I had my first flea market experience today and I'm not sure I can write about it in any cogent form. My senses have been assaulted with so many curios and as-seen-on-TV gimmicks that I am even now, after more than a few hours separation, finding it difficult to rein-in the bounding, ricocheting shards of observation that are flashing in and out of my mind's eye. I discovered today that a "good" flea market is a patchwork of completely useless and unrelated crap, and I think this post would be best served to follow in the footsteps of its inspiration. So, without further verbosity, completely useless and unrelated crap:
It cost three dollars to park at this flea market and the expanse of grass and gravel that would eventually be covered by thousands (no exaggeration) of cars primed to haul home the day's bounty stretched over the horizon in three directions and was tended to by a flock of tanned and leathery pre-teen car jockeys in oompa-loompa orange t-shirts.
We entered the flea market, a collection of Hoover-ville style tents, lean-tos, mobile homes, and the odd permanent structure, by way of gate number eleven. Gate eleven wasn't even the last gate. I saw numbers as high as sixteen...and the number of gates did not seem excessive. I never once thought - and I wanted to - "Gee, that gate really is unnecessary. Almost no one is using it."
Like ants to a melted Sugar Daddy at a hot state fair, this flea market attracted impossibly pale, freakishly obese, suspiciously scarred, bargain-hunting, grammar-murdering , infomercial connoisseurs from across the Greater Midwest. Plus, my co-workers and myself. So I guess you can lump us in there as well. Seriously though - I know I'm coming off as an elitist prick - but this was more depressing than a Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, and the Amish. The Amish were there too. Unfortunately, their presence, rather than being a dignifying factor, only contributed to the utter weirdness of the clientele. You can only see Jebediah and Ezekiel completely enthralled in a micro-fiber glass cleaning demonstration so many times before you realize that not drinking or using electricity doesn't keep you from getting duped any less frequently than the Coors Light, Rascal-driving crowd.
You want fake flowers? In what color? POW-MIA flags? What's that? Only if they're made in the U-S-of-A, you say? Have no fear, "We don't sell no Chinaman flags." A beer stine with Dale Earnhardt on it? Look no further, M'Lady. An old empty Coke can that may or may not have collector's value? Follow me to the back. A G.I. Joe with no legs and a melted face? Indeed! A box of batteries? No? Well, what about a box of bungee cords? I knew I'd get you. The best eaves-dropped conversation of the day though was between a sturdy, no-nonsense NASCAR fan and a Middle Eastern vendor of samurai swords and way-too-authentic looking air guns. From memory:
NASCAR: :Twenty dollars!? You must not do much business then.
Vendor: I've been here twenty years, my friend!
NASCAR: I'll give you twelve fifty for it (holding up a samurai sword).
Vendor: Why not twenty?
NASCAR: (Apparently expert in the value of mass-produced samurai swords) This ain't a twenty dollar sword!
I have no idea if a deal was ever struck, but I could still see them haggling even when I was well out of earshot. The fact that they were dickering over the price is nothing new to me. Even the fact that their tone was increasing in vitriol as I made my way from the booth did not bother me. What had me unsettled, and still does, is the fact that A). There is a market for samurai swords at flea markets in the Midwest, and B). That NASCAR would have such a need for a samurai sword that he would invest a good deal of a Monday afternoon in trying to obtain said sword at a bargain price. Maybe it was less about the sword and more about a victory in the art of dickering. Maybe NASCAR came from a long line of dickerers and, in his eyes, fleecing the vendor of a twenty dollar samurai sword for twelve fifty was sort of like defeating an actual samurai in skilled combat. Either way, the sword could justifiably assume a prominent position in his home and speak volumes for his prowess in one-on-one combat...of a sort.