Miss(ed) Manners

June 24, 2005

Miss(ed) Manners: Dave vs. The Mountain of Junk, Part II

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 4:17 pm

When we last left our hero, he was settling down for the night, anxiously awaiting the coming day’s Tag Sale. Little did he know the horrors that were about to be visited upon him in the form of the dreaded Tag Sale Tightwads!

If you’re not up to speed, here’s Part I:

Dramatic enough for you? It was a dramatic morning for everyone. I woke up at the butt crack of dawn, which for my nocturnal self is any time before 10:00 am. The previous night, along with the cutesy signs I’d made to delineate the different sections of schwag, I’d also fashioned some glossy 11 x 17 directionals, complete with a high-tech “bubble” font I’d picked up during the four days I’d wanted to be a grafiti artist in High School.

I hit the road and pondered our situation. In my mind a place like Martha’s Vinyard is perfect for a tag sale. During the summer it’s filled to the brim with the rich and the capable, much like a 19 year old freshman on her first Cancun spring break. They come with their lazy days and expendable income, hoping to find that one slightly cracked butter dish that will give their beach house that “lived in” appeal. Well that’s how I imagined it, anyways. It was to be just one of many myths that I would see shattered by day’s end.

The first intersection I arrived at served as a crude omen of what was to come. The telephone pole was covered to the top in a mass of staples, it reminded me of an over-baked steroid user’s acne pocked back. Right in the middle, facing North were no less than three signs for other tag sales. They were all bigger, brighter and more legible.

I was undeterred, surely these other “sales” didn’t have the quality or sheer volume of blue glassware, containers or shards. There was no way they had anything closely resembling our impressive collection of early 70’s decorative baskets and used planter pots. Laughing to myself I affixed our capitalistic aspirations appropriately to the bottom line.

The sign said 9-6, hours that would see relatively little traffic as it turns out. The first cars began showing up at 8:15, a detail my grandmother noted as “strange.” Apparently the norm with tag saling is to arrive fashionably early, and that usually means by three hours. This meant we weren’t the main attraction in this three ring consumer circus. As I looked around at the literally tons of furniture, I had my first twinge of dread, considering that I might have to move every stick inside.

People who come early to yard sales are all the same, they share the same archetypal qualities. I came to call them Tag Sale Tightwads, or TST’s as I’ll refer to them from now on. In the ever so sophisticated format of the comedy stylings of Jeff Foxworthy I bring you:

You may be a Tag Sale Tightwad if…

… you see a semi-painted end table and think to yourself, I could get four dollars more for that at my upcoming tag sale. That is, if I sink four hours of work stripping and staining it first.

… you arrive early to garage sales because you just assume that all the “Good Stuff” will be gone after the first hour.

… you see something of yours at a tag sale, and remember exactly how much you sold it for.

… you’re actually willing to engage in a haggling session with someone over the price of postcards from communist-era East Berlin.

… you use the term, collector’s item when referring to Happy Meals toys.

Each one of the above indicators happened at some point between 8:00am and 10:00am that Saturday. For a while we had a lot of traffic, they came, they saw, they bought, not much, but they bought.

See, a TST doesn’t come to buy something that they might need, they come looking for a “find.” Something that might be worth something at one of their own inevitable tag sales. But the thing is, they’re not selling to anyone but other TST’s!. It’s a closed circuit. All the money, all the junk, it just refilters itself around to other hands in this vast, loosely connected brotherhood of brickabrack.

One guy, after he’d bought a broken glass lamp, twirled around looking at all the various rummage and actually said to me, “I know I’m missing something, I just know it!” I threw up a little in my mouth. All my love for the stuff from the night previous would have left my body if only I had remembered to eat through all the excitement.

He also didn’t make things easier when he mentioned to me that my grandmother is the biggest of all offenders and that he sees her every weekend at every tag sale he’s ever been to. Apparently, she is the Yeti of the yard sale underworld.

Three hours in and we hadn’t sold a significant amount of anything. The few off-islanders who’d come through were scared away by what I’d noticed were Flea-market prices on Tag Sale items. Attempts to haggle to reasonable levels for stuff that is only one degree of separation away from non-biodegradable refuse were met by scoffs from Bette. No, she couldn’t possibly let the rocking chair with no back go for less than $10, and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise.

When she had to take a bathroom break I started giving things away, quite literally. In my panic of concern for my overworked back I let a shrewd TST and her daughter walk away with over $80 of merchandise (marked price has no relation to actual world value) for $20. The lady paid me half in cash and half in check, what the hell?

When they left, my panic was immediately replaced with fear of my grandmother. She knew every piece of junk that was laid out, she’d know what was missing. I put $10 of my own money into the till and worked out a lie in my mind to tell her.

By three in the afternoon no one else was coming. I began piling things back into their respective places. We made about $300, but I didn’t care, nothing really had changed. Nothing was getting thrown out.

When my mother called and said, “Welcome to my world, kid, I can’t remember how many of those I’ve done with her,” it was a little like realizing Kaiser Soze had just walked out of my interrogation room. I’d been duped. Six hours later, when everything was put away, my organizational skills had made an inordinate amount of space free. I was sure that it would slowly accumulate more goods as the summer weekends passed by. At the very least, nothing was in danger of falling over, there was always that.

On Sunday I headed for the ferry and the bus ride home, renewed in my disdain for all things material. She tried to pay me for my help, which I thought was funny, I don’t enjoy taking money from family members and this type of pay off was even more unsettling.

I used the cash to buy her lunch and left, not with any ill will, just with opened eyes. For her, this is a way of life. I’d been involved in it for only 48 hours and I’d seen the allure, I could only imagine what I’d become if it were all I did, every day. I may or may not have promised to help her produce and even bigger sale in August, I can’t be sure, she’s crafty like that.

I do know, however, that I’ll be bringing a copy of the Middleman back to anyone who asks for it.

June 17, 2005

Miss(ed) Manners: Dave vs. The Mountain of Junk, Part I

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 4:14 pm

Silkworms are disgusting, filthy little creatures. Sure, silk is great, without it we’d all be wearing cotton underpants, but do you know where it comes from? Their ass, dude. Basically, these worms infest a tree, eat all the leaves, shit all over the place, and then when they’re done, they drop from the tree by a tether of butt-silk to the ground. This silk then gets caught in your mouth, hair and eyes and just gives you the cold ball sack heebie jeebies. Also, any time the wind blows, the wormshit falls out of the tree like chocolate rain.

Oh sweet Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, I hate these little fuckers. But last Friday I was pitted in an epic battle, wherein they were actually the lesser evil. A promise I had made over a year ago, to help my Grandmother produce a garage sale had come due.

If ever there was a living illustration of the phrase, “the things you own end up owning you,” it is my Grandmother, Bette Cole, the Tag Sale Maven of Vinyard Haven, Martha’s Vinyard. Her home on the island has been my summer retreat for 25 years and her full time residence for over thirty. She’s stuffed her split level house full of knicks, knacks and projects to the breaking point.

I had come to relieve my conscience that she might be crushed by a tumbling wall of junk, she was there to make a little cash, but that’s a story for Part II. I won’t get into what being a full time tag saler is all about either, but rest assured that Bette is among the highest ranks of this society of schwag, this cult of crap.

I started work at 9am in a cloud of dust and lack of direction. It was everywhere, lining the walls in ice cream cone boxes, stuffed into milk cartons and filled to the brim of a crawl space I would come to call “The Hole.”

As I moved the first of nearly sixty pieces of the most battered furniture you could possibly imagine, I first notice the silk worms. There were millions of them, dangling in the wind and covering the paint peeled dressers and tables in their feces faster than I could heft them out. My subtle instincts told me that this sale would have to stay in the garage.

I’ve spent the last three years of my life being, for lack of a better word, a peddler. I came with high hopes that my trade skills of moving vast amounts of non-neccessary and generally undesirable merchandise would come in handy. In the end, it would be my latent obsessive compulsive disorder that would win the day, because how do you take five hundred square feet full of junk and make it into five hundred square feet of selling space? By making sure everything is at right angles to each other, that’s how.

After five hours of milling around, just moving crap from one side of the garage to the other and battling the now ground-mobile armed detachment of silk worms trying to encroach on the garage, my Grandmother and I enacted the final solution, we called an exterminator.

I’m generally on the “nay” side of genocide, but this was a neccessary evil. All of her trees were almost completely de-leafed, the furniture ruined (that’s relatively speaking of course) and no one in their right mind would come to help me unload this junk if there were butt-silkworms hanging around. My Grandmother’s tag sale was about to become a Wormoshima.

After the bug killer had been sprayed, the bodies started dropping out of the trees, the pitter patter of careening worm is comforting at first and then eerily sad. Later that night I dreamt of the movie Dune.

Anyway, 9 hours in I had finally begun to form a little organization. I set up rows of tables and grouped things by material they were made from. I was becoming delirious with exhaustion. My inner copywriter had taken to making cutesy signs like, “Wicker Park,” “Stone and Bone,” and “The Looking Glass,” complete with pupils in the adjoined “O’s.”

In the morning I had come with my integrity. This was all junk that needed to go because no one needed it. It was only taking up space, it had no sentimental value and was only fueling my Grandmother’s addiction to consumption. But in the thirteenth hour of my servitude, I found myself attached to this trash, I loved every foot of it.

Around 10:30pm I suggested to my grandmother that we sell a water stained photo for $20. I oohed and aahed at a cigar box filled with napkins. We could make some real money! Then we’d use that money to buy more stuff, then we could sell that stuff and make more money!

At 11pm, my arms and clothes covered in worm shit and good intentions, I collapsed, hoping Saturday would be a success. Not because I wanted to be rid of the stuff, as was the case that morning. No, I was genuinely excited to sell, to be a part of the process. I set my alarm for 6am and turned out the light.

End Part I, more next week.


Bonus! Find of the Day!

Among all the crap I sorted through that day, one item, or rather, one box of one item, stood head and shoulders above the rest. In a box, discreetly marked, “The Middleman,” lay about forty copies of a book. Apparently my Aunt Susan’s old boyfriend, Craig, had fancied himself a writer and had taken it upon himself to use his own money to publish his own manuscript.

It was called the Middleman, an insipid piece about the cocaine trade written by, well, a cokehead in 1990, how brilliant is that? But even better, is the author’s picture, placed over the entire back cover above the quote, “This is a gripping international best seller!” by a fictional book review.

There he stood, leg raised in a half bend, his mullet flaccid in the wind, his light grey suit jacket rolled at the cuff. His Cobra style glasses accented the one diamond stud in his right ear, and in his right hand, gripped lovingly, was a pump action shot gun.

I cried it was so beautiful.

June 3, 2005

Miss(ed) Manners: Hole in the Wall

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 4:13 pm

Part of becoming a “local” of any certain neighborhood is having the longevity of residence enough to have seen a business come and go. When the shutters go up and the metal guard door comes down, you can begin to say to yourself, “Man this place has changed,” or “People just don’t appreciate cured meats like they used to,” or the ever popular, “This neighborhood is SO over.”

Then as is the case in every neighborhood, there’s that one spot where businesses turn over and die like fruit flies cross bred with lemmings. No matter what goes in there, no matter how much money people throw at it, it’s a guaranteed bet that it’ll be closing up shop in under six months.

Places like this are the best because it’s like watching a person’s over-inflated ego and over-estimated intellect shrivel up in stop motion photography. Like Koyaanisqatsi, only instead of buildings and bugs you get to watch the slow desperation of a person’s dream wither in the elevated train perforated sunlight.

I’ve got one of these places in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Nestled snug in the confines of Bushwick, skirting the fleeing masses of hipster refugees, it’s been my great pleasure to watch this particular location change owners at least six times over two and a half years. I only bring it up now, because I feel like it has finally found its niche, a business with staying power, but more on that later.

The space is a generous one, about two thousand square feet with floor to ceiling windows and a non-descript awning above it that’s been painted more times than Mao. As I said before it’s changed hands so many times that to fully document the place’s history would take more time than I have this morning, so I’ll just highlight my three favorite.

Incarnation #1: Consignment Store

Good Idea Factor (GIF): 2/5

This place opened up at around month six of my having moved to the neighborhood. Years of personal neglect and disinterest have helped me forget what was there before. Regardless, you can’t imagine my joy when I first walked by the spot and noticed racks and racks of old clothing.

Opened up by a particularly hipster-ish local, someone thought that in a neighborhood filled with bargain stores where the median price of a tee shirt is $.25 and some camel cash, that people would flock to buy musty prom jackets.

Personally I loved it, I would rummage through the racks searching endlessly for some tiny sized tee with a funny chest print. The only problem of course being that the only ones I could find were mass groups of 1988 Mets shirts pit stained enough to force track mark visions in your head and even I’m not that ironic.

It lasted about four months and disappeared in the middle of the night, like a political prisoner, hauled through the tunnels of stupidity to moron city.

Incarnation #2: The BK Mini Mall

Good Idea Factor (GIF): 4/5

The BK mini mall didn’t just appear over night, it was like an evolution. In the beginning there was only a street vendor, and then the street vendor crawled out of the primordial sun glass ooze and split in two forming a twin who sold low grade electronics and dollar batteries that last twenty five minutes before you have to put them in the refrigerator for a week just so you can get your TV off of the Spanish channel.

Eventually the entire location was filled with a weekly revolving cast of businesses. For a while things looked good, there was even a stretch of a few months where there were three barber chairs set up and Ice Cube cried in his sleep. On the weekends they’d plug in a giant speaker right outside of the door and people would hang out, barbecue and listen to what was actually some really great music.

Alas, the party could not last forever and when the video game machines came in and the durag merchant went out, I knew it was only a matter of time. In a week the Mini Mall was gone, leaving behind only a giant graffiti mural on the metal guard door: Two anime styled cartoon faces of what I assumed were the founders of the Mini Mall, or perhaps their spiritual leaders. I miss that place.

Incarnation #3: The NO Gallery

Good Idea Factor (GIF): -3/5

Assume you’re a wealthy hipster who thinks she’s an artist. You’ve got about $50,000 that you just freed up from your trust fund after a shouting match with Daddy’s lawyer and you just have no idea how to waste it. What do you do?

Why you go and rent out a giant space where you can put up a collection of the worst splatter art your friends keep telling you is art because they don’t want to hurt your feelings and then just hang out there with your Billyburg Che-clone buddies and play acoustic guitar while telling yourselves how awesome this is going to be for the “neighborhood.”

Then you should die via strangulation via high tension electrical wire via me.

The NO Art Gallery was just that, a NO. Everything was wrong about it, and when I walked by their big opening one night, on my way home from some bar some night some time ago, I laughed on the outside and cried on the inside for the demise of reason. There were ten people inside, five wearing tweed blazers that might have come from the Consignment shop.

It stuck around until Mom and Pop came around and beat the hell out their daughter for putting vomit on canvas and tearing holes in them to make them “mixed media.” Or at least that’s what I’d like to think happen. In all honesty, they probably just lost interest.

There was much jubilation.

In it’s most recent and what I believe could be the final incarnation of the Mini Mall (as it’ll always be known to me), a liquor store has moved in. It’s bright, it’s clean and it’s right across the street from another liquor store.

The installation of such a business brings all my hypocritical thinking of my neighborhood to a pretty harsh light. While I’m against the rapid soulless gentrification that’s happened to the north of us, something like a liquor store just seems like a move in the wrong direction. Though I’m sure all my complaints about moves in the other leaves me little ground to stand on.

The one thing that I do know, however, is that’s one less block I have to cross when I need supplies for my next movie review. Hopefully it’ll stick around until Vin Diesel’s next film.

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