Galen's Stuff | Jess Dewes
Streetside Pick Up | Elie Gardner
Photo Elie Gardner
The Gift and Burden of Possession | Ari Holtz
Franklin Visits eBay! | Franklin Jennings
The Book| Luby Kelley
Illustration Matt Kindt
Killed By Their Own Art | Byron Kerman
Liberation | Julie Newberry
Bless This Mess | Claire Nowak-Boyd
Photos Michael R. Allen
Best of Mississippi Nights | Jim Utz
Andrea Avery, Diana Benanti, Thomas Crone, M. Davis, Heidi Dean, Amanda E. Doyle, Joe Esser, Chris King, FranÁois Luong, L.A. Ramsey, Stefene Russell, Steven Schreiner, and Erik Smetana.
Andrea Avery, Thomas Crone, Bill Cable, Jess Dewes, Katy Fischer, Jane Godfrey, Dave Gray.
The Book | by Luby Kelley
I canít recall what day it is. The alarm goes off at 7:30 instead of 6:30 or not at all, so it must be Friday. Plus, thereís no wife in the bed next to me, so she must have gone to work. When you work from home, or from the car or wherever thatís not a fucking office or counter, all the days mix together.
So, itís Friday and there should be a few estate sales to look at in the newspaper. I walk up to the corner and dump a few quarters into the newspaper machine. Iím happy that it doesnít jam, and that the only paper left in the machine isnít soaked wet. On the way back down to my apartment, I read the front page. This is the only news I get all week long. I tried talk radio for a while, since I was in the car so long, but any music is better than most of that yammering. I still listen to Car Talk on Saturdays, couldnít give that up.
I walk into the apartment and shut the door behind me. I flip through the paper to the classifieds and pull out the estate sale section, throwing the rest into the shipping box by the basement stairs. Sitting down at the bar window of the kitchen, I hang over the paper, quickly scanning for the word, "toys" or "retro" under the Auction & Estate Sales section. Making quick notes of the area of town on the side of each listing, I circle the ones that were on Friday, and leave the Saturday/Sunday ones uncircled. A quick feed of the cat and I am out the door.
In the car, I congratulate myself for making a note of a pre-sale on a yellow sticky and attaching it to my rear-view mirror the day before. Going to sales so often, you get to be known for the one thing you specialize in (READ: Buy/Collect) and some of the people running the sales will call and invite you in early. Itís super great, even though thereís usually still twenty or so other people invited. But, you know, sometimes people canít make it, or they have real jobs outside of Saturday and Sunday Ė whatever. So, here I was not only invited, but I actually remembered to make a note of the time and address and stuck it where I would see it. Like I said, Congratulations.
The rest of the world drinks coffee in the morning, but I like a good fountain soda from Quick Trip. That early in the morning it makes my stomach ache a little, but it really keeps me awake and going. Anyway, so I get to the first of three sales listed in the paper and thereís only a few people waiting outside. Iím about an hour early. As I drive up, I see someone I donít know, but recognize as another dealer standing outside her car talking to someone. I roll down the window and ask, "Numbers?"
She nods an affirmative, and I pull over and jump out of the car, leaving it running. Walking up to the house, I notice that itís a wide suburban ranch house, in a simple modest suburban neighborhood near a large mall, a large grocery store, tons of strip malls and a few different levels of public schools. The house was obviously built in the early 60s, and Iím hoping this is a one-owner house. Meaning that the stuff inside actually IS from an estate of someone deceased or dying in a retirement home somewhere, and that the stuff inside is at least 30 years old, if not 40. Or, these people were richer than this house seems to let on, and they didnít keep anything (because rich people throw everything away and value their space, not their stuff). Which, in that case means they may have some high-end modern furniture and bathroom or kitchen accessories of the same style. Or hell, it could just be a grandmaís place inside with nothing but country-fied tablecloths and polyester outfits in the closet. Who really knows until I get in there.
I reach the front door, where a basket is laid with a pile of index cards lying in the middle. I grab the top card which says 19. Not a bad number but not too good. They usually let the first twenty people or so in, so at least that means I get in with the first batch of people, probably. But it also means that probably 15 people will get in before me (People grab two numbers so they can give friends who arrive late a better place in line). I walk back to my car, looking around for people waiting to get in. I still have about forty minutes, so I figured some people would be milling about but hardly anyoneís here. That worries me, because some people should be here Ė there must be another sale somewhere else Iím missing. I check the paper back in the car, but the other two sales donít start until the afternoon, and the time on the presale one isnít until noon. So I get in the car and park a block away.
The sale season is just getting started, and Spring has finally shown up, so itís nice enough to grab the classifieds and just go sit on the porch of the estate sale house. As usual, the first sale is where you have to wait the longest, and I take the time to read the details of each listing. Some are insanely boring:
3843 BERVIEW, 63129 SAT 10-4 SUN 10-2 NO PARKING NEAR DRIVEWAY! ANTIQUES, 50+STERLING HOLLOWARE, INCLUDING TIFFANY, VINTAGE PERSIAN RUGS, STEUBEN, WATERFORD, CRYSTAL, CUT GLASS, FINE CHINA, POTTERY, RESDEN, HUMMELS, NEEDLEPOINT TAPESTRY, TIGERMAPLE, DRESS/CHEST, DESK, BOOKS, LINENS, & DOLLS.
And some are just completely intriguing:
FAMILY RUN SALE: 181 THOMPSON ST. 3/15 & 3/16 Sat/Sun 9-5 60 YEARS OF ACCUMULATION FROM BIG GAME HUNTER! TONS OF STUFF! WHITE LEOPARD RUG, BOOKS, ANTIQUE FURN, KITCHEN, GARDEN, VINTAGE CLOTHES, W/D, KNICK KNACKS, TANNING BED, KISS PINBALL AND POOL GEAR.
I donít know about you, but I read that and I make a bee-line for that place. Obviously some eternal bachelor who was somehow rich. That guy is hopefully dead. Heís the last guy I actually want to see in a retirement home. If heís even real. Thatís just what I glean from the ad. Even if heís not, why on earth would some family member not want the leopard rug? How is it that itís for sale? If my granddad was so awesome as to have been a big game hunter, as they say, I would want every single thing he ever conquered. Wouldnít that be what itís all about? Instead, me Ė some stranger will get there tomorrow at 5am or so, wait forever, and that rug will be a thousand bucks and some other rich pansy-ass will buy it for his own white bare post-modern pre-eighties designer living room. Oh well. I guess that might be me if I could afford it. Itís still odd that the family wouldnít want it.
OK, so thatís tomorrow and Iíll worry about that tonight before I go to bed. Right now Iím sitting on this porch and some of the other dealers are starting to mill about. Iíve got my back to the brick wall and am leaning on the porch wall, pretending to read the paper. I flash my eyes up, trying to look engaged in the paper, and unreceptive to having a conversation. Instead I listen in on the conversations around me. Iím not sure if you want to hear a full description of these people. Some I actually really like, and others I donít. Theyíre all characters, even me Ė some boring some ridiculous. I mostly keep to myself. I live in the Midwest, so that should speak a little for itself in describing these people. Theyíre an even mix of men and women, usually age 50 or over, and almost entirely all of them are white. Some have big mustaches or fat bellies or holes in their shirts, but most everyone is nice and polite. Iím one of the younger ones, at 34 years old. Itís taken me about 9 steady years to be accepted by these people. And even still they sometimes scoff at the things I buy. Anyway, hereís the mix of what I overheard from various different conversations over the 40 minutes or so I had to wait:
"This is a DETAILS Sale, so I donít think it was presold."
"That guy over there, heís the one that took that stuff right out of my pile!"
"So, Iíve got some blacks that just moved in next door, and you know how that shit goes."
"The family had some problems with the will and a lawyer is handling the sale."
"The neighbor came over earlier and said this lady lived here since the early 50s with her twin sister who died 6 months ago."
"You know itís a buyersí market, right? I mean I canít move anything. And Ebayís really taken a dive."
"I donít even know what Iím doing here. If itís a ĎDETAILSí sale, everythingís going to be way too high."
"Probably were lovers, not sisters. And if they were sisters, thatís just weird. 50 years without really separating?"
I got kind of bored sitting there, and I had already taken a detailed inventory of Saturdayís sales, so once the guy with the black neighbors came over and started repeatedly clearing his throat and spitting, I decided to take an observatory lap around the house. The driveway pulled around to the back and there was a basement garage. At five minutes till, the guy who runs DETAILS Sales came out and lit a cigarette. Heís a tall man, about fifty-five years old with a grown out buzzcut hair-style, but the sides are shaved a little too high above his ears. This and his blue-jean colored short sleeve oxford shirt (with the name DETAILS SALES embroidered above the pocket) untucked and hanging low didnít exactly scream, Ďheterosexualí to me.
I was in the middle of trying to peer through some slight cracks in the blinds of the windows when he walked over.
"Hey Jon," I said, "Anything good inside?"
"Yeah, sure, " He said, blowing a thin line of smoke high into the air above us, "What are you looking for Ė oh, youíre toys, right?"
I kept trying to peer through the openings in the blinds, talking a little louder since we werenít really facing each other. "Right. Toys and whatever. Mod furniture, fifties sixties kids stuff," I said. "Sort of anything though."
Jon kept smoking, obviously not caring about opening late. "Tons of stuff, " He said, " Just tons of stuff. This lady lived with her sister here the last half of her life, and sheís ninety-three! Turns out she and her sister were both one of the Ninety-nines. Ever heard of them?"
I moved over to peer through the large single garage door window. "Ninety-nines...?" I pulled away and leaned my back against the garage. "What is that?"
Jon continued to blow smoke from his cigarette. I checked my watch. Two minutes until opening. "Apparently, " He started, " Amelia Earheart started a womenís flying club right after she made her big flight or whatever. And she cut off membership in the club at ninety-nine women. Miss Harper and her sister were number seventy-eight and seventy-nine."
I was amazed. Not too many stories of people in St. Louis, Missouri are all that exciting to be honest. Not from the Estate Sale perspective. Oh sure, thereís some famous writersí and artistsí sales, and a pervert here and there, or a rare old cop or something, but nothing all that interesting. Not really.
"Whoa," I said, thumb over my shoulder pointing into the house," and thereís stuff left over from when they were pilots in there?"
Jon drops the cigarette butt onto the floor and doesnít stamp it out. He checks his watch, opening the basement door to go back inside. "Yeah, hey, what number are you?"
I pull out my number, knowing itís nineteen. He grabs it and says, "Youíre number 1 now." With that he puts his arm around me, holding the door open and sort of escorts me in. I donít really liked to be touched, but when you can get in first, back door or otherwise, itís worth an arm around the shoulder. At least, for a second. Jon walked ahead of me and yelled up the basement stairs, "Okay Mike! Let Ďem in!" I heard the clamoring and shoving of the other dealers through the floorboards. I knew no one would be happy to see that I got in before them, but whatís 10 seconds, really anyway?
I quickly surveyed the entire basement, trying hard not to look at the details of the smalls, but rather to figure out, within that 10 second head start where exactly I should be to get a chance at the best stuff as soon as possible. Itís tough too, because I see so many items I want to stick with and just go over to and focus on, but you just canít do that. I mean, you can, and I have before, but youíll miss out on something. Well, you miss out no matter what, actually. One minute you go to the pile of what you think is gold and as youíre leaving the room, hands full of great stuff, youíll catch some unassuming grandma carrying a rare naugahyde monster or whatever.
Well...I donít know how to reference it for you. How about a grandma carrying a Rembrandt or a First Pressing Velvet Underground record or a Van Halen tour shirt from when they opened for Journey. Maybe itís a first edition Hemmingway, or Wait- hereís an example. Last week I went to an auction, and I bought a bunch of books. Great 50s childrenís series books and it was a whole wall of them for a dollar. Well, I didnít notice one old 1800s-looking book off that wall on a table in another room. Someone else bought that one for a buck when I wasnít looking (not that I care about that era of book, but itís a buck!) and that book had fucking Theodore Rooseveltís autograph in it! No joke! So, do you get my drift? My drift is really that, the first sixty total seconds of a sale can make or break that sale for each individual, let alone your whole day or whole week, depending on how good or bad it got. So now Iím standing in this basement and Iím taking a second to plot the next 9 seconds of the sale. Meanwhile everyone is clamoring to get through the front door, one number at a time and I can guarantee you that most of them are heading for the basement.
At sales, most of the greatest and oldest stuff is in the basement because, and I know this will sound obvious, but everyone stores their stuff in their basements, for the most part, and the people who run the estate sales donít take the time to lug it all upstairs. They do bring it out and clean it up and lay it out for you to buy, but usually it stays on the floor that it was found. Not to say there arenít exceptions, but for the most part, there are tables all around any wall that existed without furniture, and items are laid out on those tables, and then marked with a piece of written-on masking tape, pretty similar to a garage sale.
Within that moment, I finally decide and rush over to a wide table angled into a corner with a ton of paper items, which are mostly laid out onto the table with plastic ziplock bags. There is also a small wooden and glass flat case with some toys and small items inside. A young-grandma-looking woman with a modern pair of glasses stands behind the table, and in front of a shelf of old books, more toys and framed photos. Each marked with a price tape.
The woman behind the table says, "Hi Luby, what can I show you?" and I suddenly notice that itís Matty, the mother of another young antique dealer who is apparently helping out at this sale. She wears an apron with a receipt book sticking out. I point out a wooden pull toy from Fisher Price with Donald Duck printed on each side. When pulled, he appears to move his hands and beat a wooden drum. At this point people are pounding down the stairs. I notice that the original pull cord is missing from this toy, and that although itís inexpensive at $75, it doesnít go for too much more than that on Ebay without the pull cord. I hand it back and one of the other estate-salers comes up to me and stands against me, reaching over to dig in the stacks of photos.
This first guy is Pete, an overweight electrical contractor who competes against me in toy-buying.
"Howíd you get down here so fast?" he says breathing out and frustrated. He continues to flip through the zip locked papers and photos, and asks to see the Donald Duck toy just as Matty is putting it back.
"Magic Number," I say in a noncommittal manner.
"Fucking Jon!" he squeezes out within a spittle-infused breath. He continues to kind of lean on me and it begins to anger me a little. Just then, I notice that the photos he was digging through are all photos of women in small old planes, mostly on the tarmac, but they are amazing! 8 women standing in thick leather bomber jackets with fur collars under the wing of a prop plane, or an over the shoulder shot of a woman checking her instrument panel. Some are photos of women sitting in the open door of a plane. Some are photos of women at a dinner function. All typical 1930s photos in fantastic shape, and tons of them. I then realize that the framed ones are probably even better. I look up to ask for them, but some dealer has just said from behind me, "I'll take them all," and Matty scoops them up and puts them in a pile, quickly writing a receipt and handing it to the person. I donít know if I saw it right or not, but I think they were actual pictures of Amelia Earheart at a plane, or at a podium with other women standing around.
However, behind one of the photos was a leather covered thick ancient looking book. I asked for it to be handed to me, just as Pete asked for the same thing. I must have charmed Matty at one time or another, because she ignored Pete and handed it to me. I stepped back a little, with tons of ziplock bags of photos almost slipping from my grasp. The book was nearly 3 inches thick, and the cover was actually more of a suede than a leather cover, over what appeared to be dark grey construction paper-type interior sheets. Embossed onto the front in a beautiful antique script were the words, "Memory Book".
Opening the book, I was instantly amazed. The book was dated 1917 and each page had a preprinted theme, pertaining to classmates or family, or specific events (like birthdays), with photos or memory items glued in. The first 15 pages or so were all school photos, however apparently in the 20s, everyone took photos holding a schoolbook or football or apple. Beautiful children, looking extremely pleased to have there photo taken. The rest of the book was full of ticket stubs to fairs or movies or trolleys and memorabilia from sporting events and programs. Each photo or item had at least a small hand-written caption or story along side it. The book was fragile and beautiful.
Many of the photos were of two twin girls usually hugging each other and smiling. Sometimes they were with another schoolmate. Each photo was dated with every person labeled. It was a documentation of the happiest times of these twins from their first years in school through their late teen years when they both went off to join some organization similar to the Peace Corps.
Matty saw me marveling at it, and reached out to take it from me, saying, "Do you want me to hold that for you?" I closed the book and saw the price sticker on the front: $35. Thirty-five dollars for that book seemed so trivial. "Yes," I said, and handed it to her.
I moved down the table and Matty called after me.
"There was another one for the years after that," she said.
I was stunned and I guess it showed on my face.
"But the family got in here before us and stole it." she finished.
Let me explain that comment. Sometimes, people die and leave a very specific will and everything seems taken care of. But sometimes they donít, and things get all mixed up with the family. Everybody wants or thinks they are owed something, and who knows Ė they probably are. But who is to decide? So a lawyer or the state steps in somewhere during the first argument, and not long after an estate sale company is hired to arbitrarily sell off all the junk. But usually the family is invited in immediately before the sale to buy whatever they think is theirs, and the money is paid to the estate. Iíve seen that the family is so offended by this idea that they blow off the entire sale and end up with nothing but the money instead of the items. I think the money usually satisfies them, but I wouldnít really know. Thatís long after Iím gone.
And then thereís other times when the family just goes into the house while the estate sale is being set up, and just take whatever they want, essentially stealing it. Itís not right, but itís hard to blame them. I will say though, that usually these are not sentimental items, but rather monetarily valuable items.
Rummaging throughout the rest of the house, bumping into sweaty, sticky-handed people I found three other amazing things like A MELODY RANCH Rodeo flyer signed by Gene Autry from 1939, a keychain with the '99s' logo on it, and somewhere within all the photos I bought, there is a picture of the twins arm-in-arm, posing for a photo at one of the dinner events with Amelia Earheart in the background talking to someone else. There are other things I found that a were interesting, but ended up just buying a box of different toys and '99s' memorabilia that I would sell later. The rodeo flyer, keychain, book and photos were just mine to keep. Spoils of War, I guess.
So after the hour of digging, I started to think about the other sales I was missing, and certainly others were thinking the same as almost no one was left in the house. I went to check out with my handfuls of stuff. I thanked Jon on the way out for the early pass in. He was standing in the driveway by my car, smoking again.
"Donít thank me yet," He said, flicking his cigarette and nodding towards some middle-aged chubby women in Wal-Mart casuals pointing at me and hurrying over. Jon raised his eyebrows and walked back into the house.
Quickly, I started to load the van with the stuff, keeping the prize pieces in a separate bag and setting it onto the passenger seat. I started the car, but didnít quite make it away in time, as there was a rapping on my window. These three women, who were obviously related, two sisters, and one daughter. The daughter stayed in the background and didnít seem as interested as she seemed dragged along.
"Excuse me!" the front-woman said, obviously angry at someone. I hoped it wasnít me.
I rolled down my window and left the car in park. I hung outside my window, not really sure what this would be about, but wanting to make sure I looked like I wasnít leaving the car.
"They told me you bought our picture book?" She said, rushing her words out as though I had stolen something from her, and would immediately offer it up.
"Picture book?" I asked, actually not thinking of the memory book.
"The MEMORY BOOK, is what weíre talking about." The other woman interrupted my question, "Our auntsí Memory Book from when they were little Ė Itís leather and paper with photos and ticket stubs. They told us you were the one who bought it."
I could see desperation in their eyes, and just to cover myself, I quietly locked the door. I was kind of caught there, and Iím not a heartless bastard, but my mitts were locked on that book. I wanted to show my wife the book, and I wanted to have it as a coffee table book for party-people to see and marvel at. I wanted to take it to bowling later that night and show it off. Right then and there, I thought of the effort I went through to get that book, and the fact that the twins had obviously saved that book to be appreciated but hadnít specifically left it to these nieces or to anyone for that matter. And so, before I even said a word, I knew I was not giving it to these ladies. I wanted it. I had it.
"I did buy it. Yes. Yes, I have it. Why didnít you buy it from the estate?" I asked. I didnít know what to say. I knew I was intruding, but so were these ladies; into my day, into my book.
The first lady immediately began to get fired up, and the second lady stepped forward, with the daughter still kind of hiding behind the short perm hairstyles of her mother and aunt. " Sir, we were not able to get in to get the book first. There was another book, but my brother took it and I canít get it from him. Weíll pay you for the book. It was our aunts." She repeated that last part, and it gave another yank to my heartstrings, but I just couldnít let it go. I donít know why I was so callous. Iíve given children hundred-dollar toys at thrift stores if they really wanted them to play with, but here I was holding onto this book for keeps.
"I know it was your aunts'. I'm sorry, it's a book that I really already have bought." I explained. The first lady stepped forward again.
"Look," She raised her voice a little, "Itís OUR book. Weíll pay you for it, so can we just have it?"
"Why do you want it?" I asked, quietly putting the car into drive, but holding my foot on the brake so that the car would not give away what Iíd done.
"Why do we want it?!" The first lady yelled trying to move toward me.
The second sister held her ground, keeping the first sister back and said, "Itís our auntís and weíd like to have it back."
I sat back in the car, and carefully looked over to where the book was, inside a plastic grocery bag with the rodeo flyer. Sighing, I pulled out a pen and one of the blank post-its.
"Here's the deal," I began. "Give me your name and number..." With this the first lady threw her arms up and then crossed them, standing firm and still and angrily staring at me. After a moment of complete staring weirdness, she turned and stomped back toward where Jon had gone into the house. I knew he was going to be in trouble. The second lady looked at me, with no sadness in her eyes Ė only frustration and then followed her sister. The daughter was still kind of cowering on the side of my car. I leaned out the car quickly to call after them, feeling bad, but not bad enough.
"Hey," I called out only loud enough for the daughter to hear.
"Tell me your momís name and number will you, and Iíll call her if I want to sell it," I said.
She looked hesitant and embarrassed, but she came back to the window and gave me her momís name. I wrote it down and before she could leave again I asked, "Really, why does she want it?"
The girl looked at me like I was from another planet and said, "She just does."
I drove away and immediate began to concentrate on the next sale and getting to it as fast as I could so I could start the process all over again. There were plenty of other items to buy that day, but I just couldnít stop thinking about the book and itsí fantastic contents. I got home around 3pm and took a nap, choosing to empty the dayís purchases from the car later. I left the book on the kitchen counter so my wife could see it when she came home. Sometime after dark I finally woke up and staggered into the kitchen. She was looking at the book, and seeing this I woke up a little more. Show-n-Tell time. We sat over the book and looked at each page, reading the captions and going over the book page by page. She showed me an acceptance letter from Amelia Earheart inside, personally signed. I was speechless.
She then closed the book, turned to me and said, "I just canít believe the family didnít want this."
Luby Kelley and eBay go way back. He is the curator of Famous Fictional, an comics exhibition on display at Mad Art Gallery through January, 2007. Matt Kindt self-publishes comics such as Pistolwhip and Super Spy.