Weird Story of the Week

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Well, maybe not, as the week is just beginning ...

My best friend’s brother died. He had been estranged from his family for about 30 years. He would pop up now and then with a phone call or e-mail, but as the years rolled by, he popped up less and less.

About six weeks ago, my friend Lucy received an e-mail with the subject line "Stu Died." One of his friends e-mailed the dozen or so addresses on his computer. She went to Arcata (she lives in the Bay Area) and did a few things, but without a will, she couldn’t do much except claim the body and pay to have it cremated. I flew to Oakland to make the drive with her north to Arcata in Humboldt County, just south of the Oregon border.

I had never been further north of Mendocino County. One of the good things about Humboldt County is that it is so far out of the way that nobody like Pulte Homes or KB Home is ever going to try to develop that area. There were no chains in Arcata. There were lots of cool, independent coffee houses in many unusual shapes and sizes, and one crepe place that looked like a giant crepe pan—just one of many independent restaurants. There were a few chains in Eureka, but not many—Borders, Bed Bath and Beyond, Safeway, two Starbucks, Subway and Petco.

I forgot to mention that Stu was homeless by choice. He lived in his van. He probably had some kind of mental illness, but it was never diagnosed. He had a friend whom I’ll call John, who lives in his car by choice. John claims to be a mobile mechanic who doesn’t like to punch a time clock.

It was a whole different slice of life.

Lucy went back to clean out her brother’s three storage units. Getting access to them was the key, as there was no will. We went from one government office to another trying to find out who could help us. Finally, we got the right document, which needed to be notarized.

John led the way; if you didn’t know he was homeless; you would never suspect it. He’s very articulate and soft-spoken.

I’m not sure what Lucy expected to find in these storage units. We opened the first one, and it was musty. Stu had magazines lining the walls, piled from floor to ceiling. I squinted into the semi darkness and thought they were computer magazines ... but upon closer inspection, they were porno magazines. Stu had hundreds of porno magazines stacked from floor to ceiling—and the pages were labeled with faded Post-It notes—Erika, Yvonne, Brittani, Marilyn, Lelani …

I glanced sideways at Lucy. She was trying not to laugh or cry. John was behind us, and he muttered: "Geez, I knew Stu was into porno but I didn’t know exactly how much."

We opened the next, and it was filled with cleaning supplies and spice racks filled with spices. I opened up a jar labeled cinnamon to make sure it was what it said it was. "What’s with the spice racks?" I asked John. He said Stu liked to cook, and when he went to people’s houses to cook, he brought his own spices.

The third was filled with tools, clothes, books, herb and plant oils, computer parts and plastic milk cartons filled with CDs. Lucy found a box of family photos and said that is all she wanted.

She gave John access to the storage, and he said he could sell or give away or trade its contents. We went to the mortuary to pick up Stu’s ashes, which she also gave to John, who wanted to spread Stu’s ashes on the hillside where Stu picked St. John’s wort for his healing oils. 

It was just kind of bizarre.

Driving back, we went the long way by the Lost Coast on rough curved roads, past rolling green hills where livestock grazed, and every now and then, a sliver of the choppy gray ocean and its black beaches showed through the fog.

As we drove though the Redwood Forest and the miles and miles of trees, I felt like I was trapped in a Stephen King novel, feeling very powerless by nature and wondered what I had lying around my house that would incriminate me in the event that someone had to go through the remnants of my life. 

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