From St. Paul to Coon Rapids to Summerville, South Carolina. Norwegian ancestry (as evidenced by a pile of cookbooks and a Norwegian/English dictionary), a Japanese gent in Minnesota, to the “Christ haunted South” (in Flannery O’Connor’s words.) A sportswriter, the mother of one of our country’s best comic screenwriters, a nurse, and other mysteries. So pardon the grade school patriotism for a moment, but I’ll be darned if this weekend didn’t make me feel like, well, like this country of ours is one big melting pot.

Of course, this melting pot seems, in this year 2012, to be boiling over at times, especially when elections are on the horizon (though, nowadays, it seems like that ‘horizon’ begins the day after the last election.) To be honest, that’s one of the things I like most about estate sales–the peace. For no matter how different the person in question was from my one political leanings, I have to think that that matters not to them anymore. Right-wing, left-wing, money troubles, family troubles, that leaky roof. No matter. They’re dead.

And then I think Jorge Luis Borges’ poem, “Recoleta Cemetery”. There, the great poet wanders among the ‘cool marble’ of the tombs, jealously pondering his predecessors in the grave. But then he realizes,

We mistake that peace with death
and yearn for our end
when what we long for is sleep and indifference.

Beautiful, beautiful indifference. Most of us enjoy sleep (to the degree that we can) but indifference? Impossible. Not at home, not on vacation, not in the bottle, not in the smoke or the pills or empty television shows we all watch. Sometimes, when I look over a guy’s Left Behind books or a woman’s filing cabinet with some of her bills still lingering, I think that now they are enjoying that blessed indifference.

Sorry for that digression. Events of the past few weeks have my dander up and my optimism down, and so I get to wax poetic when I can. However, I admit to having to shoehorn that little lesson (and Jorge Luis Borges) onto this piece, since four of the five sales I hit this weekend were, uh, moving and foreclosure sales. Only one was a genuine estate sale, a home of the dead.

And we’ll start with that one. This was a dismal home in St. Paul, but surprising because, in spite of it looking like blood should drip down the walls and screams should emanate from the fireplace, it was actually filled with some decent stuff, none of which reeked like a tomb at Recoleta.

Plus, this sale was filled with kind hearted staff–when I went up to pay, the guy taking the money was intently schooling a woman on the value of a bucket of marbles. Basically, he was pointing out that they really weren’t worth much more than he was selling them for (cheap at $8), but that she could make some profit selling them individually on eBay, and here’s what to look for… and then he proceeded to look like a kid by the chalk circle, showing off his knowledge of the marble world, even at one point going “Oh, wow!”

The front porch had a variety of intriguing paperbacks and Life magazines, all reasonably priced. I found a couple of Beatles biographies I’ll never read (online value: worthless), Eldrige Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, some cool postcards. Then a kid came in sniffing around (and by kid I mean a guy younger than me) and in his arm a gorgeous silk tie. Yes, there was a pile of ties, and the damn kid got the only good one. However, by the closet that held the ties was this ugly as hell ironing board (left.) Apples! Then I thought, you know it’s kind of a shame that we don’t decorate items like this anymore. TVs, ironing boards, suitcases refrigerators, all in white or black or stainless steel. It’s a shame.

Well, kind of. It’s also damn ugly. This house turned out to be pretty damn big, the collection of someone who never let anything go, and didn’t take very good care of stuff. The upstairs was frightening, a whole floor bent to fit into the upper story, dark and dismal. Usually, if there’s nothing for sale in a room, the company will close the door and put up a sign that says “Keep Out” or “Nothing Here”, etc. Not here. You go into these sad places and there’s just an empty room and the echoes of your shoes. At the end of the long hallway was a room flooded with sunlight and a pile of cloth in the center (right.) That’s what was for sale: old clothes, strips of cloth, rags, and this stretch of baby clothes on a dank mattress that seemed like line of children with the air let out of them. Jesus.

From there it was up to Columbia Heights, a clean, clean condo, with a bunch of antiques, frilly china, clean furniture, books that have been popular over the last ten years but worth nothing now. But there were two intriguing items: a really cool book called 1886 Professional Criminals of America, by Inspector Thomas Byrnes. And then this: The Naked Gun 2 1/2. A framed poster. There is nothing in the house that matched. As you can see, there was a table full of the usual stuff, bags and purses and household items. Ah, but do your homework, man: a look at the Hennepin County property records reveals this to be the home of the mother of one of the screenwriters of that ‘classic’ film.

An Edina sale followed, clean, clean, clean, and revealed a crop of high end cookbooks, including a bunch of Norwegian titles, and works from France and Italy, where the homeowners had once vacationed.

That was Friday. Saturday saw Janice and I hop on a plane to South Carolina, but we had barely enough time to make it to one sale. There were quite a few, so I did a bit of research and the Birkeland and Company website revealed… oh, man, Japanese baseball cards.

Japanese baseball cards! Ever since I read an old Guinness Book of World Records back in the late 70s, the one with a picture of the genuine home run king Sadaharu Oh, I’ve had a mini-fascination with Japanese baseball. I love it when guys from the Japanese leagues succeed here (yeah, I hate it when they fail, too), and have always wanted some Japanese baseball cards of my very own. This was the sale for me. I knew this right away because there was a silly sign on the first table as you walk in that read “Parking for Detroit Tiger Fans ONLY!” You never find Tiger stuff in Minnesota. And that was the only one, unless you count the Hanshin Tigers. Actually, there was nothing of theirs, either.

Well, this was actually a moving sale of a couple, June and Nobuyuki (Nobi, as the cookie jar to the right attests), a man who made the circuit as a sportswriter, or journalist of sorts. This guy collected tons of sports related crap from the 90s, totally worthless to me were it not for the abundance of Japanese stuff. I walked out with a box of unopened Japanese baseball cards from the early 90s, silly I guess since I don’t read the language, but most packages do have “Nostalgic Heroes” cards, like the one of pitcher Tetsuya Yoneda of the old Hankyu Braves (now Orix Blue Waves), who won 350 games and was so tough he was called “the Gasoline Tank.”

Because this was Japanese baseball I bought some really, really stupid shit. Like a pillow of the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, the Yankees of Japanese baseball. Now, if I had to choose a team from the far east, that would be mine, if only because of Sadaharu Oh. So I was totally geeked to find a fitted, never used wool Giants cap that fit–apparently, Nobi and I share a tiny head (hats are always too big for my thin bean.) I found some neat Giants glasses, a scorebook he used at multiple games (I collect scorebooks in abundance, and this was a St. Louis Cardinals official scorebook, with Nobi’s scribblings inside–see top), and a bunch of ridiculous toys and gimcracks I wouldn’t look at twice if they were plugging American baseball.

From there it was flying to Charleston, and then on Sunday to a couple of Tag Sales. Now, I don’t have a damn clue why Southern sales are Tag Sales versus the northerner’s Estate Sale, but that’s just how it is. And I wish I could say that the South wasn’t entirely living up to its, er, reputation, as, er, well, I’ll let the facts speak for themselves.

First, how many damned “In God We Trust” license plates does one have to see? Or weird bumper stickers, like the truck with the “I’m lookin’ forward to seeing your mouth covered in duct tape”, which strikes me as the joke shared among serial killers and pedophiles. Then there was the window decal that had a line of oppressive wooden crosses over the state of South Carolina, making it look as if Gologotha is a suburb of Charleston. Oh, man.

There were two sales in Summerville, SC, one the result of foreclosure, the other a move. Both were lousy, the second one floor and not much crap, just stuff the lady of the house wanted to toss before she moved to wherever she was moving. The first was a beat up rambler, on a series of streets named after golf clubs (this one was on 3 Iron Drive) but not in the vicinity of a golf course, and looking the worse for wear. It was the books that made me laugh, the strange dichotomy of people’s tastes and how pop culture can collide with a person’s deeply held religious beliefs. As you can see from the photo above and left, there’s a line of Bible Story books next to some Stephen King (and above the Left Behind series you can’t see.) As anyone who’s read King or seen movies from his books, they’d know the dude loathes the religious right, and especially those fools who’d own a Left Behind title. Inside, the same person had a stack of hippie, left-leaning sci-fi/fantasy titles by my Dad’s second-favorite author, Terry Brooks. You can’t make this stuff up.

Nor can you make up the gangly teen who, when told by the guy taking money there was another sale a mile away, asked in a rich Southern drawl, “Yeah? They any guns?”

Did I mention I can’t make this stuff up?

The South, then, gave us only a nice glass bowl and a pair of Rockport dress shoes that had never been worn (price tag still on ‘em) for a buck. But I do have to admit, and I’ll get all America the Beautiful on you again, that it is a real joy to wander the homes of the right, the left, northerners, southerners, immigrants, upper middle class, lower middle class, the living and the dead, the latter of whom simply don’t care anymore. As Vonnegut says, so it goes…




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