Estate Sale Confidential: “He Read Every One…”

idiotsOld clothes hanging on the water pipes and stove door handles. Old shoes in boxes by the door. Old hats in apple baskets beneath the window sill. And because old hats, old shoes, and old clothes bear forever the stance and shape and bulge of the mortal flesh that wore them once the house of the old woman was a place of reflective ghosts, of elbows and bosoms and shoulders long gone into the dust or wandered away down Peacock Alley to count their pennies on Poverty’s own lean palm… –Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter

Count your books, friends. Glance at them on your bookshelf, run your fingers along the spine, flip through the pages and sniff them. Find old notes, bookmarks, dogeared pages, marvel at the illustrations or the type, put one in each hand and compare the weight. Who knows? One day we might not have any more books made from paper. One day, half the titles in your obscure collection might be gone, forever, victims of an ever encroaching technological landscape.

This weekend, full of chill and sunshine, was also one dedicated to the fine art of reading. We visited two sales, one in Bloomington, one in St. Louis Park, that offered a plethora of wonderful surprises, and a glimpse at the ‘lost’ art of reading. or at least, the lost art of reading old paperbacks and not caring a whiff about whether they were of value or not. They just read. Continue reading

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The Accidental Masterpiece

2013-05-02 19.51.11Singin’ in the Rain, 1952. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Starring Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, and Millard Mitchell, who still reminds me of my Grandpa Schilling.

“Kids…,” said Irving [‘Swifty’ Lazar, their agent], “My suggestion is you write ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at the top of the page, followed by ‘Fade-in’, and don’t stop until you come to ‘That’s all, folks.’” 
So we began working on Singin’ in the Rain like rats trapped in a burning barn…  Betty Comden and Adolph Green

There’s a fantasy I like to indulge in now and again, in which a person, usually a young person, maybe two, maybe a young couple madly in love or in the first bloom of a relationship, walk by a gorgeous movie theater like the Heights Theater and say “maybe we should catch a show?” Shrugging, barely bothering to see what’s playing, they buy a ticket. “Singin’ in the Rain,” the young woman remarks. Neither of them have seen it, but both are intrigued.

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Estate Sale Confidential: Pancakes, Iron and Diesel

pioneerpowerWinter has just about killed me. Minnesota winters are typically long, but this year’s edition was fairly epic. Just a week ago we had about three inches of God damn snow, and by that time I’d just plain given up on shoveling. The freakin’ sun can shovel for me, thank you very much.

So this weekend’s sudden sunshine was a welcome break from this evil condition. Temperatures in the 70s, snow’s pretty much all melted, no leaves on the trees and the grass is still dead, but that’s just fine as long as there’s sun. And to celebrate the weather even more, I eschewed the usual estate sales and headed south, to Le Sueur, Minnesota, to a tract of farmland with Mayor Mike Haeg, his dad, Tom, and daughter, Autumn, to take in the Le Sueur Pioneer Power Swap Meet on Saturday.

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White Man’s Jackie

Screen shot 2013-04-12 at 11.24.13 AMTo suggest that bad people were racist implies that good people were not. –Patricia A. Turner, Dangerous White Stereotypes, a commentary article in the New York Times about The Help.

If there’s one thing I took from Brian Helgeland’s hagiographic 42, it’s that Jackie Robinson wasn’t actually a real person. Like the computer generated baseball diamonds that appear as if they were freshly painted in oils on a giant canvas, this Jackie Robinson is all shiny nobility, standing in the face of scowling, beer swilling southerners. That his life was perfectly delineated between those white folks who wanted him out of baseball and all the good ones who helped him along. Like a desktop calendar, lessons were learned every single day.

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Estate Sale Confidential: “He Had A Mental Illness”

satanicOne of the themes of Estate Sale Confidential, as you may have noticed, is the desire in us all to collect things. Honestly, do you know a single person who doesn’t collect something? I can think of no one in my life who doesn’t have a small cadre of trinkets, of records or books or baseball caps, a pile of extra china that they never use (but adore), a stack of those National Geographics they can’t throw away… hell, anything and everything can be collected.

But this weekend we found a strange sale, the home of a gent who died and whose collection baffled the customers and most of the salespeople. And it wasn’t until the very end, after I had paid for my haul and asked the cashier about the client, did I receive the whispered answer: “He had a mental illness…

Well… don’t we all?

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If you’re like me, you gripe endlessly about advertisements. I’m not the type who sits through the travesty of each year’s Super Bowl in order to watch some idiots make themselves appear even more inane by fighting over a bag of Doritos (and many, many other products.) Advertisements are irritating; their intent is to make you hate yourself; they’re often a blight.

I say ‘often’ because, after all, there is something to be said for advertising. Whatever your favorite movie is for any given year, chances are good, if not great, that you went because it was advertised. How do I know a restaurant is any good? Advertising. And don’t make the mistake that reviews of diners and motion picture shows aren’t advertising, because they are. They most certainly are.

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evilclownIf you’re like me you enjoy the holidays, but also cannot wait to put the holidays away. The new year is a time to toss that old detritus, chuck the tree, wipe the slate clean, and make resolutions–ways in which we hope to improve ourselves in the cold of winter, the dawn of a new year. In fact, this column was last year’s resolution. This year, at the very first sales of the new season, Janice and I saw what I imagined were a number of resolutions–promises kept, and promises broken.

Certainly there’s no way of really knowing a person’s New Year’s resolutions, unless they were written down, and in all my years I don’t know anyone that’s bothered to do that, not even on the all-knowing Facebook (except perhaps as a joke.) But look around you, and maybe, just maybe, in a person’s life’s accumulation we can see evidence of these goals.

Frankly, the sales were pretty damned weak–only three sales in the metro area on Saturday, two on Friday that were plain awful. The first sale Saturday was at a ranch-style home in southern Bloomington, one that resulted in a single Life magazine from 1938. And yet, this Life had what might just be one of the best advertisements I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

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With the holiday season bearing down on top of us like a Hummer in Trader Joe’s parking lot, I thought that now’s the time to write a little piece about gift giving. As you well know, newspapers and magazines fill their pages with the usual gift giving ideas–in fact, I’ve written one myself for a sportswriting concern (published tomorrow.) But who needs an article to show us the supposedly cool crap we can buy in any store, at any time? The best gifts are weird gifts in my mind, gifts that make a person really think about what kind of person you are, gifts that show that you’ve made some kid of crazy journey acquiring said trinket, that it wasn’t easy.

In short, a gift from an estate sale!

This weekend, Janice and I hit four sales, all four in Minneapolis, and all of them had some pretty awesome gifts for that special someone in your life. Of course, it’s not like you can rush out and grab these things–the sales are over. My point is, next year get out to the estate sales.

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If I haven’t made myself perfectly clear over the last year of writing this column, probably the best thing about estates sales is that they’re so damned fun. Last Friday, ESC visiting dignitary Mayor Mike Haeg and I hit four different sales, which, in their own right, were nothing but a blast–weird collections, some cool stuff to buy, and in one case, a neighborhood we never really even knew existed. On our trip, which spread from Lakeville to Minneapolis to St. Paul, we encountered sea captains, illustrated 45s, weird tools, obscure records, fascinating 70s movies, memorabilia from the Korean war, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, outdated technologies and wooden plaques with an eyeball on it. To name but a few of the weird trinkets we found.

What could be more fun?

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One thing that I’ve always noticed about estate sales is that you typically do not get to see every level of society. There is simply no Jacob Riis-style examination of how the other half lives. Estate sales, as their name implies, are a disposal of someone’s estate, the items that they have accumulated in their lifetimes. The poor, as we should know, have no estates.

We avoided most estate sales over the Black Friday weekend (and its small business counterpart, sponsored, uh, by one of the largest corporations on earth), but had a blast visiting the mansions and split-levels of the Twin Cities the weekend before with ESC visiting dignitary Mayor Mike Haeg. We saw thousand-dollar books, greenhouses, Christmas collections no one would want, and, for the first time perhaps, a flop. That is, a run down apartment where a poor man with filthy carpeting and maybe a dead body in a bathtub tried to sell his junk.

We began our sojourn in the suburbs. There were three Minneapolis sales that weekend, two in mansions, but that usually means long lines at 9:00, and weren’t interested in standing in line just to gape at expensive swag we couldn’t afford.

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