Berkeley, California. In 2015, I got a call from a friend, George Szabo, who I haven't heard from in months.
"Get up here," he says. "Nick wants to hire you to make videos. He needs you and will put you up. How soon can you get here?"
"Who's Nick?" I ask.
"I'll tell you later. Nick has tons of work for you. And he’ll cover your gas expense. Bring all your gear. There's a fortune to be made. He’s waiting for you.”
Despite George’s enthusiasm, I’m in no rush. Not all his ideas work out. Like most of them.
But he keeps calling me, and after a couple of weeks, I give in and drive up to Berkeley from Los Angeles, about 500 miles.
I pull up to the address, but there's a locked chain link fence. Inside, it’s just a cluttered junk yard.
George comes out, unlocks the fence and swings it open. He takes me into a warehouse that looks like an abandoned workshop of some kind, filled with massive 50-100-year-old ironworks machinery, lathes, and drills. Everything is filthy, dusty and covered with cob webs.
“You can probably stay there in the corner but clean it up in case Nick comes. He hasn’t been here for a while so you can stay at least until then.”
See what I’m talking about? I’m now roped into some make-believe project, and it’s all up to this guy Nick who’s not around.
“When Nick comes by, I’ll see if I can get you some work,” George says.
I’m ready to kill George, and so he adds, “In the meantime, I can hire you to make a video for me. I can afford minimum wage, OK?”
I bring my things to the corner which is next to a refrigerator, stove, and sink. Everything needs cleaning. So I clean the place up, and George takes me out grocery shopping.
Over the next few days, George introduces me to people he's met, probably hoping somebody can give me some work. I get some gym passes, workout each day, spend my time finishing work I brought with me and planning to return to Los Angeles at the end of the week.
One morning as I had just finished breakfast and cleaned up, an old man with white hair and a beard wearing farmers overalls comes slowly shuffling in. He stops and looks at the corner, sees everything is clean. He notices the tower computer setup with HD monitor. And then he sits down in a chair.
I sit down in a chair opposite. It is like a reunion with a good friend you have not seen in decades. it's like two hippies from the 1960s having a communion. We talk for six hours.
Several years ago, this junk yard was functioning as a learning center where students could learn a trade. Nick ran it. He knows how to make and fix anything. And he was good at collecting stuff and getting people to donate equipment.
But something happened. Nick got sick. He couldn’t supervise the place called “Tinkers.” Besides collecting all kinds of junk that only people like him could fix, he also took in people who were broken too. He found them work and kept them out of trouble.
But with Nick gone, there was no one to manage all the donated goods or maintain the equipment. In a nutshell, it all went to hell.
Recently, Nick was feeling well enough to come back, and that’s when George met him and started helping him catalog all the items. So George invites me up - without telling Nick, just wishful thinking that Nick and I would hit it off. Which we do. Nick explains all the work that needs to be done. "Keep track of your hours," he says. I guess that means I'm hired.
I ended up staying the summer, cleaning up the yard, creating a database of all the items, selling it on eBay, cementing floors, painting walls, cutting down weeds and a variety of other chores.
There were always unusual people stopping by. Nick pretty much knew everyone who had been around since the 1960s, including all the flower power chicks who were now in their 70s. They were still fond of him and he of they.
Nick and I last spoke in June, 2017. We had a two hour conversation. "When are you coming up?" he asked. "I'm sure we can think of some projects to do together."
Excerpt from the some day to be published, "A Summer Job in Winter," by Harris from Paris.