Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flea Markets

I went to a Flea Market in Waynesburg yesterday. They have one every Tuesday and Saturday at the Greene County Fairgrounds. Over the years it has dwindled to very few set-ups and not much reason to go. Dad and Mom go to hang with friends, drink coffee and, in Dad's case, trade pocketknives with his cronies.
I've gone to Flea Markets with them frequently over the years. I enjoy the experience but with rare exceptions I don't really search them out on my own. I'm never really looking for anything specific, and in spite of my collection of books, comics and music I don't really consider myself a real "collector" of anything. When I'm at a Flea Market I scan the tables for those sorts of things and hope to find something cheap to read, or a CD to fill a hole in my collection that I want but would never spend full price on.
There was an extra attraction yesterday. A separate building at the fairgrounds housed a different Flea Market. All of the proceeds went to support the Greene County Humane Society. There was a bunch of donated stuff on quite a few tables and more people wandering the aisles than usually seen at the Saturday sale.
I'm not proud of this, but I spent time looking at the cheap plastic flower arrangements, the lamps shaped like clowns, the knick-knacks and bric-a-brac and wondered who had spent money on all this crap in the first place. Tacky and cheap, most of it could have been marketed, when new, as future flea market fodder or landfill. I simply couldn't imagine anyone wanting to own most of this stuff when it was new, let alone now that it was used and beat. The building felt like a graveyard of wasted money.
I found a table full of books and went to look for something to read. I found a copy of Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll, one of my favorite contemporary authors. This surprised and pleased me since this is an author very few people I know seem to have heard of. I own several of his books and have read more from the Library. I couldn't remember if this was one I owned or not, but for a quarter it was worth picking up (turns out I do own it already, but now I have a gift for someone).
While thumbing though it I remembered a quote from another Carroll novel, Outside the Dog Museum, about flea markets that I had saved quite some time ago;

"Flea markets remind us of how narrow and fixed our values are: What unimaginable things can have meaning to people! A man bought a bent and rusty 1983 Nevada license plate for one hundred schillings. One woman did a brisk trade selling single used, unmatchable shoes, and empty record album sleeves. Astonished, I turned to Nicholas and asked, “How much do you think she charges for that stuff?” He said nothing, but a moment later the thought came that valuing something meant understanding it better than the next guy. To me, it was absurd buying an old license plate­–but what if the man who bought it knew better? Knew more about it, even if that knowledge seemed spurious or even insane to me. And even if it was worthless, didn’t his wanting it make his imagination broader and grander than mine?"

I like that idea, and felt immediately abashed at my prior judgement. No matter how bizarre or meaningless I personally thought an object to be, at some point someone had looked at it, bright and shiny and new on the shelf, and thought, "That's awesome... I want that." Some of the items would make the imagination incredibly broad and grand, in my opinion. But every item in this graveyard, every bent, tarnished, ratty, well-used piece of it, had once enchanted someone.
There are bits of magic all around us. We just need eyes to see it.

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