The overflow . . . of stuff

Dan Rodricks

July 08, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

SAYLORSBURG, Pa. -- I guess I'd like to know where a man gets a load of stick deodorant, so much stick deodorant that he could coat the walls of his house with it, seal his driveway with it, and still have enough to sell at the big flea market here.

I guess, as I scout his prices and sense a bargain, I'd like to know where this big gut of a guy with the beard and the baseball cap gets enough stick deodorant to make a trip to the flea market worthwhile. I guess it takes a certain kind of person.

There was another fellow, an older man, who drove a trailer-load of old uniforms all the way up from Orlando. He parked under a pine tree and hung his stock out for display. You should have seen them -- white lab coats and chef jackets hanging in the breeze. Must have been 500. I bought one for $5. It had the name "Jacques" embroidered in blue on the left breast. I can't imagine myself showing up at some auction and buying a lot of these old uniforms, much less packing them in a trailer and driving two days to sell them at an old drive-in movie at the foot of the Poconos. But it takes all kinds of people to make this world, and now that I own a chef's jacket, once rented by a guy named Jacques, I'm happy the man from Florida made the trip. Otherwise, I would never have had one.

Of course, the thought of owning a chef's jacket had never crossed my mind until I strolled past the pine grove inside the big flea market. But that's how these things work; some people venture out looking for something specific (a year's supply of stick deodorant, for instance) while others step into the bazaar -- with an open mind (thus, the chef's jacket).

"The first time I brought these home," the man selling the lab coats and chef jackets said pridefully, "my wife took three of them. She wears them whenever she cleans the pool."

"Very practical," I said.

I guess America must have arrived at middle-age. We've got all this stuff piled up -- a bulk supply of bulk -- and it's ready for %% either the junkyard or the flea market or, in the case of more valuable flotsam, the antique store. It's always a wonder for me to venture into the leftover emporiums of this nation -- not so much to buy, but to look at what others have bought for resale, or to see what others think we'll find of value and maybe even use the second time around.

Anyone out there interested in blue vinyl tarpaulins? There's a man with a van, and the van is full of them. All sizes, too.

You can buy tents and quilts, ceramic dogs, ceramic pigs,

ceramic steins, dishes, fruit bowls, soup tureens, nylon rope, old button-box accordions, plastic picture frames, teak picture frames, rubber worms, rubber flowers, cast-iron presidents, wooden spoons, canvas shoes, brass hasps, tin boxes, cheese boxes, hat boxes, cigar boxes, screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, axes, hatchets, drills, drill bits, rain gutters, clothes hangers, bicycle tires, car wax, snow shovels, shotgun cleaning kits, meat cleavers, rakes, hoes and a record album entitled, "Music to Nudge You to Sleep."

Flea markets, purgatory for the things we no longer want, could only come into existence after an industrial society had been around for a century or two, long enough to accumulate all this stuff we now see for sale off the back of some big-gut-of-a-guy's station wagon. In some ways, this is a sign of affluence, the overflow of materialistic obsession, the oozing over of a society that has been around too long, manufacturing too long, consuming too much and not shedding enough.

Still, with all that's about for recycling and reuse, people have a desire to acquire something new. It happens even at flea markets. It happened Saturday.

I saw the most amazing thing for sale. Some creative genius had taken a one-liter, plastic soda bottle, cleaned it thoroughly and cut dozens of seven-inch vertical pleats in it. Then, it appeared, the bottle had been twisted slightly, which gave it -- and I'm really stretching the description here, folks -- a Chinese lantern // effect. Inside was a fake straw nest and a fake red bird. Hanging freely, the bottle spun in the breeze, propelled by its twisted plastic pleats. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever laid my eyes on. And it was for sale.

Amused, I smiled and walked away, wondering what fool would ever want this bit of tackiana hanging from his porch.

But, wouldn't you know it? Two hours later, while completing my stroll through this wonderful flea market, I saw a woman with not one, but two of the plastic soda bottle bird nest lanterns.

As I said earlier, it takes a certain kind of person.


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