One of the more controversial people in Hoarders’ history is on this episode, and he has lit up the boards with people asking, “Is he a hoarder, or did he get just get A&E to move his things for free?” And, sadly, an incredibly dysfunctional family address the mother’s problem head on.
Randy: Wildwood, New Jersey
Randy is one of the world’s foremost collectors of amusement memorabilia. This isn’t his grandiose self-definition, he has a 20,000 square foot facility that is packed wall to wall and up to the ceiling with machines. Old pinball games, some of them one of a kind and others the last of their kind. A Zoltan fortune telling machine, Skee-ball games, prize dolls, mannequins, Randyquins (he commissioned about one hundred mannequins to be made in his image – they don’t look like him, but he thinks they do.) He has signs, rolls of tickets, registers, video games, on and on.
It’s impressive. According to Randy’s organizer, it is the largest hoard in the show’s history, and certainly the most valuable. The amount of money in the room is staggering: millions of dollars worth of gaming and arcade equipment.
Randy has no wife, no children, and no life beyond his machines. In his own words, “Machines are my friends. It would hurt to sell even one – like losing a child.”
He does have plans for everything, however. He will open a working arcade on the boardwalk using some of his machines, and the rest will be turned into “Randyland,” a museum of all of his collectibles. And here is the controversy: is Randy simply a collector, or is this an actual hoard? He has plans to utilize his things, he is willing to let people use the games and in fact wants lots of people to play with them, see them, remember the fun of being a kid.
That’s what started his collecting, he was a bullied kid, so his parents gave him money to play arcade games after school since he had no one else to play with. He grew up with these machines and only knows how to interact with them. (He evidently runs a few other businesses on the side, and is one of the few people in the country that knows how to operate and repair these types of games, so he does have business acumen.) He says that if he was a really good businessman, he’d simply sell everything for the money. But he won’t.
Dr. Suzanne Chaboud will be his therapist during this, she of the lovely Creole accent. She begins her tour and is delighted by all of the games. This isn’t your typical hoard. She does believe him to be a hoarder, and not a just a collector for specific reasons. First, he identifies himself and values himself based on his things, not on his actions or personality. He’s special and unique because he’s collected things that are special and unique. Second, the collection now exists simply to continue itself. Its purpose is to exist. That is hoarding territory. She asks him when he believes he’ll have the ultimate collection, or rather, when can he stop and be satisfied?
He looks bewildered for a moment. “I don’t know if that will ever happen.”
Matt Paxton is his organizer and it’s the biggest job he’s ever taken on. He calls it the Mount Rushmore of hoards. That the items are neat and clean and valuable doesn’t change the fact that it still is a hoard. The difficult part with this job is that things will not be thrown away, but moved into new places so they can actually be utilized, a Hoarders first.
They’re able to easily move the pinball machines and smaller arcade games, but once they get to the large and cumbersome items, Matt worries for his crew’s safety. One game in particular proves to be especially difficult: the horse race game. This is the game that is essentially a long table where up to 20 people sit, roll balls up an incline, and the speed at which the balls fall into the hole at the top of the incline determines how fast a mechanical horse (all lined up on a back piece behind the table) “races” to the finish line. It can be dismantled into sections, but they’re all very long and there are stairs and support beams in the room to navigate.
Randy quickly becomes frustrated with Matt’s worries. He just wants to move things. Matt and the crew go on a lunch break and when they return, they’ve discovered that Randy has dismantled the machine into sections and moved the lower piece all by himself with a dolly. Matt, baffled, asked him how he was able to do that, and Randy replies in a condescending tone, “With intelligence, experience, and leverage.”
According to Matt, this quickly escalated into an ugly fight. Matt tells him to not speak to him in that tone, and tells the camera that he understands that hoarding is a disease, he’s okay with that and knows how to work with it. But it’s not okay to talk to him like a jerk. And that’s where I totally agree and find that I get most frustrated with people on this show: you do not have license to abuse people physically or verbally and claim it’s okay to do because you have a mental illness.
Matt realizes that they’re running out of time, and he is determined to help Randy get the arcade set up. He starts to really hustle to get the 50 to 60 games that need to be moved into the space. Unfortunately, he gets sloppy and slams his hand between two cargo doors on the side of the warehouse. Not sure if it’s broken (and it looks broken, or severely mangled) he has to leave to have x-rays taken and turns the reins over to Randy.
Randy tells the crew to stop being delicate with everything (another Hoarders first) and gets the crew to shove the back portion of the horse game (the mechanical element with the horses and track) down the stairs. It’s on a few dollies and to illustrate just how heavy this is, several of the dollies are crushed under its weight, estimated at over 10,000 pounds. Those dollies can move a grand piano effortlessly. Randy tells them to grab a crowbar and shove another few under it. They get it moved with a lot of shoving and pushing.
Dr. Chaboud thinks this is a great opportunity for Randy. He doesn’t deal with people often, and he’s working well with the crew. He’s moving from barking orders to actually teaching them how to move this very unique collection. Matt returns with torn ligaments in his hand, happy to see the progress that’s been made.
Matt says, “I came out here to manage a move and the biggest lesson for me was to get out of the way.” I like that when people make mistakes on this show, they own them. Matt has gone on to say that he and Randy became friends after this, and he still marvels at how well Randy functions. They’re able to get the arcade set up, Randy opens on Memorial Day to lackluster crowds, but he achieved his goal.
Aftercare: Randy refused the funds and offers of working with an organizer, but maintained a connection with Matt, who offers his new friend advice. Randy’s an oddball, but he’s the kind of odd ball that makes life interesting. He’s not a harmful person, and he actually wants to share his things with the public. He continues to collect memorabilia, however.
Is He, Or Isn’t He? I think that because Randy is so well functioning – he pays his bills, he isn’t in danger of disease or illness due to his collections – that it might seem like he’s bamboozled the show into getting a free moving crew. But the man saves his hair in buckets so he can have it turned into wigs for his Randyquins. And the man has Randyquins. His social skills are woefully under-developed, he had no friends, and looked to machinery for emotional support. He definitely has something happening that isn’t considered neurotypical. He just happens to have an interesting hoard. He also isn’t willing to part with or sell any of it.
Vicki: San Antonio, Texas
Vicki lives in an apartment complex with her husband Paul and son Harley. Her daughter Cherry is grown and on her own. Cherry is who contacted the show to help her mother. The house is filled with junk. Boxes of unknown pieces of things, hangars, old chairs, plastic plants, paper, books, all manner of detritus is piled to the ceiling. The only way to navigate the home is to walk in a few steps, sidle up the staircase and either enter the master bedroom or Harley’s bedroom. Every room has mounds of stuff in them.
Vicki likes to go dumpster diving, or “shopping” as she calls it, with Harley. Harley is in a position where he can’t say no to his mother. He is miserable, as is his father. If the hoarding doesn’t come under control, both will leave her. Harley is 15, has dropped out of school, and longs to move away and go to a school with dormitories so he no longer has to continue living like he is.
Vicki’s father died a year ago. She has since spiraled out of control with the hoarding. She says that she died when he did. She does acknowledge that her holding on to junk is her trying to hold on to him or to recapture what’s been lost. This is the last time we’ll have a moment of clarity with Vicki.
Dr. Robin Zasio arrives and since the tour can’t really happen as there is no where to walk, she instead asks Vicki, “What started this?” As soon as Vicki mentions her father passing, she begins to cry, and turns away, not wanting to be seen in such a state. She’s a hard woman, rough and angry, and you can sense that tears are not acceptable to her. She gets herself under control and refuses to let Dr. Zasio offer her any comfort. (Dr. Zasio tries to pat her back or offer a hug, and that doesn’t seem to be anything allowed in Vicki’s world.)
They squeeze up the stairs to see Harley’s room, and Vicki explains that the dog ate a hole in her son’s bed, so he sleeps on the floor, “but he’s always liked that since he was little.” She thinks that by letting Harley do what he wants she’s being a good mother. Dr. Zasio asks her straight out, “Do you think you’re a good mother?” (That sounds harsher than it is, she’s asking genuine questions in a calm, concerned voice.)
Vicky replies, “I know I am. But not right now.” That’s a little maddening, I have to admit. Dr. Zasio is upfront: she will have to call CPS because of the house. However, they have 48 hours to turn things around before she’s required, by law, to call it in. Vicki seems unaffected by this.
Cleaning day begins badly. Vicki refuses to come outside. All of her tears are gone and in place is the rage and anger she’s built up for who knows how long. (Depression is just anger turned inwards, after all. She must be tired of pointing it at herself and instead will turn it onto everyone around her.) She’s upstairs in her room, smoking (which means everything in that house must reek of nicotine, gah) and Cherry does a good job of calming her down, briefly.
Cory Chalmers is back as organizer. He looks at everything, observes Vicki and says that it’s no wonder the house is as it is: she has a scattered and cluttered thought process. Cluttered house, cluttered mind. Before anything is even moved she gets enraged. Cory reminds her that they’ve not even touched anything yet. She doesn’t need to be so anxious and angry yet.
And then Paul comes along, and he’s the very picture of unhelpful. He wants to throw everything away, which gets Vicki mad again. A box of keepsakes has gone missing from where she’s put it, and she flies into a rage. Dr. Zasio asks her why she’s so mad, and to talk with her to figure things out, but Vicki won’t hear of it. She refuses to talk. Everything shuts down. It’s an unproductive day.
Day Two doesn’t get off to a decent start, either. Vicki is up in the shower, not willing to do anything. Dr. Zasio is with her trying to make headway and calls out through an open window to Cory that the house is filled with broken glass. Paul says it was their “anger management” from last night. Vicki finally storms down and tells the crew in a very hyper way that she’ll do this, but it’s going to be done her way or no way.
Her way consists of piles without their names of “keep” or “donate” or “trash.” There will be a pile here and a pile there and everything will be presented to her individually. It’s difficult to understand what she’s saying half the time, she mumbles, is twitchy, and grunts. Cherry gets on to her for yelling at the crew, because they’re just there to work. If she wants to be mad at someone, be mad at her.
That’s no problem for Vicki, she has no end to her anger. Vicki yells at them to just end it, call CPS, it’s over, but Cherry refuses to stop cleaning. “You can’t stop me from doing this.” Paul, snickering to himself as he lights another Marlboro, says, “That’s what I’m talking about.” He’s kind of awful. Well, so is Vicki. But how can anything be solved with such a combative group?
Short answer, it can’t. Vicki flies off into another rage, feeling betrayed by everyone, and Cherry begins to cry. This is clearly not a new experience for her. Cory holds her as she cries, he’s very soothing and sweet.
Dr. Zasio tells Vicki that they simply have to focus on the priorities they established earlier: the kitchen and Harley’s room. Vicki is okay with that, at least. Cory and Harley head to his room to figure out how it can be done. Harley has no idea what constitutes clean and organized. If this isn’t taught to him quickly, he’ll easily fall into his mother’s patterns.
They pull out almost everything from the house that needs to be sorted. There is so much to this garbage pile that it fills an entire row of covered parking in the complex. She thinks that’s great. It can stay there until she decides what to do with it. Well, she can’t, because those parking spaces are for other people, but she’s not willing to let anyone touch it.
Cue Paul. He starts grabbing things at random and tosses them into the back of an empty Got Junk truck. He grabs a box of books and tosses it. “Here, take these books, I don’t even fucking read.” He’s not helpful, to say the least. Vicki rushes over and they start wrestling over metal exterior decorations and other stuff. He just laughs like he’s at a rodeo. They are so dysfunctional.
Vicki barks and screeches at everyone, grunting and stomping around. She’s had it. She wants everyone to leave. The clean up comes to a standstill outside, but Cherry keeps on cleaning her brother’s room. She’s the only one in the family that is willing to work, it seems. Vicki decides that she’s leaving everything outside the apartment, the house is cleared out enough to satisfy CPS. She’ll sort through it all, load it in a trailer and haul it to her dad’s old place.
The crew leaves, and we learn that Vicki brought everything back into the home. Harley’s room is still being kept clean, however. She and Paul have since split up.
Aftercare: Vicki is working with a personal organizer and is currently looking for a therapist. Harley is back in school.
Note: Cory Chalmers, the organizer, pulled Harley aside at one point and talked to him about education and offered to pay for him to attend summer school so he could start back in the fall at the right spot. Cherry has offered for Harley to move in with her whenever he feels it to be necessary. For all of the complaints people make about this show, people do have good things come out of it, even when it’s as pessimistic an episode as this one was. (She reminded me of Hanna, the horrible old lady who kept ducks and chicks in plastic tubs.)
She is working with an organizer, that’s a positive. The terrible relationship between her and Paul is over, that’s a positive. Harley is back in school, another positive. Sometimes I have to look for those little details to not let this show beat me down. (Not to mention that it serves as a reminder to the viewers that there is help out there.)