#85) The Storage Unit

The northernmost major street in Long Beach is, oddly enough, called South Street. As I was packing up my gear following my performance at a park concert in the neighboring city of Cerritos, my wife, who had been there, sent me a quick message recommending I take South Street home, as traffic was lighter. Although we moved recently from downtown Long Beach to a residential neighborhood in the northern area of the city, we still live below South Street so I rarely drive it. I hadn’t considered it as an alternate route home. I thanked her for the tip and was on my way.

Like the other major thoroughfares in Long Beach, South Street is lined with a mix of apartment complexes, office buildings, strip malls, gas stations, fast food outlets and a few local businesses. It’s fairly interchangeable with the streets running parallel to the south, although it does dip into some of Long Beach’s, shall we say, less upscale neighborhoods. You can tell by the pawn shops and the storage units. Like many of the features of South Street, the storage units are pretty much indistinguishable from one another, although there was one that did stand out. Most of the drivers passing by it wouldn’t have stopped to give it a second glance and I wouldn’t have either, had I not once rented from them.

I’m sure there are people who rent storage units who are at the top of their game but at the risk of generalizing, it’s safe to say that the majority of them aren’t. I for one was certainly not. When I moved into the storage unit on South Street just after Thanksgiving, 2007, I was leaving the home I had shared with my first wife for almost four years. I was also getting ready to leave town to attend my mother’s memorial service.

My wife had moved out in September, saying she wanted a trial separation. We all know how trial separations end but, holding out hope, I stayed behind instead of looking for my own place. I might have been able to do something more with my de-facto bachelorhood had I not gotten a call a month later. In the two years since my mother’s cancer diagnosis I had seen her get worse, particularly in the last few months, but I hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge the extent of it. Moving out into a new place now not only became about economics but also about starting a new life. There was no other choice. I found a room in a house in the neighboring city of Lakewood and picked the storage unit on South Street based on that location.

After returning from the memorial service, I settled into the new place. I talked to my dad and brother regularly. I’d occasionally go to the storage unit if I’d forgotten something. Knowing the holidays would be tough, I brainstormed ways to keep myself occupied and decided to spend a day hiking in the Cleveland National Forest. I moved into a new place the following spring, taking more of my things with me and downsizing to a smaller unit. My wife said she wanted a divorce. I started flirting with women online and one of them decided to take me out to dinner on my birthday. I moved yet again and downsized to an even smaller storage unit.

In the summer of 2009, the divorce became final and I decided to move out of the unit. The last communication between my first wife and I was an email I sent her with details about how to access the unit and her belongings. A month later I came back to clear out my things. All of hers were still there. I called the Salvation Army to come pick them up.

Life progressed over the next few years. My brother became a dad. The woman who took me out for a birthday dinner became my wife. We bought a house. My music career, the thing that had brought me to California, started to take off. On paper, it was the best time of our lives.

Yet I often found myself ungrateful, unexcited and at times downright resentful. I allowed little annoyances that I once simply didn’t have the time for–inattentive drivers on the freeway, sub-par customer service, opinions that differed from mine–to outweigh the blessings the last few years had given. I was angry at my first wife for leaving simply because I wasn’t perfect, but I had gotten to a point where I myself had virtually no tolerance for imperfection, in the behavior of others and the ways of the world.

I had planned on doing something worthwhile on 9/11 in the morning, before heading out to perform at the park concert. I really had. After all, friends and families of the 3,000 victims had far bigger problems than me. They didn’t have the luxury to blow off the day as I did. Did I not owe it to them to perhaps at least engage in some quiet reflection?

If so, that debt is still outstanding. After basically frittering away the morning, I turned in a performance at the park concert that was decent, but could have been better had I given it more effort. After packing up my gear I left the park and headed home on South Street.

It had been years since I’d driven by or even thought about that storage unit but when I saw it, I decided to pull over. The unit had long since been locked down for the night but I could still see the gate where I used to punch in my code. The box was on the passenger’s side so you always had to get out of the car, type the code and run back. I remembered how you had to line up the corrugated blue metal slide-down door just right to be able to slide the lock through it. Sometimes I wondered about the stories behind the other units in the complex.

I remembered loading boxes of old photos and souvenirs into the storage unit, wondering if they would ever have the same meaning to us. I recalled trying to weasel the larger pieces of furniture–such as the black metal futon (does anything say bachelorhood quite like a futon?), the desk that once belonged to my grandfather, book cases and chairs–around each other. There may even have been a fridge in there at one point.  I spent a few minutes sitting before, wanting to get home to my wife, I left the parking lot and pulled back onto South Street.

Most of the items that were stored there are long gone, although the desk, some pictures, boxes of CDs and books and a few miscellaneous tchochkes can still be found in our house. The memories of the storage unit and the time in my life it represents can be painful but they also serve as a call to arms: not only to be thankful for the life I now have but to remember where I’ve been. It’s a reminder that it’s OK not to be perfect; it’s OK for others not to be perfect.  We’re all human and there are times when even the best of us need a storage unit.



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