Do you ever wonder what strange little secrets will emerge when you die? Death may come quickly, too quickly to tie up those loose ends or toss the dirty magazines squirreled away in the cedar chest. But even when death arrives with the speed of a donkey cart, that’s when infirmity and indifference grip the body and soul, and you simply don’t care who finds what on the mantle, by the bed, or in the sock drawer.
I was thinking about this as I plumbed a digger’s sale with my friend, Mike Haeg, last Friday. Between a bizarre Thursday sale, a couple on Friday with the Mayor, and the usual Saturday circuit with my wife, Janice, I hit six sales total (and numerous thrift stores, not to mention the finest hot beef sandwich I’ve ever stuffed down my throat.) It was even-Steven across the board, two each of clean sales, digger sales, and a couple in-between. But there wasn’t a lot to show for it other than a good time.
THE CHAMPIONS OF ISRAEL
The first sale was a surprise, and told me I’ve got to start checking on estate sales every damn day, Monday through Friday. This one actually went Wednesday-Thursday-Friday. I should also mention that two of this weekend’s events were actually moving sales. A warning to readers: moving sales almost always suck. They totally suck. Like garage sales, moving sales are about people dumping stuff that they don’t want. If they don’t want it, why would you?
Well, in both cases this weekend, the moving sales were run by reputable companies that I’m familiar with, so they were worth a visit. And the first–what a doozy! The dude in question was apparently moving to Hawaii, and unloading his giant pile of, well, excess art and collectable bric-a-brac, which included the Champions of Israel wall, watching over this man’s giant king-sized bed.
The sale in question took place just west of 169, in a swanky condo, one of those strange affairs where a person affiliated with the company has to sit, bored to death, and wait to open the secured front door to let prospective customers like myself into the building. You see these quite frequently, and for the life of me the person waiting never has a book to read, or is even playing solitaire on their iPhone. They just sit staring at the plastic plants gathering dust in the atrium.
The gent was apparently involved in promotions of some kind and was had real connections. His swinging bachelor pad was filled with ridiculously high-end items–a Trek mountain bike for $400, framed posters of Bob Dylan shows, a collage with his collection of dozens of backstage passes to big concerts, a half-dozen pure silver mezuzahs, a framed Kirby Puckett autographed Wheaties box, a gorgeous model of a clipper ship, an accordion, flat screen TVs, hideous modern art (“that sells for many thousands more in the galleries,” bragged a salesman), a player guitar (right), and, as I mentioned, the Champions of Israel.
If I had been to the sale on Wednesday, I couldn’t have called it the Champions of Israel, since the wall of framed photos included an autographed picture of Kurt Vonnegut that had already sold by the time I showed up. But amongst the photos were Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elie Wiesel, and more.
Autographs are definitely not my bag. Frankly I don’t understand buying someone’s autograph, since it seems to me that the attraction of an autograph is the memory of having met said celebrity. But even if you wanted to buy, say, Moshe Dayan’s autograph–would you pay $2,500 for it? Since not even Elie Wiesel’s signature had sold on a discount day, my guess is that those will be seen on eBay in short order.
THE MINI-CONFEDERATE SHRINE, A HAG’S FACE, AND A SERIES OF STRIKEOUTS
Friday saw Mike Haeg and I hit some sales around town. The first was yet another moving sale, this time at a modest condo in Minneapolis. This was the home of an elderly lady who now needed to live on but one floor, and was looking to downsize. A church organization was running this sale, the friendliest group of people you could find, but the pickings were slim. Mostly old religious books, household stuff, and little else in a modestly clean place–an ‘in-betweener’ for sure. My big score was a more pristine copy of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front, one of the best books ever written about World War II from the creator of the Willie & Joe comic strip that appeared in Stars & Stripes.
We made quick work of that one and then headed south. This was a genuine diggers sale that took us to the home of Clara, a woman living on 13th Avenue South in Minneapolis. This was a neat, but well-worn little story-and-a-half bungalow with an inviting fireplace and weirdly textured walls. It was as if they were covered in stucco, and the wall sockets were also textured. The ceiling had glitter, which sparkled as you walked beneath it.
As is usual with a this kind of sale, there was plenty of strange shit. First was the most bizarre lamps I’ve seen in a year, and that’s saying a lot since it seems that when people want to add something freaky to their collection, lamps are a great place to start. These were Aztec-style numbers with enormously tall shades (left), and I might have given them some thought had it not looked as if someone had used the shades as a punching bag.
There were piles of books, tons of cheap kitchen stuff, linens, bric-a-brac, including three shelves of silly salt and pepper shakers (one set were shaped like tombstones, reading “Here lies Salty Tate” and “Here lies Pepper O’Doul”.) In the upstairs attic were games and puzzles and more books. Mike scored a beautiful cribbage set, I found a slightly stinky copy of Fate magazine (“Everyone Can Be A Prophet!”), and a a pristine 1972 Bill Freehan baseball card.
Unfortunately, the basement stank like a pair of shoes left in a rain barrel, so none of the books or magazines would go in my bag. Having wandered through the whole house, and with Mike still on the prowl, I put my nose closer to the many tables of trinkets, and discovered a weird mini-shrine. This was a small Confederate flag on a stick inserted into a wood base (right). Glued to the base were a “58 cal musket ball”, a “shield button”, and a “68 cal mini-ball”, if the little descriptions are to be believed.
There was nothing else in the place to indicate a sympathy for our Southern cousins, and judging from her salt and pepper shaker collection, I’m guessing she was just a trinket collector on her many travels. Still, it was pretty strange.
Afterwards, as Haeg and I made our way out, and en route to Southern Minnesota’s many thrift stores (where we found a board game called “Blarf”), Mike stopped abruptly on the sidewalk. There, laying just beneath the surface of the thin layer of snow, was a hag’s mask. Cripes was that thing creepy–it looked like someone ripped the face off a female Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet. To make it even more effective, there were dead leaves in her hair. Score one for the Mayor.
Janice and I hit three sales on Saturday, and like Delmon Young with the Twins last season, it was one-two-three strikes you’re out. A clean sale so bereft of stuff you wondered why Birkeland even took it on, a diggers sale wherein every single book stank to high heaven, and a sad little in-betweener in Orono, the lakeside home of a proud union bachelor who loved Westerns. Were it not for a handful of postcards I could have done without, we would have emerged from all three with absolutely nothing. But that’s the nature of estate sale-ing.
Baseball is actually a great analogy. People remark all the time how lucky we are in finding great stuff, and those comments remind me of baseball genius Branch Rickey’s maxim, “luck is the residue of design.” Janice and I hit probably 150-200 sales in a given year, and, like ballplayers, are pretty damn good with our 30-35% success rate. That .350 batting average means that we have weekends like this one 65% of the time, and it is our persistence, our design, to use Rickey’s word, that helps us cultivate our luck. Hopefully you’ll see more of that in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, we emerged from this weekend with a small pile of silly stuff–a couple of nice, modern ties from Thursday’s sale, some vintage postcards, Fate magazine, a baseball card, and Up Front. Not much, but there’s always next week.