Raiders of the Lost Aunt; Part 2 - February 15, 2007

(Reconditioning Batteries)

I spent a lot of time as a kid in that cramped workshop in Vermont. On lengthy visits, it was a great place to escape the oppressively cold hands of my fidgety, hypochondriac grandmother sliding down the back of my shirt to check my temperature or being forced to watch Aunt Laura eat. During my "I think that I'm a ninja" phase, I would fabricate supremely authentic Shinobi weaponry out of broom handles, rusty box cutters and barely adhesive electrical tape that I would whip around in the backyard, decimating legions of imaginary enemies until I would nick my thumb. My dad and I once made a functional crossbow that shot U-shaped wire nail projectiles during an exceptionally long visit. We were so proud of its success that we hung it above the one window in the workshop for display, but now I think he did that so I wouldn't go on patrol through the rough streets of Bennington in search of wrongs that needed righting.

Later on in life, I realized that the workshop was a Fortress of Solitude for members of the family other than me. My dad also liked to hang out in there, but more because it was a secluded place for him to burn a pinner before one of our famous rounds of Old Maid than to craft instruments of death. My sister would sneak in there from time to time to crank cigarettes without our grandparents noticing. Later on when I was 14, I would help my older brothers piece together makeshift pipes out of discarded plumbing materials, and my own alternative smoking devices that I could smuggle home when I was a 16 year old skate punk, experimenting in all things subversive. We would all congregate in the workshop while our grandparents were napping in their individual living room chairs -- just to talk; just to escape for five minutes. It eventually became a place for all of us to escape the acute fear of growing old that would inevitably set in during our stays in that sleepy town in Vermont, and I was always really glad that it was there.

Vintage tools hung on weathered nails and lined the baby blue walls of the workshop, right above countless unlabeled coffee cans filled with screws, nuts, bolts and anything else that was found around the house after countless old man DIY projects over the years. For how little the workshop was actually used, it was surprisingly clean. It was almost like the ghost of my neurotic grandmother was vacationing from her astral plane to nervously make sparkle anything that was exposed to air, just like she did in life.

Marty and I brought the green metal lock box in, set it down on the lead paint spackled worktable and scoured the walls for appropriate safe cracking utensils. Chisels. Ball peen hammers. Hatchets. We discussed strategy.

"Let's smash the locks with a hammer." I pulled one off of the wall.

"What if there is something fragile in there?" Marty was scratching his head. "Maybe we should take a hacksaw to the hinges."

"Will a hacksaw even cut through metal? Dude, let's bash this fucking thing open. It'll be quicker. Who cares if there's something fragile in there? Do you really want to hold on to Aunt Laura's long lost porcelain clown collection?"

"Yeah Mikey, that's a great idea. Just get the friggin' hacksaw."

"I don't know if that's such a hot idea, bub." We both started laughing. There is nothing like an Aunt Laura impersonation to break tension.

I grabbed a dusty hacksaw off of its nail and we both took turns assaulting the hinges of the box, trading hilarious Aunt Laura quotes to pass the time.

"Oh bub, you know they used to boil babies like this in oil."

"The night ain't complete unless you eat something sweet, bub."

"Ohhh, that's it, bub. Rub da hump."

The lock box just didn't want to give up its innards. About an hour into it, Marty and I were sweating profusely, which was making the metal shavings stick to our hands and forearms, irritating the shit out of them. One of the hinges was successfully split, but the hacksaw blade was starting to dull which made everything that much more difficult. We tried putting the saw down and prying the box open with our fingers, but it wouldn't budge. Finally, we came up with the idea of using a crowbar. With a groan and a vibrating metallic snap, the lid flew off of the lock box and fell to our feet.

Marty and I stood back and stared at the contents of the box. On the top was a legal size yellow envelope. Marty picked it up and opened it. It was a collection of Aunt Laura's medical records from decades ago.

"Awesome. Fucking awesome." Marty was pissed. We both knew that the chances of Aunt Laura having anything of value in there were laughable at best, but it was inevitable that somewhere in that hour's worth of grunting and perspiring our hopes would grow.

Marty kept flipping through the stack of papers in the envelope while I examined the remaining contents of the box. There were envelopes - lots of them, all unmarked. I picked one up and opened it. There was $200 in $20 bills tucked inside.

I handed Marty the envelope. His eyes widened. I dug through the box, pulling out envelopes and ripping them open. Each one of them had cash in them. $200. $300. $500. Every envelope held a tiny little fortune inside. I was floored. Never in my life had I seen cash like that. My family always struggled with money while I was growing up. There were times when I lived in Wisconsin when I would get beaten up in elementary school for being the poor kid with the ill fitting second hand clothes. I remembered standing in line with my mother at the supermarket when I first realized that we were using food stamps, and how we both teared up in the parking lot carrying the groceries to her abusive boyfriend's pickup truck. Shit like this just didn't happen to people like us. Marty started feverishly tearing through the envelopes with me. We were so excited that we could barely speak.

Crazy Aunt Laura had been socking money away into a paranoia fueled secret stash for years without anyone knowing...and we had just found it.

"Holy shit, dude. What do we do with this? I mean...HOLY SHIT, DUDE!" I was having a hard time spitting out sentences. There were hundred dollar bills and shredded envelopes all over the worktable.

"There must be thousands and thousands of dollars in here, Mikey. This is serious; we need to have a long talk about this before we do anything."

"Before we do anything? What do you mean?! Look at all of this money. You know nobody knows about this. I mean, fuck. Do you remember her buying anything ever since you've known her? As far as everyone else is concerned, Aunt Laura didn't have a cent to her name."

"Well, she did have a bank account, but we used that money for the funeral. It barely put a dent into the flowers."

"There you go, dude. Everyone else thinks that she's all tapped out. This could be ours, Marty. All of - "

I was startled by a car pulling into the driveway. Not just any car, a rusted out silver Chevy Caprice Classic wagon; my dad's post divorce "see judge, I don't have any money" car.

"SHIT. Mikey, put the money back in the box and hide it in your room. I'll stall dadoo."

With all of the excitement, both of us forgot that dad was driving up from Massachusetts to spend the weekend before taking me back to New Hampshire. Without even speaking about it, we both knew that dad couldn't find about this. He would make some argument about how he deserved to keep it all, and if we argued, he would tell Pop Pop about it and guilt us into handing it all over to him. My dad could throw a 105 mph guilt trip fastball at you like nobody's business. There was no fucking way that my greedy little teenage mind was going to let that happen. I had to work fast.

I frantically stuffed cash by the fistful back into the lockbox, looking out the window every 2 seconds to make sure my dad wasn't going to come in. He was rummaging through the back seat for a couple of grocery bags, undoubtedly filled with steak and plastic handles of Fleishman's whiskey. Marty went outside to greet dad in the hopes that he could buy me some time. I kept fumbling. Bills and envelopes were falling all over the floor. I looked up again. Dad and Marty were both carrying grocery bags and heading for the front door. I finished cleaning up, sprinted for my bedroom and hid the box under my bed just in time to hear the front door open.


Pop Pop, Marty, dad and I all sat down for dinner that night. Dad had, in fact, had brought steaks and after he was done piling food on our plates, sat down at the table sporting his signature evening attire - tighty whities, stained v-neck undershirt and black socks. Pop Pop and dad sat on opposite ends, leaving Marty and I to shoot troubled glances across the table at eachother throughout the entire meal. We were mulling the situation over in our heads. How would we find time to count the money without dad finding out? What would we do with the money? Should we even do this? Was that the only box in Aunt Laura's room? Was she going to crawl out of the grave and strangle us in our sleep for orchestrating something so depraved? The suspense was killing me; what happened a few hours was the equivalent of coming downstairs on Christmas morning to find that Santa brought you the BMX bike that you always wanted, but the card on the handlebars read "Ho ho ho! If you tell your parents about this, the bike will self destruct and I will never visit you again. Hugs and kisses, Santa." I could barely contain my composure.

Dad went to the fridge and cracked a beer to go with his food. And another. After the third beer, Marty and I looked at eachother at the exact same time thinking the exact same thing - we would wait until dad fell asleep, and then we would count the cash and split it between us. We both impatiently piled food into our mouths.

After dinner, dad retired to a couch in the living room with an orange popsicle in tow to watch some Kojak. Pop Pop followed. Marty and I crossed paths while cleaning our plates in the kitchen and reaffirmed in whisper what we were going to do. Sure enough, after 25 minutes and a few more beers, dad was sawing logs with a half eaten popsicle melting on his chest. Knowing from past experience that removing the popsicle would wake him up, we left it there and casually stepped into my tiny bedroom to count a mountain of Aunt Laura's money.

Marty and I sat Indian style on my twin bed and dumped the contents of the box onto it. We emptied each envelope and organized the bills by denomination, making a separate pile of discarded envelopes in the corner. Keeping a hurried pace while trying to stay accurate, Marty would count a pile of bills, write the total down on a notepad and then hand me the pile to recount. Every couple of minutes or so we would bust out laughing. Both of our hearts were racing as the total kept rising. I thought about the Sony walkman I always wanted, the yellow sports edition one with the water resistant clasp that all of my friends had but me. I thought about all the times that I begged and pleaded for my friends to let me borrow theirs for a few days at a time to make my lengthy bus ride into school more tolerable. "Why don't you just buy your own?" they would always say. I couldn't just tell them that my family didn't have enough money. That was something that I always hid from people. I loved finally having a great set of friends, but I was insecure and I didn't want to jeopardize that feeling of belonging by making them feel like they were hanging out with a loser poor kid like in Wisconsin. I thought about how I wouldn't have to miss another snowboarding field trip because I couldn't afford a lift ticket, and how I would be able to buy Subway for lunch like the popular kids from then on, instead of sitting down in the cafeteria with a tray full of school gruel.

Thirty minutes later we completed our count. There was a little over $13,000 lying on my quilt.

As we were splitting the pile up evenly, we talked about what we were going to do with the money. All Marty knew he wanted to buy was a word processor so he could start writing seriously again. Then he started talking about paying off some old bills that had been racking up interest over the years. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my cut. I was 14 years old with $6,000 in cash that my parents had no idea about, and I was two years away from getting my driver's license, so buying a car for myself really wasn't an exciting idea. What was I going to do? Buy a Jetta and sit in it in my driveway on the weekends? I was too young to even get a bank account to put the money in. The only thing I could come up with was buying a safe to put the money in, something that would be harder to break into than Aunt Laura's lock box.

"Guys, what's going on? Why is your door closed?"

Dad was up, and he was knocking. Fuck. I threw a blanket over the money just as the door swung open, barely covering half of it.

There was dad, standing in the doorway with a popsicle stick plastered to his undershirt, staring at Marty and I, who were sitting on a bed covered with thousands of dollars in cash.

Posted by KungFu Mike at 6:17 PM

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This has been your best story yet. I loved it! You are really a great story teller. You could write a book about this story. I can't wait to hear the rest. I hope you at least got to keep a few 00.

Posted by: at February 15, 2007 07:06 PM

You Bastard! Enough with the clifhangers!

Posted by: tntnikki at February 15, 2007 09:32 PM

13 G's...I didn't expect that much. Even half of that would have been a stretch. I'm ready to see what comes of all of this because I just don't see it working out for either of you because of your age at the time mostly.

Posted by: Wayland at February 16, 2007 08:53 AM

I agree with the first to posts, but how the hell do you get so accustomed to sleeping with a POPSICLE melting on your chest. Thats just weird.

Posted by: Captain Canada at February 16, 2007 09:00 AM

Jesus. This is intense! I'm amped to hear the rest.

Posted by: scotty at February 16, 2007 01:39 PM

Awesome story, but wtf happens!? $13,000 is a shitload for some young punks, I bet you're dad took that shit...........I would've.

Posted by: Super Ervis Bruejeans at February 16, 2007 01:48 PM

Damn, I was really hoping you were going to give the details of her fucked up medical records.

Posted by: Drew at February 19, 2007 07:20 AM

Oh, NO, no NO NO!!! NOW what happens? So, did popsicle-shirt Dad see the cash, or not, and if so, what did he do? Christ, Mike, you and your suspense tactics. My god.Hopefully he didn't see it; hopefully he was too out of it to notice the green... can't wait to read the conclusion of this one, baby; good stuff, good stuff...

Posted by: Snowblood at February 21, 2007 12:48 AM

I was born in Bennington 0_0!!!!!

Posted by: Zach at February 22, 2007 12:01 PM

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