The Quest for JoyBug’s Title: Part 1
May 31, 2019
I awoke that morning unsure of where I had been sleeping. I was in a small room on a mattress that laid on a hardwood floor with no frame, pushed up against an oversized window. My ears were open before my eyes were, and I heard that old familiar lullaby of the shore: gulls softly cawing. The smell of Sichuan pepper and cloves, fennel and ginger seeped through the floorboards from two stories down, where the matriarch of the Chinese family was cooking breakfast for a family of seven. It mixed with the aroma of the sea drifting in my window, and created a strange concoction for my senses.
I opened my eyes. Now I remembered. I had taken the only room that I could find, living with a family from the province of Jiangsu. I’d experienced reverse culture shock before, and I’d prepared myself for it again, but I’d never come from such a long, epic adventure abroad only to step into yet another cultural experience once i got home.
This hadn’t been the plan. The plan had been to sell my things, give up my place, and hit “reset” on my life by first leaving the country. The plan was then to come “home” to my Joybug, ready and waiting for me in at least a “squattable state” while I did the remaining work on her. But when I boarded the plane home from Zurich, with Joybug’s progress nearly no further along than when I had left her at a restoration company in the winter, I found myself no longer just a vagabond, but homeless.
Ever since I had contracted Mono 9 months prior, something inside me had shifted. I felt like a knife that had dulled, and lost its edge. My weakened state caused me to rely too much on others to get my dreams accomplished, and I felt feel powerless.
I had to get my power back.
After a solid 10 days of undergoing a semi-massive anxiety attack, I finally realized that I had to try to put the ball back into motion. The first step was finding a new home for JoyBug where I could work on her. I sent out about a hundred inquiries, got a few leads, and within just a few days, found a lovely, shaded, massive backyard in the home of a friend for a low rental price.
The next step was to get JoyBug registered and the title put into my name so that I could safely tow her home. And this… my friends… is where the story gets interesting.
Enter in a man who is known to the countryfolk of west-northern-NJ as “Turkey Bob”. He was 84 years old and living alone in a cabin in the mountains when I found JoyBug there two years ago. An avid hunter, he has a passion that borders on crazed obsession with hunting turkeys. When he sold me JoyBug, he gave me a copy of what I thought had been a good title. He even included the registration with his name on it. I drove away never thinking that I’d see that crazy character again.
I was wrong.
In December 2018, when JoyBug was towed to the restoration company, I attempted to finally get the title put into my name and pay the dreaded sales tax. To my shock, I was made aware that my Airstream had been registered as a “non-titled-utility-trailer” (which is incorrect) and required a notarized bill of sale to register. For three solid months I attempted to call Turkey Bob, but he never returned my voicemails. I sent him a letter with a bill of sale filled out, asking him to please have it notarized and sent back to me, despite knowing in the pit of my gut that even if he opened the mail, he was never going to leave his mountain house and go into the city to run errands for me. Eventually, with his voice mail box full, and with all I had going on, I forgot about the issue.
Fast forward to a week ago. I was back at a different DMV, hoping to sneak through without a notarized bill of sale. I figured I’d explain to whomever was in charge that I’d tried for 3 months to reach the owner and had turned up empty, so we needed another solution. I mean, this couldn’t be the worst scenario regarding a title they had encountered. I HAD the title, after all. Right?
“I am so sorry to have to be the one to tell you this,” she said. “But the trailer you are trying to register belongs to a dead person.”
“….. a dead….wait.. what?” I replied.
“When I enter the serial number into the computer, the last known owner is listed, as you call him, “Turkey Bob Jr.” It’s his son’s trailer. And he died, in 1986.”
I was stunned.
“But… I have the title. He signed the title. I have the registration with his name on it!”
“I know this is upsetting. He signed a title he had no rights to – he forged a signature of his dead son because they shared the same name. And the title is not even a NJ title. It’s a Pennsylvania title belonging to a Mr. Blithe who did in fact sign it over to Turkey Bob Jr., but then he registered the trailer as a non-titled trailer, which is why you don’t have a NJ title to show me- and why you were told to get a notarized bill of sale.”
“Ok… so how do I get a notarized bill of sale from a dead guy?”
She smiled, painfully.
“Actually, and just… try… to understand what I’m about to say. The trailer at some point was re-registered correctly as an Airstream..as a travel trailer… and not as a non-titled-utility trailer. So despite what that NJ registration says, it is not a utility trailer, and you do not need a notarized bill of sale.”
“You’re totally confusing me.”
“Sorry. The bottom line is YOU can’t do anything to register this trailer. You have zero rights to it.”
“Miss… sorry, what’s your name?”
“Ok, yes, Karen… I have tens of thousands of dollars into this trailers restoration. I need a title.”
“If this man has no wife, no children, no siblings or mother living – then Turkey Bob Sr. is the next of kin. That’s a lot of “ifs” I know. But if it’s true – then you have to get Turkey Bob Sr. to go to the surrogate office and became the official executor of his son’s estate. He needs an affadavit allowing him to act on his son’s behalf in terms of this property. Then he needs to go the DMV and get a duplicate of the title. Then he can sign it over to you. Then you can get a title in your own name.”
My stomach had just crashed through my feet, through the DMV concrete floor, through the equator, and exited into outer space via the south pole.
“Your only other option is to contract Trenton special titles unit, but understand that this process is lengthy and takes months, and you may not get a title at the end of it.
“Got it,” I said.
I walked out of the DMV feeling more discouraged than ever, and over the next few days my anxiety hit the roof. I hadn’t been able to reach the owner of the company where my trailer was being kept for nearly two weeks. I researched a temp tow permit to get JoyBug home, but found that because the trailer was in NY but not purchased there, it would be impossible to get one. And it wouldn’t have solved the problem anyway. I couldn’t keep pouring time and money into Joybug when I didn’t even officially own her. I needed a title.
On the morning that I woke to the smell of Chinese food and salt air, my body laid like an anchor against the sheets. I felt defeated. I had no title, the trailer was out of my hands and control, I was out of money and I had no plan. I had been in touch with Turkey Bob’s nephew, who had been tepidly trying to assist me in reaching his uncle. I tried to call him and got no answer.
Then I tried to call Turkey Bob one… last… time.
This is where something in me finally snapped. Hearing the phone ring incessantly, and then his voicemail pick up again made me come unglued. His outgoing message was a song of turkeys gobbling, followed by gunfire going off and then silence as the smoke cleared… all before two words were uttered in grave seriousness…
and then a beep.
That beep mocked me. I had been provoked beyond reason.
I jumped out of bed and frantically threw open my closet. I pulled down an overnight bag and shoved work clothes and shoes, a pair of underwear and my glasses into it. I ran down the three flights of stairs from my room to the front door, passing some roommates who were slouched on the couch together enjoying a slow morning.
I got into my car and slammed the door as If I were in the middle of a car chase. I turned over the engine and hit the gas. I began to drive. Fast.
And so, I began to drive the 3 hours into the mountains towards Turkey Bob’s log-cabin in the woods. My mind was blank save for one idea that permeated my consciousness: No. More. Waiting.
Of course I knew on some level it was crazy. An old, senile man with a garage full of artillery and carcasses of dead animals lining every square inch of space in his house, who has refused my calls for 3 months and only grown MORE old and MORE senile since I’d last seen him, was probably not going to appreciate me staging a sit-in on his lawn. I should’ve been asking questions like “How will I get him to go with me? What if he gets violent? What if he has Alzheimers?” But I wasn’t. I was only thinking about my title.
I drove those 3 hours to Turkey Bob’s house feeling more empowered than I had in 9 months. I was taking control over my destiny again. I was getting my mojo back. It felt good.
I pulled into Turkey Bob’s driveway, flashing back to 2 summers prior when I’d taken JoyBug home for the first time. He was standing near his garage about to get in his own car, when I cut the gas and stepped out.
“… yea….” he grumbled.
“Do you remember me?”
“No.” he grumbled more aggressively.
“My name is Anj. You sold me a trailer two years ago? I need to talk to you about the title you gave me.”
“You mean you STOLE a trailer from me. That’s what I’m pissed off about. Now don’t make me get my shot gun.”
I swallowed, hard. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
Maybe I should’ve gotten back in my car, cut my losses, and called it day then and there. But instead, I took a step further towards him…
“I love the turkey bones hanging on your wall there…”
His eyes half-mad, half-pained softened for a moment. “You kept my tags for that trailer. A trailer I gave you to for NOTHING. You’re a thief. Get the fuck off my property.”
I took a step closer…
(To be continued…..)