The Incense Salesman
The Keeper’s Finds (Part 1)
[You have disconnected.]
Stranger: heyy f/.21 selling nud3s and meetups.snapchat me @t serena.baddie
[You have disconnected.]
Stranger: Hello, male 40 here
[You have disconnected.]
Stranger: f14 horny hi
He mutters, “Jesus Fuckin’ Christ,” under his breath, then taps the esc key twice.
[You have disconnected.]
A creak akin to that of a soggy basement door overrides the hum of the minifridge in the corner as Cyrus leans back in his chair with his hands folded over his stomach. His cheeks puff out as he blows air out of his mouth like he was making a wish on a birthday cake, but no burning candles catch his breath. It’s approximately eight o’clock in the morning and Cyrus has already found himself creeping on Omingle, quite possibly the world’s sleeziest, nastiest, most bot-infested online random chatroom – in other words, Cyrus has reached a new low, and the only way he can bring himself to acknowledge this fact is by staring at his reflection in the screen of his computer and trying to blow it away. But, just like the other four times Cyrus has leaned back in the chair this morning, it just doesn’t work.
Sitting back up, Cyrus wields his wireless mouse and drags the cursor to the bottom left corner of the screen and clicks on the New button. He’s then connected to someone from somewhere in the world and waits for the stranger to start the conversation.
Cyrus types hello and presses enter. Based on this, the stranger chooses to disconnect.
“All right then.”
Even though he doesn’t want to, Cyrus keeps connecting and immediately disconnecting with strangers for the next forty-five minutes of his finite life. After clearing his search history (God forbid Cyrus goes to look at his history and sees that he actually went back on Omingle again), he shuts down the desktop, grabs his laptop bag, and leaves for work.
The next ten minutes of Cyrus’s life are about as stretched out as the used tights hanging up on the rack in the back of the shop. As with most mornings he spends on Omingle (in other words, most mornings in general), Cyrus spends his drive through First Milford reviewing his life’s choices and trying to figure out how he got himself to this point. It’s not as though Cyrus is unsuccessful – Treeburg is a town full of folk who love to spend their money on useless shit, allowing him to make bank through his online auction racket – nor is he a constantly horny deviant looking to meet up with random strangers on the internet to get his various body parts wet with various diseases. So why does he spend so many of his waking hours browsing the online chatrooms? What exactly is it that Cyrus is looking for?
Following a hearty sigh, “I don’t even know anymore.” He goes to use his blinker but hits the windshield wiper instead. “God damnit with this new car. Agh!” He slaps the steering wheel, then, “Well, I suppose I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”
Pulling on to County Road 511, Cyrus hits the gas and boosts up to fifty. The roar of the engine goes decibel for decibel with the rapid rolling of the tires as he tears along the newly paved asphalt, matching the double-yellow turn for breakneck turn, even on the straightaways where one of those lines gets spotty like the radio connection in the old hunk of junk Cyrus drove before he procured the current whip. It got to the point where the static started to have an intelligible rhythm to it, so he just stopped turning the radio on, and that was years ago; Cyrus is used to driving in silence now, just like his dad used to.
“Hell, you couldn’t even turn the radio on without the old man chewin’ your ear off…” he reminisces as he passes by a diner, the parking lot of which is packed like a polish sausage. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a family of three walking away from their car, a woman holding hands with a man who has their child up on his shoulders. “Wish my dad did that kind of stuff for me… maybe that’s why I go on Omingle so much. No fatherly love to give me the confidence I needed to befriend other folks. All I got was hard, cold discipline. What’d you just say, you little shit?” Cyrus barks in a misremembered impression of Poppa Cyrus’s voice. “You get to your fuckin’ room and you don’t come out ‘til I say so! Teach ya to talk like a fuckin’ motherless sailor, ya little bastard.”
Snaking along the road like a sidewinder through sand, Cyrus comes to the long straightaway that crosses over the narrow north end of the Monksville Reservoir. He lowers his passenger side window and hocks up a loogie, spitting it across the empty seat and out into the world so it can splatter on the guardrail. Chuckling to himself, Cyrus reminisces about his mom.
“She always used to do that whenever I sat up front with her. Never saw her do it once when I was in the back seat… she was always doin’ shit like that, bullyin’ me, knockin’ me down a few pegs just to make me climb back up. Maybe that’s why I can’t get off of Omingle, maybe I’m just tryin’ to meet a woman from the safety of my own home. Heaven knows I can’t talk to one face to face.” He thumps the steering wheel with the heel of his right palm at the same time his front tires hit the little bump that marks both the end of the bridge and the beginning of the hill leading up to the plaza where his shop is waiting for him. “Good Christ, they really did a Goddamned number on you, ol’ Cy’.”
As he falls deeper and deeper into his well of less than fond memories, Cyrus zones out and the act of driving gets transferred to his subconscious mind. Paying more attention to his thoughts than to his surroundings, he zooms right on past both entrances to the Monksville Plaza (where his shop is waiting to be opened) and cruises along down the county road, taking the turns like a veteran rally driver. He passes the entrance to Monksville’s south boat launch, then the turnoff point to the Monksville Dam, and only when he gets to the bottom of the massive hill leading to the other three quarters of the town of Treeburg does Cyrus snap out of his trance and throw on his blinker. With pressure on the breaks, he coasts across the white line and its accompanying rumble strip and pulls over on the wide dirt shoulder between the county road and the locked gate the state park police guys go through to patrol the Wanaque Reservoir.
“Shit, look at that. I got myself a little lost there, didn’t I? I’m lucky I didn’t take a lil’ Freudian slip over the lines and head into oncoming traffic, Jesus. I’m lucky to be in one piece right now,” as he wipes the sweat off his brow. “Oh well, never claimed to be perfect.”
Cyrus closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath, releasing it in a contemplative sigh. “I suppose that was all a long time ago… they ain’t even alive anymore. They didn’t drive me past the shop, I did. Maybe I’m still goin’ on Omingle so much because I keep lettin’ myself go on Omingle so much.”
When the last truck in the line of vehicles that followed him down the hill passes, Cyrus pulls onto the road and hauls ass back up the hill. He could stop at the dam and take himself a little walk, clear his head before he opens the shop… which he should have done two minutes ago, rats! Like the potential line of customers standing outside on the sidewalk, the walk can wait. He needs to go into Stonetown to see his therapist over the weekend anyway, he’ll just have to perambulate then.
In an attempt to put his mind in a more sociable place, Cyrus turns on the working radio in his new car and hums along with the staticless tunes all the way to the plaza.
For the first time since he’s opened up the shop, Cyrus is relieved to see nobody parked in the parking lot. As he passes by the front of the building, he looks up at the backlit sign he had installed overtop the big show windows a couple weeks ago. “The Keeper’s Finds,” he reads, his voice booming with pride. “Online auctions and offline sales. You’re damn skippy.”
Cyrus parks in the back of the tiny lot, leaving the spots closer to the door open for any of County Road 511’s twenty thousand-some odd passersby (on average) that may pay him a visit at any given moment over the course of the day. As he walks across the parking lot, his stride brisker than a bottle of iced tea, Cyrus gives himself the benefit of the doubt: maybe the potential customers will even pay him some money, too, and for something that’s not kept in the vending machine. Wouldn’t that be a treat!
He unlocks the glass door and reaches inside to grab a bungee cord. Hooking one end to the bottom of the outside pull handle, Cyrus stretches his arm up and hooks the other end of the cord to the loop he welded to the underside of the awning. With the door propped, Cyrus can open up shop.
The interior of The Keeper’s Finds looks like an upside-down capital letter P – or a lowercase letter d, whichever you prefer – with a really long leg and the hole filled in. The front of the store is where Cyrus keeps all the clunky furniture, most of which he got before he even moved into this location. Furniture – no matter how old the vintage, regardless of the lacquer used to finish it, despite how intricate and one-of-a-kind the carvings are – moves about as slow as a brick cemented to a wall. However, the surfaces make great displays for his more desirable junk, and Cyrus has all kinds of neat knickknacks and paddywhacks set up for the viewing pleasure of his shoppers. He’s got decorative swords mounted on stands, working neon beer signs, holiday decorations he swaps out in pace with the seasons, record players and corresponding milk crates full of vinyls, immaculate framed artwork of all mediums, used video games both archaic and modern, power tools, vintage comic books, musical instruments, war memorabilia, kids’ toys from fifty years ago – if there’s a body of folk who collect it, Cyrus has it propped up in the front. Covering the walls (where there are no shelving units set up, that is) are all varieties of signage – most metal, some plastic – all in pristine condition. He’s even got a little lounge area with both a vending machine and a coffee machine set up between two couches that someone left out in front of the store one day without leaving any contact information; a lot of the foot traffic that comes through Keeper’s is just bumbling townsfolk with nothing better to do than going window shopping behind the windows, and that’s just fine. Cyrus grew up in Treeburg before moving out to First Milford, he knows just as well as everyone else that it gets lonely out in these woods. What better way to spark a conversation than by sitting down with a cup of joe and some cookies and musing about where in Sam Hill that old suit of armor standing in the corner came from?
The back of the front room gives way to a much narrower stretch of shop – this is where Cyrus keeps the used clothing, the gaudier artwork, the mirrors (all those Goddamned mirrors), the decorative ceramic crap, stuff along those lines. He doesn’t really know what he’s got over there, it’s just the spot where he throws the really crappy shit after his research tells him how crappy it is. The area’s mostly just set up for those obnoxious yard sale junkies who believe that every secondhand shop contains a hidden piece of treasure that the owner doesn’t know about, anyway. How can anybody possibly keep track of the thousands of things laying in these kinds of places? Besides, resale is dead, the poor saps who open up these stores aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed in the first place; if they don’t know they’re being ripped off, who’s it really hurting?
Those kinds of customers are Cyrus’s favorite. He just lets them talk and talk and strut their stuff, and by the time they leave, they’re carrying out a whole lot of garbage that Cyrus would’ve had to haul back to the dumpsters behind the building otherwise. Good luck flipping that cracked wooden pipe stand and all the old used’n’chewed corncobs that come along with it. More power to ya, Gary.
At the end of the narrow stretch is a doorless archway with three stairs leading down to what Cyrus calls the back-back – a long, long hallway of a room with concrete floors and metal walls that used to be an archery range back before the landlord found out about it and the previous tenant was booted. This is where Cyrus keeps the really wild shit. Guns. Knives. Swords made for more than being hung on the wall. Glass water pipes to be used for the smoking of tobacco only. Vintage Playboy and Playgirl magazines. Exotic taxidermy animals. Ancient artifacts from all over the world, most of which are legitimately cursed. Cyrus has it all, and it’s all organized in a way that would make anybody with OCD cream in their jeans, and if they did so, well they could buy themselves a new pair while they’re here and try ‘em on in the bathroom, conveniently located right next to the display case full of cursed objects.
With all the lights on and the security cameras rolling, Cyrus sits himself down behind the register and sets up his laptop, then syncs it to the Bluetooth speaker system he installed in the ceiling. He goes on the internet, removes Omingle from his bookmark bar, clears his history just to be safe, logs into Spotify, and throws on a classic rock playlist he assembled himself. Let the day begin.
A Phone Call
Like Cyrus’s fifteen minute car ride here, the morning and early afternoon drag on with an end that doesn’t seem to get any closer no matter how much time passes; unlike Cyrus’s fifteen minute car ride here, the morning and early afternoon last four grueling, polytonous hours, hours Cyrus spends listening to men who once had long hair like humans back in the days called primal scream and shout as to let that mother out (Get it? Primal Scream? It’s an old Mötley Crüe song!… good lord Cyrus is getting old). There are no customers, no cars come occupy any spaces in the parking lot – not even to get off the road for a bit and make a phone call! Crazy distracted Jersey drivers – and nobody calls in to the shop to ask about the auctions or the consignment rate. Not until Cyrus is about to leave for lunch, of course, because when else would it happen?
“Hello, you’ve found The Keeper’s Finds, Treeburg’s premier auction hall. This is Cyrus speaking, how can I help ya?”
“Yeah, uh, hi. I live in town and I’ve driven past your store a million times but never gone in. You guys buy old shit?”
Rolling his eyes, Cyrus says, “On occasion I will, but I’m much more likely to sell on consignment. Usually works better for everyone that way.”
“A’ight. What’s the cut?”
“Thirty-three to me, the rest goes your way. What kind of stuff do you have?”
“A couple wooden incense burners. Some dude messaged me on Facebook claiming to be an incense salesman and offered me a free sample, so I was like Hey, why not, right? I dig me some incense. Well he sent me the sample all right, and guess what!”
If there’s anything Cyrus loves more than potential consignors telling him their whole redundant story about where they got their worthless junk, ‘It just has to be incense burners, doesn’t it? That stank hippie shit,’ it’s being forced to participate in the telling of said stories… but still, he plays along. “What’s that?”
“He sent me incense cones, not sticks. Like, what in the fuck, right? Who in their right mind burns incense cones? I mean, it’s so low class; they all smell the same and the fuckin’ pyramid of ashes spill all over the fuckin’ place when you try to move it into the garbage after it’s burned. Plus, get a load of this, Cyrus – dude sent me two boxes of incense cones, and each only had a single cone in it.”
Cyrus doesn’t say a word, but he does debate hanging up the phone and going over to the Montane Deli and getting himself a frikadellan sandwich.
“Well, long story short…”
‘Yeah fucking right, guy.’
“…I wound up tossin’ the cones out, and now I’m stuck with the pair burners. I’d’a tossed them, too, but they’re not too shitty – made of wood, got some gold tone stars and crescent moons on ‘em. Got a big hole for cones and four little holes for sticks – those are gold tone, too – but nothin’ to catch the ashes fallin’ from the sticks. I got a few boards I carved outta beechwood anyway, I’m all good on these… so uh, you want ‘em?”
No, no Cyrus doesn’t, not even a little bit, but they’ll probably move fast in this backwoods town where the folk burn shit for the sake of watching the flames dance, plus, free consignor money is free consignor money. “Sure, I’ll take ‘em. When can you come by the shop?”
“I’m actually rolling through the industrial park right now, I live over in Cupsaw. I’m on my way out of town for a few weeks. Got a family matter to attend to down in Boca. I’m supposed to be bringing my nephew back with me, but we’ll see. He always came off as a little chickenshit to me… or maybe that was his brother. I don’t know, I don’t see either of ‘em too much. Brother’s dead now though. Sad. Anyway, you gon’ be there in five minutes?”
“I’m actually out getting lunch right now, uh, this is my cell phone… I’ll tell you what though, if you text me your name and address and just leave the burners in the mailbox back by the side door, I’ll fill out the paperwork when I get back and we’ll call it square. You’ll get a check in the mail when they sell. Deal?”
“Sounds like a plan, Cyrus my man. Thanks a ton!”
The call ends without the nameless caller saying goodbye. Normally Cyrus would be peeved, but considering the trial he just went through with that story, he thinks he’ll let it slide. Racing against the clock, Cyrus flips the front lights off and locks up, then takes off across the plaza to get his sandwich. And guess what! He’ll even eat it at the deli, too.
The Two Burners
After eating his lunch and tipping the Montane family an extra twenty-five cents, Cyrus takes a slow walk around the back of the building. All the businesses in the Monksville Plaza are ran out of a single sprawling multi-level structure owned by the Ronhauzer family. The guy who once rented what is now The Keeper’s Finds before it was The Keeper’s Finds wrote Cyrus a letter telling him all about how terrible and asinine of a landlord Jimmy Ronhauzer is, how he would always stop in and snoop around during business hours and talk shit, scaring off the customers; Cyrus never had any problems with the guy. In fact, Jimmy’s actually helped him close a couple deals. He’s never asked Jimmy about the previous tenant, but judging from the handwriting on the letter (which Cyrus has stored away at home in one drawer or another), he doesn’t need to – no matter how old one’s body ages, a child is still a child, and somebody who can’t write in a straight line on notebook paper is definitely no adult.
As he comes up to the last turn before his share of the parking lot, Cyrus hugs the hall with his sweaty back and creeps along to the corner like a spy in an old movie. Carefully, slowly, extremely inconspicuously, he leans his head around the side and checks to see if the nameless caller decided to park and wait for Cyrus to come back – he didn’t, and there’s nobody else in the parking lot, either. Twice in the same day, Cyrus finds real relief in a set of circumstances that would normally cause him massive anxiety; those visits with the Doctor across the dam are really paying off, who would have thought?
Cyrus walks halfway down the sidewalk along the side of his store and stops at the mailbox. Inside are the two burners – just like the guy said, they’re not too shitty, although they do look kind of dingy… and one’s missing the gold tone lining in one of the little stick holes… oh well. There’s going to be imperfections in handmade goods, and if these weren’t made by hand? They were now.
Once inside, Cyrus casually throws the burners on the table holding the register, then turns all the lights back on. When he sits back down in front of his laptop, he checks the time – only three hours and forty-five minutes left until closing. Maybe Cyrus will get a mad rush of buyers after lunch, maybe he’ll end today with less shit in his barn rather than more… or maybe he won’t, maybe today will just drag on and on and on some more, leaving Cyrus to sit bored and alone inside his packed secondhand shop until the sun starts to set and he can let himself go home.
Although… there is one way he could pass the time… and he can just close out the page if anybody comes in, it’ll be that easy. Yeah, why not? It’s not like he has anything better to do, he can inventory the two burners if and when they sell. Not a big deal at all.
Cyrus opens up a private window in his internet’s browser and types omingle.com into the address bar. On the site’s homepage is a space where chatters can put in tags so they’re matched up with strangers who share similar interests, if any are available. Cyrus types in North Jersey, hits the comma button, then types Treeburg and hits the comma button again.
Then, mouse in hand, Cyrus moves his cursor underneath the Start chatting… heading and clicks on the big blue button that says Text. Leaning back in his chair (this time without the self-pitiful exhale), Cyrus waits smugly as he’s paired up with a somewhat random stranger to chat with.