. I don’t need any more money, but I sure need something to do to keep from being bored. I think I would have made a good Santa Claus”, he continued, “because I’m happiest when I can make somebody else happy.” He looked wistfully after the departing lady in the hat.

“So why don’t you just give everything away?” I asked.

“I tried!” he said, turning back to me. “I put up a sign that said ‘Everything FREE’ and hardly anybody stopped! It bothered me more because I could see kids pointing and obviously asking their parents to stop, but the parents just drove on. Oh, a few people came in, but they kept asking what the catch was. Catch!” He snorted. “I rarely got any adult to accept anything, and the kids only took what their parents thought they deserved, which was hardly ever what they actually wanted.”

I was beginning to see his point. “Why didn’t you explain this to them the way you’ve explained it to me?”

“They never asked,” he said sadly.

“OK,” I began to get creative, “So couldn’t you mark everything with a price, but then just give it away when they came to pay for it? Or give them a a really big discount?”

“Tried that too,” he said, way ahead of me. “It just seemed to confuse them. You’d be surprised how many people can’t accept a gift!”

“Like Mom.” I said.

“Why do you think that is?” He seemed genuinely curious.

“I think she feels there’s probably someone else out there who deserves it more.” I hadn’t really thought of it before. “She always does a little more than her share,” I continued, “and always takes a little less than she’s entitled to. She’s a good person.”

“She is,” he agreed. “But shouldn’t that mean she deserves more than she gets?”

“OK, sure, I think so, but I don’t think she does.”

“I’ve found,” he said, “that people aren’t comfortable unless they get what they expect. Not what they think they want, or what they really want. Just what they expect.”

I thought of the lady in the silly hat. “But some people are OK with it. I mean, if the lady in the hat wanted that bench, you’d give it to her, right? Since she’s a Preferred Customer and all…”

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Then I would like to be a Preferred Customer, please.”

“Done!” he said, and gave me a really big grin.

“So can I get this bench for my mother now?”

“No,” he said, “you can’t. But I expect that after you talk to her, she’ll want to be a Preferred Customer too. It will be waiting for her whenever she’s ready. However…” He put his hand on my shoulder and steered me back toward the small building with the roomful of too expensive stuff. “I think I do have something with your name on it. Beautiful thing. Carved out of a single piece of carnelian! Really unusual…”

I could get used to this!

©2004, Jen Beaven.  All Rights Reserved. Printed in the Conscious Creation Journal.  (Feel free to duplicate this article for personal use – please include this copyright notice and the URL.) http://www.consciouscreation.com

Jen Beaven is always scavenging for new software projects (http://www.houseofc.com), particularly if they seem impossible or involve mainframe assembler or Macintosh device drivers. She also documents an odd little penguin-dominated parallel universe at http://pengcognito.com weekly.