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But a little quick digging on the Internet (that 21st-century scourge of the picker) turns up absolutely no evidence of such a news story, a story that would certainly have merited a column inch or two. And, of course, there’s the obvious question: If Orr actually did again find and resell that painting, why is he presently living in a mobile-home park?

Orr caves in immediately when asked about the veracity of his biopic. “I never meant for the movie to be taken as completely autobiographical,” he says. “That’s why I never say my name in the film. It’s more a movie about a guy very much like me, but with a more hopeful ending to his story.”

Okay. What about the college kids who made the film? “That part’s made up, too,” Orr confesses. “I shot it with my own camera, and I hired a guy off Craigslist to edit it for me.”

Orr's version of the untitled painting that started it all
Jamie Peachey
Orr's version of the untitled painting that started it all
One man's trash, Orr knows, is another man's down payment on a house in Beverly Hills
Jamie Peachey
One man's trash, Orr knows, is another man's down payment on a house in Beverly Hills

All this truth-bending might make one wonder just exactly how much of Orr’s life story is invented, if it weren’t that he’s so forthright about being a loser. “Why the hell would anyone make up a story about a guy who’s spent his life doing nothing but driving around,” he asks, “pawing through other people’s junk?”

*     *     * 

After driving around and pawing through other people’s junk all day, all Orr has come up with today is a pair of small seascapes by the German painter Otto Nautschmann, for which he paid $35 at a yard sale. “I’ll probably get $100 for them,” he says. “It’s not big money, but it’s something. It keeps me motivated, keeps me hopeful that there’s still something left out there.”

Orr makes one last stop at a downtown thrift. The owner greets him at the door with a hug. While they chat, Orr circles the store, touching canvases as if the texture of their dried paint can tell him about their value. His phone rings, and he excuses himself to talk to a client.

The client is calling to say she has cancer. She recently purchased a piece of Paolo Venini glass for $12,000 and is trying to sell it to help pay her medical bills. She’ll take $6,000 for the piece, which is among her favorites. Orr tells her he’s sorry, that not only is her piece of glass only worth a couple of grand in today’s market, but he also thinks she should sell it for whatever she can get. Her health, he reminds her, is more important than Italian glass.

He’s headed home now. Along the way, he pulls into the parking lot of a dentist’s office on Thomas Road. “This was my building here,” he says of the low, flagstone-covered structure by lauded modernist architect Al Beadle. “My daughter and I lived in the back, and I had a storefront where I’d meet dealers. Those were good times.”

Good times are long gone, Orr fears. He can’t manipulate the end of his real life the way he did the movie version. He’s thought about opening a gallery, but even if he had the capital, he’s not cut out for sitting still long enough to run one. “Anyway, I hate the idea of all that schmoozing and party-throwing and telling people how great they look,” he says, pulling into his driveway.

What he really wants to do is walk into an estate sale and find a Picasso hanging over someone’s mantel. And if he does, will he use the proceeds to retire to a sunny cottage near the sea?

Orr squints through his windshield at the plaster duck staring at him from just outside his front door.

“The truth,” he finally says, “is that even if I never found another thing, I’d want to spend the rest of my life picking.”

Staff writer Spencer Kornhaber contributed to the reporting of this story.

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