Me/The Great Trailer Fiasco

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In the late 1990s up through 2003, I was working in Athens (Georgia) with a husband-and-wife pair named Griever (which seems entirely appropriate in retrospect).

For the sake of brevity, I'll just note that their involvement heavily influenced the direction my online store took from 1998 onward, and not necessarily in a good way. My original interest in doing the store in the first place was to support local independent artists, and the primary reason I wanted to work with the Grievers was that they were willing to make phone calls to said artists (most people didn't have email yet) – but the Grievers ended up completely dropping the ball on that, and (I think deliberately) misunderstood my consent (to exploring t-shirts as an option, and getting more information about that) as a promise (to carry a whole crapton of non-indy merch, mostly t-shirts, in the store)... which ultimately meant I had to abandon the local/independent aspect altogether.

(That sort of thing – consent or intention later being reformatted as a promise – was repeated at least once.)

For various reasons, they ended up renting three truck-trailers, stored in their back yard, for use as storage. When I had to move out of Red House and – at their suggestion – into a small room in their rented house, they offered me space in those trailers for my stuff, initially for free, and also for store merchandise at a very low price. My records show that I first paid them in October 2002.

Shortly before this, I had begun driving up to Durham to get work done, because Hypertwin Manor was at that time less chaotic than Chez Griever. The tipping point, I think, was when they repeatedly got notices about the cable (internet) bill being past due, which I kept asking them about – and then one day the cable guy shows up to shut off the service, and since that would have completely halted the work I was deeply buried in at the time, I went ahead and paid him $207.27 (which I really couldn't spare) to keep it from being shut down. (This was way before wifi hotspots and mobile data plans, remember.)

There were other red flags. They kept telling me they'd get me a key to the house, and never did. One time I came back from somewhere (doing some paid work for a local acquaintance, I think) and found the house locked; I was only able to get in through a window. One time I came back from Durham and wanted to get something from the trailer – but they had moved all my stuff to the back and blocked it in with their stuff. Another time, they had replaced my padlock with their own – even though I had given them a copy of my key.

All of this naturally made me want to spend less and less time there, as it felt more and more like trying to walk through a marsh... so that's what I did.

Which apparently made them more and more paranoid that I was "stealing the store" (which was ridiculous; they owed me money, as I later proved in court).

Cutting to the chase, though... the rental eventually became all of just one of the three trailers (they had returned the other two), and at some point they made it clear that I needed to empty that one as well. Harena and I had gone back and forth in the minivan a few times, getting the most important and urgent stuff, but there were still many trips left to do and some stuff that wasn't going to fit, so it had become clear that a truck was going to be needed.

By that time, though, I really felt like I needed to bring Harena with me, both to help with the moving and as a sanity-check against Griever BS, not to mention not wanting to leave her alone with three high-energy boys (one nonverbal) and no other adults – but we kept having difficulty lining up respite care for Josh so that she could come along. (He had gotten sufficiently problematic that regular sitters would no longer take him.)

I remember one particular date when we had everything arranged – a date cleared with the Grievers, a sitter for B & Z, and respite care for Josh (from my notes, probably October 17, 2003) – and then at the last minute we discovered that respite care had taken our clearly-worded request of "two nights, three days" and booked us for "two days" (one night), which basically made the trip impossible.

It had already been getting more and more difficult to get the Grievers to confirm dates for when it would be okay for me to come down and get my stuff. After that one big screwup, I don't think they ever confirmed another date.

Finally, something gave me a strong gut feeling that I needed to get down there ASAP and just do it, without waiting for a date approval – and then Bubba Griever sent a particularly insulting email and cc:ed my dad, at which point the latter volunteered to hire a lawyer, which we did; the lawyer stated in no uncertain terms that yes, I should go down there and get my stuff without waiting for confirmation – so I arranged in-town rental of a full-size U-Haul and a local storage unit (both terrifying to me, as Livia had previously handled the phoning for U-Hauls and I had never rented a storage unit before).

I drove down on November 24, 2003, parked my car at the U-Haul place, drove the U-Haul out to Chez Griever – and found there were no trailers left at all. There was also a big sign sitting on the front lawn saying "FREE STUFF!", like they had just had a big giveaway party.

My vague memory is that I had parked the truck, gotten out, stared dumbly at the spot where the trailer was for a few seconds, then went up to the house, knocked, and when Lynne Griever appeared I tensely but civilly (given the circumstances) asked where my stuff was. (I might have said "where the hell is my stuff?" – in court, the next year, Lynne turned this into a claim that I was cursing and yelling the whole time. If there had been a jury, they probably would have believed her, because who but an Aspie wouldn't have been?)

She said that Neff Rental had hauled it off. I asked her for their phone number so I could call and find out if they still had it (I did have a cellphone by this time). She said – and this has become a classic Hypertwin Quote – "I don't think that is something I should be hopping up and doing right now."

Rather than argue the point, I decided I had better go over to Livia's (relatively close by) just so I could find a phone book and look up Neff's phone number – but as I was getting into the truck and calling Harena to update her on the situation, Bubba came up and tried to make out like I was being childish by storming off in a huff (something like that)... and also that Harena "has her hand up [my] butt" because I was on the phone with her (something we did a lot in those days) keeping her updated and getting advice. I repeatedly attempted to disengage with him and eventually had to just close the truck door and start driving, slowly, with him almost hanging on to the truck at first.

Over at Livia's I found the number, called Neff, and established that they still had the trailer with the stuff in it and it wasn't in any imminent danger.

At that point I drove the giant U-Haul back over to Chez Griever to ask them about the other stuff still in their possession – my baby grand piano, Janis Jalopy, and the rest of the stock from the store.

The Grievers declined to either agree or refuse to let me take any of those items, so I called the police. After the police came and took my report, I drove down to Neff Rental and packed everything I could into the truck.

A lot of stuff was smashed because of being on high shelves and not even slightly secured for moving, and everything was a jumble – so it wasn't just a matter of moving stuff from one vehicle to another; it was a matter of untangling things and trying to pack them up in some coherent way.

I think the deal was that Neff closed at 5, and it was getting close to that by the time I squeezed the last item into the back of the truck, and I had only rented the truck until 8, so that was pretty much it as far as being able to rescue anything. I drove the truck over to the storage place and unpacked everything – it was getting close to the deadline for the truck rental, and I still had to tank it up in order not to get charged, so I called U-Haul to let them know I'd be a few minutes late but that I was on my way.

I had intended to take photos to document the destruction, and what I had to leave in the trailer, but unfortunately I left my camera in the car when I parked it at U-Haul, and obviously Neff would be closed by the time I could get back there with it.

I can't remember if I drove back to Durham that same night or stayed at Livia's or a hotel or what (Harena says I probably stayed at Livia's).

After getting back to Durham, I realized a couple of important items had been left behind: a pair of enormous speakers (which Josh ultimately destroyed) and the (in-need-of-repair) Quantum mixing board (currently in the basement). I couldn't get down to Athens again before the end of the week, when Neff said they would be emptying out the trailer to rent to someone else, so I found a "labor for hire" place and hired them to go retrieve those three items. There wasn't time to mail them a lock key, so I called a locksmith to go out and break the lock.

Later, we got a trailer hitch for Harena's minivan and would drag a U-Haul trailer down to Athens and back as time permitted, emptying out the storage unit one load at a time. I think we usually did those as a round trip, though I also remember staying at a particular place (what then-Benjamin called "the Greenbird Motel") with H's kids on multiple occasions.

It was only much later that I realized I had also left my IBM S/9000 computer[1] in the trailer (long-gone by then) as well – this was a discard from my dad's lab – I remember using it at Governor Street, so I probably got it in 1986 or 7. Made in 1982[2], it had a megabyte of RAM (years before "640k should be enough for anyone"), a monochrome graphics screen, a color dot-matrix printer, and 8-inch floppy disks. I had written an early version of my Kaleidoscope screensaver in the Pascal compiler which came with it, and probably some letters which would have been nice to have later on, but oh well.

I was able to get the car and the piano back, after taking the Grievers to criminal court, but at great expense and difficulty and with some damage to the piano. I eventually had to let Livia sell it (and let her keep the proceeds towards child support, which I otherwise hadn't been paying because I had no income).

I also had to sue them over the monetary dispute and merchandise, which took several years. I eventually won but was never able to recover any of the damages (well over $10k) or the merchandise (which the judge let them keep).

Every so often, I'll remember some item or other that I think I have and could really use but can't seem to find and don't remember seeing recently, and can only figure it must have been left in that trailer.

Footnotes

  1. Vintage Computing has a scan of a brochure for this beast. Yes, that's what it looked like, except the monitor mount had been lost before I got hold of it, so the monitor had to sit off to one side. I still have the external floppy drive and some of the disks...
  2. I had remembered 1979, but apparently that's incorrect