As the moving truck pulled away we looked at the forty or fifty cardboard boxes that contained our life, such as it is. We were beyond exhausted; it was time to grab something to eat and go to bed. But we leapt into the unpacking like crazy people, razoring open boxes, placing whatever treasure we found in some random corner of some random room and then stuffing all the wrapping paper back into the box. The next morning we woke to a house filled floor-to-ceiling with empty cardboard boxes. We couldn’t find the kitchen. So I went online and found Juan from The People’s Junk Removal Co. and he and his partner came out and took it all away. Then two days later — as the empty boxes piled up again — Juan came back to clear them as well.
At the end of the third day Jill was leaning various paintings and sculptures against the walls where they would eventually hang and she called to me in the kitchen, where I was trying to put some order to my batterie de cuisine.
“Honey,” she called, “where’s the second bird?”
“The second what?”
“Emile’s birds. I have the guy, but I can’t find his girlfriend.”
Emile Norman, who passed away a few years ago at the age of ninety-one was a Big Sur artist and legend. We bought land from him, built a house and were his neighbors and friends for the last twelve or so years of his life. He created a pair of inlaid wood birds for our bedroom wall in Big Sur and the birds have been with us ever since. It was not okay to lose one of Emile’s birds.
On a whim, I called Juan.
“Oh, no way, Mr. Tucker; I’m really sorry to tell you this but we took all your stuff to the landfill two days ago.”
“The landfill?” The word had finality to it.
“You know, if you had just told me it was in there I would have saved it for you,” said Juan.
I let this pass.
Two days later the phone rang in the middle of dinner. It was Juan.
“I kept going back to the landfill to check with the guy and today he told me he had the bird.”
“Oh, my God,” said Jill, who had taken the call.
“But he said that it’s his bird now. He said everything in the landfill belongs to him.”
“He said he could get fifty dollars for it, so I offered him thirty and he took it.”
So, you have it?”
“Yeah, I got it. Tomorrow, we’re working in Norwalk. You can meet me there and pick it up. I gave him thirty dollars, okay?”
The next day we met Juan in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in South Norwalk. It was like a drug deal.
“You gave him thirty dollars?” I asked.
His eyes lit up like the McDonald’s sign. Everybody was happy — Juan, the landfill guy, the bird and, especially, us.