For two years now, I’ve rented a storage locker in Long Island City, Queens. I never expected it to languish so long–I probably spent more to shelter it than the stuff is worth to me. On my brief trips to New York, I paid loving visits to Storage USA Unit 5B-15, as if my collection of books and clothes were an incarcerated relative. I would open the boxes nearest the door in search of better pants or a pair of shoes I wasn’t heartily sick of, and in return I stuffed in the camping gear I hadn’t used and the extra books lugged home from Bangkok or Mexico.
Now I’ve returned, and I have a three-month sublet on an apartment a few miles my locker. It’s a flimsy home, but it’s the first time I’ve had my name on the mailbox in a while. So my friend Peter volunteered to help me reclaim my things. He has a car, which seems grown-up and decadent in this city where the Magnetic Fields can sing:
I’m the luckiest guy
On the Lower East Side
‘Cos I’ve got wheels
And she wants to go for a ride
“Where’s Albert?” I asked at the Storage USA office.
“He don’t work here no more,” said the surly girl. Albert used to be the manager. We’d become friends during my visits. Every time he cut the lock on my locker he would tell me all about his Irish girlfriend, who was Trouble with a capital T, he said. I never managed to hold onto the locker key between visits.
Peter and I rolled two unwieldy dollies into the elevator. The fifth floor was deserted. The floors are open metal gridwork, so that above and below dark corridors of storage lockers stretch away, like an Escher woodcut. It gets me thinking about the stories behind each blue metal door; the break-ups, the dislocations, the hopes stacked in boxes.
It’s strange to reunite with the artefacts of an old life in front of someone else. Peter rolled his eyes as stray stockings and bras lolled out of the bags they’d been stuffed into.
“How many frickin’ bags and backpacks do you own?” he asked, hauling them onto the dolly. I didn’t know. We wrestled down the velvet loveseat. To Peter, it was a Tetris problem; to me, a flood of memories of the day friends came to test the little sofa in Depression Modern before I handed over the price in clean fifties.
We dragged out bags of clothes, boxes of shoes, a small table and two chairs, a Razor scooter, boxes of makeup, a microwave. Peter packed the car with an eye for spatial relations that I will never have. He did two patient trips down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, tying down the back of the Jeep on the second run. We managed to rescue about half of my worldly goods.
Later, after work every evening, I unpacked boxes, littering the small apartment. My clothes smelled musty. I could hardly believe I owned so many pairs of knickers. I marvelled at my trousers, at all these skirts. I kept finding lipstick, bottles of Clarins _Eau Dynamisante_, expensive moisturisers. High heels. Hairdryers. It was like unwrapping cast-off presents from a glamorous older sister who didn’t know me as well as I wished she did.
Four nights into the unpacking marathon, I found a single black sock, embroidered with the number 9 on the sole. I stared at it. I remembered Caterina’s blog entry about 10socks, the Danish company that would ship you a box of black socks, wool and cotton, numbered for laundry convenience. It was one of the great mysteries of married life that my husband managed to poke holes in his socks with such regularity. 10socks promised a life of simple choices and matched socks. How could anything fall apart in such a life? How could you stick your toes through such ingenious, efficient Scandanavian socks? So I ordered them as a gift, and Jason laughed. In my enthusiasm I had forgotten to account for the sour Italian woman who did our laundry by the pound on Second Place. Her sort-and-fold service did not include collating Danish socks. They went astray and developed holes, just like all the others.
And here, three years later, was Danish sock number 9 without its partner, a foolish stowaway from the past. It smelled of storage when I wiped up tears with the toe.