The Washington Post (which I’ve started reading since I was interviewed for it) has a four page feature on storage unit auctions out today. It’s obviously written from a light-hearted perspective, overlaid with a touch of cynicism and fatalism about consumer culture and the current economic climate, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was reading a kind of apocalyptic vision, of small bands of survivors roaming the wilderness eking an existence from the contents of abandoned storage units. The article builds that atmosphere a little, by reminding us occasionally of America’s straitened situation, and also with cute exaggerations like this:

What Americans pay to store their junk is about equal to the gross domestic product of the west African nation of Burkina Faso. The industry added a billion square feet of storage space between 1998 and 2005, with 8,694 facilities opening between ’04 and ’05 alone.

Such data, extrapolated imaginatively, herald a future dystopia wherein self-storage space outnumbers all else, and America is little more than row after row of quiet closed units containing saggy mattresses, rusty ironing boards and boxy computer printers from the 20th century.

The cast of characters in the roaming auction also sounds like something from apocalpyse fiction – the guy whose retirement nest egg is composed entirely of gold jewellery recovered from storage auctions, and this guy, Tony Harris, who tells the reporter that

in the early ’70s, he was indicted with six other Catholic radicals (dubbed “The Harrisburg Seven” by the media) for allegedly plotting to kidnap then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger in order to force a peaceful resolution to the Vietnam War.

Off the set of Born on the Fourth of July and onto the set of Storage Wars … how’s that for an apocalypse-scale fall from grace?

Even the illustration accompanying the article has a feeling of a group of adventurers uncovering a loot pile – if you replaced the torches with lanterns and the wheel in the foreground with a pile of gold, you’d have an illustration from a range of classic gaming manuals. It’s a weird post-modern adventure game of free-booting, exploration and tramp trading in a world of abandoned treasure houses, mostly filled with junk …

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