The Dead Box

My weekend job is at an organization housed in a historic mansion on a large wooded lot in the middle of a wealthy suburb. The event rentals make about half a million a year, which covers half of the yearly cost to maintain the property. That other half a million comes from the results of a small team of really strange, mentally deranged development type people. Their main job, besides finding grants, is to cajole old ladies to remember us in their will. And they do… In many different ways.

In addition to money, they leave us an avalanche of junk. From shoes to dishwashers, paintings to cars, stuffed birds to crockery, panty hose to fishing rods.

All this shit goes into the “Dead Box” – a storage room in the basement filled with every imaginable item, down to several kitchen sinks.

The Dead Box has become famous with the caterers in the area. When I’m on duty, they’ll come to me late into the event, whenever there’s a lull, and they’ll whisper “Dead Box” while slipping me a twenty. I’ll take them to the basement, pounding my janitor’s keys against the locks and opening the way, and they’ll go wild. Over the years, the Dead Box has outfitted countless kitchens, and even a few restaurants. The inexhaustible surplus of shit in the Dead Box room can’t even be properly described. Every week, you find something new. Even when you have all the time in the world, you can’t possibly take an inventory of everything in that room. My entire kitchen – every plate, utensil, and piece of cookware – comes from the Dead Box. Half my furniture comes from the Dead Box. Clothing, shoes, soaps, perfumes… Dead Box. Laptops, deep freezers, golf clubs, original art, and a Rembrandt or two… Dead Box.
There are several venues just like mine in the area. Old houses and historic properties maintained by a membership base always at odds with the rentals staff. Over the years, I’ve learned from the caterers that our Dead Box isn’t unique. Basements across the area are all have Dead Boxes, and countless caterers, for generations, have been living off of these Dead Boxes. The Dead Box at a major venue in Rockville, MD is a garage, and includes five collectible cars that are slowly succumbing to the elements. Once, three years ago, one of the caterers – the chef’s assistant – took a Mercedes. He figured, what the fuck? He’ll just drive it out and see what happens. For weeks, he hid the car in his back yard under a tarp and twitched with paranoid nightmares.

A month later, there was no mention of the car.

Two months later, he slinked into the kitchens during another event at the venue. There was still no mention of the car. The catering captain, having watched his minion writhe for months, asked the venue’s manager about the Dead Box – what are you all doing with those cars? The venue manager shrugged, never looking up from his smartphone, and said, “Dunno. They’re probably going to junk them eventually.”

That was three years ago. The caterer, now a full chef, drives the Mercedes to work. He fears being pulled over by the cops, but he lives about six miles from our venue, so it’s all back roads. He says the trick is to stick to residential streets and never go over 25 MPH.

He’s also taken to wearing an ascot and beret.

Our Dead Box is much more humble. The best I’ve seen go out of there are appliances. Dishwashers, washers and dryers, deep freezers, refrigerators. A few laptops and computers have moved, and a plasma TV. I busy myself with outfitting my kitchen, my bathroom, and other utilitarian items. Sometimes, as I see hot water heaters pile up in the corner, or lawn mowers, or sets of expensive kitchen cabinets, I wish I was a homeowner. But home ownership is an illusion. My rewards come from the search. I check the brims of hats, the pockets of old clothes, and any drawers or containers. I’m looking for forgotten money and other personal items. Over the course of a month, the Dead Box will easily belch out a few hundred bucks. Some of the caterers have discovered this, as well. When the doors close and the lights go down, they’ll grease my palm with booze or cash and haul up a chair in the Dead Box room, whiling away the early AM sifting through box after box of leavings like old 49ers panning for gold.

The Dead Box room is also where the lost and found goes to die. Not that anything of value ever stays in the lost and found for more than a day or two. Sometimes, though, caring do-gooders attempt to subvert the natural order of acquisition and will dump the lost and found contents in the Dead Box room, imaging it to be more secure. Besides increasing the Dead Box’s booty, this also effectively guarantees that the items are lost forever. If the owner comes to claim them, no one will think to look in the Dead Box.

There are even some regular staff folks – the handful of granolas who aren’t involved in the events but spend their days feebly trying to maintain our little organization – who fear the Dead Box. They believe the room holds ghosts. A section of an already haunted basement crammed floor to ceiling with the leavings of the dead.

I wonder if these ghosts come home with us. As I sit here in a Dead Box bathrobe, sipping coffee from Dead Box china, typing on a Dead Box laptop, and keeping an eye on a Dead Box clock.

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