Home > Critic-At-Large > Street Gremlins in the City
Street Gremlins in the City
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
The first time I ever encountered Fort Wayne's mysterious furniture gremlins occurred in 2005, when I was moving out of my West Central apartment. As with every move, I had earmarked a number of aging furniture items as not being worthy of my new address, and so I decided to place them outside, in the side yard, leaning on a tree, fair game for anybody to take if they cared to.
The furniture I was abandoning wasn't worthless, and I'm certain I could have gotten some decent money out of it with a little effort, but I was at that point in the move where you'd rather set fire to your remaining furniture than negotiate it to somebody else. I figured if the street gremlins didn't corral it, then the garbage trucks probably would take care of it that Friday, which is why I was going to set in the side yard, the area designated for our weekly trash pick-up.
I had taken the day off from work to finish moving the last items out of my apartment, and it was a beautiful, clear September afternoon, similar to the great autumn days we've been having recently. Since I had already cashed in most of my personal favors, guiltings, and "you owe me"s from friends, I was relegated to finishing the last of the move myself, which meant lugging a bed frame, mattress, box springs, and end table down a flight of stairs and out the front door. I decided to tackle the heaviest, bulkiest item first--the wooden end table, a useful but awkwardly-sized item that I unfortunately couldn't "ski" down the steps. After much straining, hoisting, and swearing I finally managed to get the damn thing onto the landing, where I attached it to a dolly and wheeled it to the side yard. When I finally unloaded the table next to the tree, I took a deep breath, wiped my forehead, checked to make sure I wasn't going to have a heart attack, and then proceeded back into the house to attack the remaining items.
When I got back to my apartment I happened to glance down from my kitchen window to the area below, and I was startled to discover that I couldn't see the end table. I leaned a little closer into the window screen and scoured the area in greater detail, thinking I was looking in the wrong place, but no, there was the tree, and the end table was simply not under it anymore. I stood still for a moment, frowning a little, and then my curiosity got the better of me and I went down the stairs again. When I got outside, I saw that not only had the table vanished, there was absolutely no signs of the street creatures who had taken it. No sounds of a pick-up truck whipping around the corner. No bungee cord or rope on the ground, no stray worker's glove. No scent of cigarette smoke, or exhaust, no tire tracks in the leaves. The air was as still as it had been all day. It was as if I had simply placed the end table on some unseen trap door in the yard that had sprung downward as soon as I walked up the stairs. I calculated that the total time taken walking inside and then going to the window to look down couldn't have been more than three minutes. In other words, about the time it takes to read the last two paragraphs. What the hell?
It took me a few moments to get back to work. When I did, when I took down the next load, I of course immediately sprinted back up the stairs to the window, to see if the gremlins would return, but there was no movement; the bed frame remained untouched. After a few moments of staring, I decided to go back to my task and eventually, I placed the last of the items in the yard. I then went upstairs once more and resumed my perch by the window. I'm afraid I was starting to spook myself a bit by this point — I was staring down with that uneasy intensity you use when you're waiting for the jack-in-the-box to explode open. 15 minutes later, after no activity, I finally realized how ridiculous and comical I had become, and so I abandoned my vigil and went to Riegel's for a cigar.
And of course, when I got back, the rest of the furniture was gone, and of course, there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. Perhaps the street gremlins are only visible to dogs and small children, like those phantoms in the Paranormal Activity series.
It's obvious that I'm willfully building a mystery here, for I'm sure there's no great secret about the identity of the furniture gremlins — they're probably regular folks who are simply looking to turn a quick buck by scouring neighborhoods for castoffs from the easily overwhelmed and overburdened. I'm sure it's just coincidence that I've never seen them in action and I'm sure there's nothing otherworldly about them. But. . . it's still a little unnerving how quickly they move, how intuitive their information-gathering sources must be; they respond like spiders who feel the first ticklings in their webs. And remember, this was 2005, a few years before smart phones really took over. I like to take a fanciful view and ascribe some sort of mystical art to their ability to deftly remove street wares seemingly without turning a hair.
I know I'm prone to exaggerating and romanticizing the eccentricities of this city, but I've discovered that it's kind of nice to be dumbfounded by your hometown every once in a while. It's fun to have some bit of mystery in your day-to-day life, something that you can't immediately process and pin down. The street gremlins provided a little diversion for me, with the vanishing furniture act, and I was engaged, thoughtful, tantalized. It's an unfortunate by-product of the information age, I think, that sometimes we're a little too informed; it's like we've lost the capacity to be beguiled by the unexplained. And that's a shame. For even in an age of enlightenment, sometimes it's a real pleasure to be left in the dark.