Closed - The Short Story

by Christopher Madden and Mark L Berry © 2009

This is the short story read by Mark L Berry
(Click here to go to the page for Closed – The Song and Video)

Words by Mark L Berry & Christopher Madden / Music by Christopher Madden


Mark and I were enjoying the quiet of Maine’s two lane leisurely routes when I saw something moving in the woods—and hit a stick in the street. Mark was riding ahead of me but must have heard me scream. I went over the handlebars, spectacularly. I was a bit scraped up, and slightly stunned. We were near my family’s camp in Lovell because I had traded a couple rides to the New York airports for some handyman work. The last three days had been spent painting, installing outlets, and cleaning up after the roofer. Mark wanted to write some new songs and I somehow managed to persuade him that I could write music and help with his lyrics, and painting in Maine would be fun. I had a tin ear, imperfect pitch and no sense of rhythm – a trifecta of dubious music qualifications that somehow made me a songwriter. I hadn’t written a word.

Mark made a hasty U-turn and asked, “Are you ok?”

“Wow, yeah. I’d like to see the replay on that. That really hurt. I’m not sure if I hit my head, but think I saw a Bigfoot in the woods.”

“You’ve always been Bigfoot-crazy. Did this trip to Maine rekindle it? Or, maybe you did hit your head? Who won the 1969 World Series?”

As a diehard Mets fan, I ignored him and got up slowly. We looked at my bike and the front rim was bent, but not much.

“You look fine, Chris. Think you’ll be able to write lyrics with that rim?” Mark asked.

“Funny. Very funny. You know, it’s a long bike ride back to Connecticut.”

“Yeah, but I have half of your outlets still left to connect.”

We straightened the rim as best we could with tools from his saddlebag and rode a few more miles. I had scraped up my arms but it appeared that that all my parts were still in working order. I was trying to decide whether or not to turn back for Lovell, when we came upon the junk shop, just ahead. Mark was already dismounting and calling me over.

“Let’s stop and see if they’re open. I saw this place on the drive up. It looks like it has cool stuff. Maybe we can find something for the camp.”

The Junk place was on the side of the road and was a tempting place to drive by. It appears out of nowhere in the pine forest primeval and then disappears, like Brigadoon. I had often felt the pull of the beer signs, giant wooden lobsters, fence pieces, and odd collectables calling out to me like Sirens. Today, I was banged up, the road rash stung, and I didn’t want to stop. I told Billy that in the forty-odd times that I had passed this place, they were never open. In fact, the chain across the driveway was festooned with CLOSED signs. There was a Ford F150 in the driveway that could most kindly be called a POS, and there was a sixty-something Man with a Skil saw in his hand. He was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt and had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He was a classic Santa type, albeit with a malevolent sneer on his face. It appeared that he was rebuilding the roof on the porch. I got off of my bike, and said, “Hello.”

The man squinted at us, and he pointed at closed signs in the neighboring trees. “You guys can read right? We’re closed. I’m trying to get some work done. We’re not open, we’re closed. I’ve got signs everywhere, they say, CLOSED. People just don’t seem to get it.”

“We don’t want to bother you. Just saying hello. You’ve got so many of those signs, it looks like you’re selling them. I can see you’re closed, though. Do you need a hand? I’m Chris and this is Mark.”

“You’re a big fucking guy. You look like someone thawed you out of a block of ice. Just look at this what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to fix the porch roof and the fucking carpenter didn’t show up. I tell you, Bud is ruining this country. Budweiser, that is. Guy is a drunk.” He paused and waived us over. “Look at all this shit.” He kicked open the door and led us inside. “I got to fix in here, too. I’m trying to replace the floor so some asshole doesn’t break their leg. Oh, they call me Sal, like or as in Salvage. They call me a lot of other shit that wouldn’t make Jesus happy, too.”

Sal spoke faster than a Carnie on a midway. I would have wagered a large amount of money that he had had some help in feeling no pain. The shop was basically built onto a train car. A roof had been added onto the edges and a rotten pine floor surrounded it. There was a large oak tree growing up through a hole in the roof, which had clearly been built to leave room for the tree. The rain had picked up and was pouring in. Sal pointed out, “Can’t exactly close it up with that tree growing through the middle.”

“What happens when it snows?” I asked.

“It snows,” he replied.

We tried not to laugh. After a pause Mark asked, “When are you open? Do you pry all the signs down when you decide to open up?”

Sal thought for a second. “I’m never open. I sell chowder all summer at the fairs—one after another. I drive to them. I go to some and the boys go to the others. I bought this place to store my wagons for the fairs. No use being open in the winter with no heat. So I’m closed. Friend of mine is a junk picker and just drops all this shit off. Kind of a storage facility for him. He just keeps dropping more shit off and never gets rid of it. We haven’t been open for two seasons.”
There was clearly a step missing in their business retail model.

“Maybe if you were open, you could get rid of some of it.” I offered.

“But I’m closed—can’t you see? The signs say so. Also, if I were open, which I ain’t, people want to screw me on the prices. I tell them something is ten bucks, that means ten bucks. They say, ‘How about three? ‘I say, ‘No, ten.’ One lady pulled up and tried to buy some of my closed signs. I told her I was closed. She said how much. I said, ‘Always.’ It was like, ‘Who’s on first.’ I finally relented and told her I’d sell her one for ten bucks. She offered me five. I told her to go down to Dunkin Donuts and try to offer them sixty cents for a two dollar latte, and see if they don’t throw your ass out. She got in her car and flipped me the bird. What is wrong with people? Nobody wants to pay what I tell ‘em. Besides, I’m closed. Signs say so.”

I started walking around the oak tree to see what I couldn’t see from all those times on the road. “Mind if we look around?”

“Yeah, I’ll show you. People always want to look around this place. My Mother warned me about people, I just never figured I’d be one of them. Come look at this mess.”

For a junk enthusiast, Sal’s was Shangri-La, Xanadu, or maybe the Forbidden City crammed full of countless treasures. Picture an expansive and loose definition of the word “treasures.” I thought of the archeologist Howard Carter’s statement upon first peering into King Tut’s Tomb: “I see wonderful things.” The same words applied here. Antique croquet set? Check. Edison 78 RPM cylinders? Sure. Fireplace andirons, a Dale Earnhardt Clock (“Needs batteries,” Sal pointed out.) cobalt glass telephone wire insulators, drug store signs, a fallout shelter sign. Yes, indeed, absolutely. Need a 1970’s state fair garbage can topper shaped like a Panda with an open mouth? Who doesn’t? There was neat pile in a corner with approximately half of a carousel horse, but which half was not quite clear. Any scavenger hunt could be completed here, no matter how improbable the list of items to find, as long as it didn’t include price tags. The pick of the litter, so to speak, was a Ted Williams autographed bat that had been neatly bisected on a table saw and was displayed in a collector’s case on the wall. “From the divorce,” said Sal.

Mark had his eye on a Missouri Route 66 sign. I could tell he was going to ask Sal to sell it, and it wouldn’t go over well, so I interjected, “Sal, How much would that sign be if you were open? And, I’m not saying that you are, but if you were, how much would that be?”

“That sign is only held up by one screw. You could probably steal it when I leave. I’d probably sell it to you for $10 to keep it from being stolen, ‘cause I ain’t open.”
I smiled at Sal, “You mentioned that. Closed, the sign says so. All seventeen signs.”

Mark added, “Ten bucks is ten bucks. And we won’t have to ride back to steal it later.”

Mark pulled out a small wad of bills and paid before the deal fell through. It reminded me of a football team rushing to kick the extra point before the touchdown was reviewed and possibly overturned.

“But I’m closed,” Sal repeated.

“Right.”

I think that Sal needed to vent, and it was likely that he was misunderstood and couldn’t find a sympathetic audience. Sal gave us an extensive tour of the campus which he obviously preferred to doing carpentry in the rain. We even got to see the back lot with the meticulously painted Chowder Wagons. (“See the chowder is five bucks, well, six bucks this year, but still a good deal. One price, no damn haggling. Five bucks. Well, six now.”) Sal told us more about how he wanted to go high end with the junk, since he’d rather argue over a two hundred dollar cast iron fence than a five-dollar wooden Loon. We ended up sitting under the roof away from the oak tree where it didn’t leak, at least that much, and waited out the weather. Three cars stopped and rolled down their windows, apparently not willing to get out and get wet if they didn’t have to. We helped Sal tell them, “We’re closed.”

Finally, we decided to make a short sprint on our bikes to the bus stop, but not before negotiating to buy a few more items. We got a Bettie Page calendar and a free grocery bag to keep her dry, the Loon decoy, and a three foot long, hand carved trout. It was perfect for a city friend who never seemed to have enough time to fish, and we just had to have it.

****

A month later on another of Mark’s visits to the east coast, he and I rode the train into New York City to give our buddy Warren the carved fish. No one on the connecting subway downtown to Wall Street looked twice at us holding a massive carved Trout. Following that delivery, I drove to Maine to help put in the dock and lo and behold, Closed was open! I was astonished. I stopped in, said hello to Sal, and bought a vintage license plate, three ball jars, a postcard of the cog railway, and an old canoe paddle. Sal wouldn’t sell me a Closed sign no matter how many times I asked, but he pulled me aside and bent my ear.

“How did your friend like that big fish?”

I told him, “The fish was a hit. And we wrote a song about your place. It’s called CLOSED.”

“What the fuck? Don’t tell anybody about this place, or more people will come.” Sal murmured out loud.

Holy shit, was Sal’s business model unique. “No problem — we changed the names to protect the innocent.”

“You know that day you and your Pal were in last month to buy the fish?”

“How could I forget, Sal?”

“Yeah, well, I purposely hadn’t sold anything but Chowder for eighteen months. Eighteen Months! I was Weak.”



Read the Lyrics to Closed


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