Nobody seemed to know whose idea it was to have a junk day in River Valley, but when people saw the small ad in the Weekly River Valley News, word got around fast.
People liked to hang on to their junk in River Valley, especially Mark Simmons.
“It’s my stuff, I’ll do what I please with it,” Mark told his wife.
Mark kept his junk in back of his house behind heavy shrubbery and a fence. There was a 1971 Cadillac with no use except to act as a reminder of all the good cruises he and his buddies had around the countryside chasing women and beer. There were various coffee pots, popcorn poppers, outboard motors, bicycle wheels and a particular junk item he was quite proud of: a large propeller from a ship he lugged home in his pickup truck. It was now imbedded in his ground and it really had no purpose other than the knowledge that it was not just any junk, but impressive junk.
At night, Mark liked to sneak out back, open the rusty door of the Cadillac, sit in the still- comfortable seats light up a cigarette and gaze out over his junk pile, like a proud general inspecting his obedient troops. There was the propeller: at one time it held so much power, now it just sat there, kind of like some retired people he knew. Even the old hoses, which once carried so much water to thirsty plants for people he did not know, looked exhausted and he hated to disturb them.
If it was quite enough, Mark could hear his junk whisper, “Thank you! Thank you for saving us!”
His wife, Sally, didn’t understand.
“What do you need a propeller for?” she said. “You gonna build a ship?”
“It’s a piece of history,” Mark said. “River history!”
“It’s a piece of crap. It’s going out on Junk Day.”
Junk Day. The words were chilling for Mark. Looking around the village, judging from the growing piles on the curbs, he could see that most people in the village were going to take the day seriously. The village had hired a professional rubbish company to come in and clean up the town. To Mark this was a slap in the face. Not only because no local workers were being hired for the task, but those who were hired had no understanding of the significance of the junk they were carting away. It was more than junk, Mark thought, but parts of people.
Mark also thought Junk Day was nothing except the first step the government was using to get people used to giving up their rights. If they come for your junk, Mark thought, what would they come for next? Our guns? Our pets? Our frozen food?
As Junk Day crept closer, there remained at least one other person in town who still shared Mark’s passion for junk and fear of Junk Day: the maker of the Elvis shrine.
Ralph Smithers loved Elvis and he decided to keep his memory alive and in the mind of village residents by creating the portable Elvis shrine, and as far as people could tell, that was the only job Ralph had.
The shrine consisted of a large sink with Elvis memorabilia tacked to it, including a paint-by-number picture of The King, an old guitar, a pair of boots that Ralph swore were worn by Elvis at the State Fair, a large belt buckle and a freshly made peanut butter and banana sandwich that was made each day and placed on the shrine. The sandwich was usually carried away by squirrels who religiously followed the shrine around town.
It was never known where the shrine was going to end up. Every few weeks it was placed in a different location, but never at Ralph’s home. People just left it alone, thinking of it sort of a wandering local landmark.
With the outside trash-takers coming, Ralph was concerned the shrine would be taken away by strangers not aware of its significance. He could not retire it for one day, fearing that would create on hex on him. He decided he would have to camp out near the shrine during Junk Day to prevent a horrendous mistake.
Meanwhile, Mark finally found some stuff to put out by the curb for Junk Day. He was very selective. The propeller, of course, had to stay. Things like the recliner, an old barn door, several sump pumps could go. He moved his remaining junk closer together, so it looked like he threw out more than he did. He thought he heard his wife give a slight sigh of relief.
Mark couldn’t sleep the night before Junk Day, partially because he was worried about his junk, but mainly because of strange noises outside in the street. He finally got out of bed and looked out his window to see his street dotted with strange people looking through neighbors’ junk piles. His own pile was in disarray. He threw on his robe and slippers and went out .
Mark saw that someone had run off with one of his junked sump pumps. He went into a rage and picked up a rusty pair of barbecue tongs from his pile. Holding them over his head and running down the street, he screamed at the trespassers, “Leave our junk alone before I kill you! This is our junk! We worked hard for it! Go home!”
The people who witnessed the crazed man knew he was quite serious by the way he was waving the tongs. They left the area. But Mark felt pretty good with the tongs in his hands. He never felt such power. So, he felt it was his duty to roam the streets all night, clearing out any more junk pirates and saving the junk piles until morning when the collectors came.
He eventually fell asleep in the village park. When he awoke in the morning, he noticed the Elvis Shrine was set up. Ralph was on a park bench next to it making a sandwich.
“How was your night,” Mark asked him
“Fine,” Ralph said. “Just watching out for Elvis.”
When the junk collectors came shortly after, they passed by the shrine, not even giving it a second look.
“Praise Elvis!” Ralph yelled to the truck.
“Praise indeed,” Mark added as he headed back home. “I think this town is going to be OK after all.”
By Chris Brock
This is Chris Brock’s second fiction piece for TI Life. Chris is a features writer at the Watertown Daily Times. Writing humorous short stories is a hobby. He grew up on the St. Lawrence River community of Waddington, N.Y. Besides being honored at the North Country Writer’s Festival, Chris' works have been published in Grit magazine and he is an essay contributor to North Country Public Radio.