By Howard Reeves
I get off the subway at 96th Street with twenty-three dollars in my wallet and fifteen minutes left on my cell phone calling card. I trudge up to my building and am greeted by the last of my belongings discarded like refuse on the sidewalk. My landlord is not a very compassionate man. When I couldn’t come up with the past two months’ rent, he leased my apartment to someone else. And he picked today to officially evict me.
I try to pull everything together in one pile—I figure it’ll be easier to protect. But it doesn’t take long for the scavengers to swoop down on a treasure-trove of furniture and clothing now strewn along a half-block of Amsterdam Avenue.
“Hey—hey! That’s my stuff!” I yell at a couple of lesbians, who are already starting to pick through my things. They hurry past me like I’m a crazed homeless person. Another scavenger—a dude with an attitude—picks up a side table that was handed down to me by my great grandmother and starts to walk away with it.
“Yo, you can’t have that—it’s mine!” I try to chase him off, but he grabs a lamp and runs. “Shit!” I spit out the curse as I frantically look around for a miracle.
I grab my phone and dial my brother. “Hey, Chuck,” I nearly scream into the cell. “You gotta help me! I need you to rent a truck—right now. Come get my stuff, man, before it all disappears.”
“You movin’?” he asks, sounding more than a little stoned.
“All my shit is on the sidewalk in front of my building,” I yell. “I got evicted—you understand? I’m out on the fucking street!”
“Man, too bad,” my brother says before hanging up.
I stare, mystified, at my phone. What the hell does that mean? Is he coming to help me or not? I flop down on the convertible sofa that once stood in the middle of my studio apartment, but now stretches across a manhole cover, and I wait.
An old man and his wife begin to sift through my stuff like they’ve just stumbled across a major yard sale on the Upper West Side.
“How much you want for that?” the man asks, pointing to a red canvas director’s chair I once kept in my college dorm room.
“It’s not for sale,” I state emphatically. “None of this stuff is.”
“But I want that chair,” he insists. “I’m willing to pay twenty bucks for it.”
“Sorry, this is my furniture, and it’s not for sale.”
“Then what’s it doing out here on the sidewalk?”
“I got evicted.”
“So you got no place to go, right?”
“I’ll give you ten for the chair.”
I take a quick breath as I survey the sum of my entire life, which is now quickly dwindling. “Oh, what the hell,” I tell him. “Take it.”
Smiling, he hands me a ten dollar bill. No sooner do I pocket the money, a taxi pulls up. A middle-aged woman with bleached-blonde hair jumps out and grabs a carved lamp that once belonged to my Uncle Max.
“I’ve been looking for a lamp like this,” she announces, opening her handbag. “What are you asking for it?”
I’d never considered how much the lamp was worth, so I was at a loss. “Uh, well, I’d like to have—oh, say—I don’t know, twenty-five dollars, but—”
“I’ll take it!” she says quickly, shoving the bills in my hand before climbing back in the cab and roaring away in a cloud of toxic smoke.
By the time I turn around, someone else shoves an old Crock-pot in my face while pointing to a box of kitchen utensils. “The lot—I’ll take the lot!” the shrill voice of a short, fat man screams at me, while two women fight over my antique armoire.
Suddenly, I find myself negotiating the entire worth of my household furnishings, accepting legal tender for the collective years I’ve lived in Manhattan. Nothing seems to have been overlooked: a three-panel mirror that hung over Aunt Mabel’s buffet; a carved-wooden African Zulu warrior that my grandfather brought back from a safari in Nigeria; and the bronze floor lamp that my Nana kept in her bedroom until she died.
The crowd is starting to grow, and so is my cash flow. Soon there’s nothing left on the sidewalk except a Mr. Coffee machine and a pair of hiking boots that I never really liked. I lean against a street light and count up the money I’ve made—eleven hundred and thirty-eight dollars—just as Chuck finally arrives in a U-Haul. I shove the bills in my pocket before climbing into the truck.
My brother stares at me the way he used to when I was a kid and I’d just conned him into trading his chocolate milk for a dead lizard (which somehow I convinced him was only sleeping). Now he’s a grown man who lives at home with our parents.
“Where’s your stuff, man?” he asks, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’ve just been released, Chuck.”
“Really…?” His voice lowers.
“From all my worldly things,” I add with dramatic flair. “I’ve been evicted, cast out, dispossessed. But now I’m free—free to let the tides sweep me away.”
“So where do you want to go?” he asks with obvious disdain.
I can think of a lot of places I could go with eleven-hundred and thirty-eight bucks. Atlantic City. Miami Beach. Maybe even Cancun. But I’d probably gamble, drink, and party it all away. Then, I look at my brother, who has a real bed with clean sheets and a doting mother, who still makes breakfast.
“Take me home, Chuck,” I tell him. “Just take me home.”