As you’ve guessed by now, estate sale shopping is as much about observation as it is buying used stuff that you may or may not need. Admiring the collective detritus is exciting. This is not the same as visiting a museum, since you get to manhandle the items (and there’s no curator to relate any stories and such), but more like an art crawl, except in the person’s home. And the person is usually dead.

One thing that always amuses me is original artwork. My own home is filled with art from people I know or professional artists whose work I admire (and was lucky enough to nab before their prices went sky-high.) But this weekend’s trip saw an abundance of original artwork–how great is that?

Well, it’s fun, let’s put it that way.  A lot of the art, which you will see is very amateurish, and is enjoyable to stop and ponder for a moment as folks push by, but God damn, who the hell would want to buy these weird pieces in their home? The simple answer is no one–even the weirdest are simply not that weird. No one but the family, and they’re clearly leaving it behind, first in the vain attempt at selling it for around $40-$60, and then a day later at half price, and then toward the end of that day at “make any kind of deal”, and finally these oil paintings of Grandma, of gymnasts whose pants tear mid-flight, of monkeys and their children, well, they end up decorating the bottom of a dumpster. Such is the fleeting nature of art, I guess.

Also intriguing: one of the sales was a victim not of the dark cloaked figure of death, but of a more modern stripe: foreclosure. Apparently, the whole of one sale was to raise some cash, pure and simple. But it was so loaded, so thorough, and yet, so devoid of decent stuff, that I had to think that this poor soul must’ve fallen on some truly hard times.

I split my time between Friday and Sunday, as Saturday’s sales were off due to a neighbor’s birthday party and an afternoon meeting at the Trylon. The first stop was Edina, the foreclosure, and the home of a ton of oil paintings, and the perhaps deranged kid brandishing a carving knife, readying himself to put it to the pumpkin (and hopefully purging any homicidal thoughts–see top photo.)

To be honest, this sale was run by one of the worst companies in town. Why? Well, things are well organized, a bit overpriced on the first day, but God damn it all, I personally found four different items I was interested in, but without a price tag. All four times the bewildered and seemingly indifferent salesperson told me to go to the cashier and ask for the price, which meant waiting in line. Dudes, if the church group who seems only to hire those able-bodied folks 80 and older can tag all their items, you can, too.

But I digress. Everything was for sale here, from some State Fair prize ribbons to all their oil paintings (including Grandma–see right.) There was another set of oil paitings–all framed–with a cartoony figure doing some gymnastics and ripping their seat of their pants (with a word balloon reading “rip!” above the rip.) There were two of these paintings. Yours for sixty bucks each.

The basement was fascinating: that’s where the psycho pumpkin killer’s photo resided, but there was also a strange wood carving from George McManus’ comic strip Bringing Up Father (left.) And a box of Penthouse magazines and a tanning bed that was positively filthy. No thanks.

There were books, and I nabbed  a Dick Tracy novel I instantly regretted and a souvenir magazine by Plastichrome of the 1964 Alaskan earthquake.

From there it was a bizarro little sale in White Bear Lake, on a busy rural road, a home set back a bit in some woods (and seemed like it was built on a pile of mud.) This sale had begun on Thursday, so this one, which smelled of moth balls and the staff’s joy at McDonald’s two-for-one Filet-o-Fish sale, was discounted. Lots of books and cheap junk, but everything pretty clean. And it was here I found the most bizarre, and perhaps most disturbing, book in a long, long time.

It was The Art of WIFE Management, by Compton A. Perry and J. J. Gatewood, clearly pseudonyms (see right.) This book was both kidding and serious, a slimy admixture of wretchedly misogynistic cartoons and bullshit advice that could only be the property of a sad bachelor eager to convince himself that his sexless existence is preferred, or a cowardly husband who kept this thing locked away, safe from the prying eyes of the dignified human being who tolerated him.

You can see from the cartoon to the left that this was not a book I would buy and bring home, since I can’t afford either the divorce nor the shame of this thing. And it was in its second printing! (Or so it claimed.) I did, however, find a fifty cent copy of the Harvard Lampoon’s very rare 1971 Life parody.

Things got even better in Mendota Heights. Again, there woman in question, a lovely and caring teacher named Mildred, who passed away last September, had a home full of books. It was there I found yet another Bill Mauldin title–The Brass Ring, an autobiography from later in his life, and in perfect condition. But Mildred either painted herself, or enjoyed celebrating the works of friends and family, since she had a few pieces of art scattered about, including one of a rabbi praying, and then a number of enigmatic paintings of dudes–I called it the Hallway of the Dudes, since there were three of these things (and forty dollars each! I mean, really.) You can see Mr. Redhead to the right, but there was a mustachioed dude making a peace sign with his fingers, and another jolly man who looked like the Good Sam logo. Thankfully, these were in the basement, along with literally hundreds of collectors plates in their original boxes.

From there, it was Edina again, and this time, the home of the woman who loved monkies. Yes, “monkies”, their spelling, not mine. “Monkies, Lg. $6.00″. That was for the stuffed monkeys–there must’ve been literally a hundred or more toy monkeys, big, small, hanging from shelves and doors, monkeys in test-tubes (actually Beanie Baby monkeys kept in round plastic containers to preserve their “value”), and, as we kept with the theme of this weekend, a painted monkey mama and her child. That one, for forty-eight dollars.

There were a couple more sales resulting in nothing of note, unless a Gold Record of Ricky Shelton for $300 gets you up in the morning. Didn’t think so.

This morning found Janice and I in Shakopee, with ESC Recurring Guest Star Mike Haeg, his father, and his daughter, Autumn. This one was a weird sale–three different companies renting the same strip mall space, and their collections gathered from the dead (or foreclosed upon) all over town.

Basically, you wandered into one giant space, separated by shelves or tables. In each section, you collected your stuff, and paid for it in full before sliding over and visiting the section rented by the other company. This made for some efficient browsing on our part. And these sales proved a bounty on magazines and other fun stuff. It was half-price day, and one thing about the discount day is that I’m always amazed at what is left behind.

Magazine-wise, I hauled in a bounty: some old Life magazines, a Time with Joseph McCarthy on the cover, baseball scorecards including a Twins version from 1968, a Giants version from 1971, a 1935 New Yorker, an Argosy from 1948 detailing the “Durocher-MacPhail-Chandler Rhubarb” (one of the most fascinating stories in baseball history in my mind), a Shirley Chisolm for President button (really for my friend Andy), a 1988 World Series program from the Dodgers (for my other pal, Jim), a souvenir button from David Cronenberg’s The Fly (“Help Me! Please Help Me!”), a bunch of nifty postcards, a Union Pacific map of Boulder dam for my brother, and one of those metal ball-strike-out counters that umps use, for fifty cents.

Coolest of all was the Mayor’s purchase of three booze glasses celebrating… uh, the U. S. missile program. The Pershing missile, Polaris Submarine missile, and the Titan missile, all there for you to admire as you slowly get stoned on highballs while watching old Jerry Lewis movies. Autumn found a pair of cool Hot Wheels cars, still in their packages, and Janice ended up with a couple of things for school.

A nice, productive weekend, filled with wonderful reading material and gifts. And, I must say, a weekend of admiring the artistic labors of fellow Minnesotans. It’s sad in a way that these pieces are destined for the landfill (and how amazing would a book of landfill art be?), but it’s also a strange thrill to know you’re seeing this stuff for the last time in human history, probably. You can say that for a lot of the things we do, the beautiful we cook, we say, we sing, and even write.

Do we really need to keep all this stuff forever?

The Mayor and his daughter with their prizes


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