What the future holds

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Whenever I go to an estate sale, I invariably head toward the basement. My experience is that anything I might want to buy can be found there. And today was no exception.

I found the bookshelves in the basement, and quickly perused the titles. There was nothing I wanted to buy, but the one title that interested me was Rush Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought To Be.

The book wouldn’t be on the deceased’s bookshelves unless there was a resonance with his world view. The aggrieved white man, who is threatened by a changing world, always gravitates to Limbaugh and his brand of humbug.

So now there’s one less person who agrees with Limbaugh in the world. Actually there are lots fewer people like this, as this title appears at estate sales all the time. The “dittohead” will probably never die out completely, so long as someone will pay Limbaugh to spout his toxic rantings on the airwaves. But their ranks are thinning,  and that’s the Way it Ought to Be.

An estate sale find

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I go to estate sales when I find them, and sometimes I find interesting things at them. Whether this one counts as interesting or not, I wanted to say a few words about it anyway.

I wouldn’t know where to find a coffee mug like this in the modern world, at least when it comes to buying one new. And I wouldn’t go looking for one new to begin with, since I have lots of coffee mugs, already. But when the person who originally found this mug, and then paid retail prices for it, passed over to the great beyond, I was happy to relieve that person’s heirs of this silly little coffee mug for 10 cents. There isn’t too much else that a dime can buy, anyway.

I use this when I’m in the office, and for the rest of the week it’s safely out of my mind. I figure that every time I get up for some coffee, I get a reminder of what’s out there, waiting for me when my time comes. And I hope some like-minded soul will then happen upon this mug, give my heirs a dime, and continue the cycle.

A weird and wonderful baseball card

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I have written about baseball cards on this blog from time to time, because they inspire me on occasion. But I’m not at all a believer in the idea that they have any actual monetary value. They’re fun to have, but they aren’t worth the cardboard or cardstock that they’re printed on, either.

Yesterday at an estate sale, which has been another recurring theme in this space, I came upon a metallic tin filled with old baseball cards. I didn’t even bother to go through it, knowing that whatever was in there, something of interest would be found. And was it ever.

The card itself was printed as part of a collector’s set for the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s birth in 1995. This would have been right on the edge of the Internet age, so I don’t know if anyone has ever commented on this card before. It wouldn’t surprise me either way, really, but it’s so unique that it does demand a few words on my part. I’m all about the unusual and the unique, after all.

I love this image of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig–teammates during the season– having some fun together in a realm entirely outside of baseball. If two big baseball stars went fishing together today, I wouldn’t care too much about that. But these are the greatest 1-2 hitters the game will ever see, and they’re hauling in fish together. That’s very cool to me,

And the color of the photograph is also something special. This has probably been colorized by somebody somewhere, because I don’t think that color film existed in 1927. But the idea that I have that life itself appeared in black and white back then is upended by this image. And I like having my assumptions–wrong though they may be–challenged like this.

Finally, I wonder who the guy lounging on the rail behind the Babe Ruth logo is. He seems like a kid or a teenager, and he must have felt like the luckiest kid on Earth to be spending time fishing with two of baseball’s legends. And he’s the only one who seems to be aware of the camera’s presence, which makes the image even more interesting to me. I think I would call this one “Baseball Immortals Catch Fish, while One Very Lucky Kid Smiles for the Camera.”

I think the tin filled with cards cost me a dollar at the estate sale. This one card alone made it worth that, from a storytelling perspective.

He was the villain

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Saturday morning, Lincolnwood, Illinois

This morning I find myself at an estate sale. I’ve visited them before, and written about them before, and today is more of the same: picking through the worldly possessions of someone who’s no longer worldly. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, over and over again in Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes.”

I come across upon a large box of baseball cards from the early 1990s, but the sale’s proprietor wants much more than I think they’re worth. They aren’t worth the cardboard they’re printed on, in my view, but pawing through a box of them is sort of interesting, so we agree that I can pull out the ones I wanted for a dollar.  So I’m looking for something of interest, and I found it in the form of this John Starks basketball card.

In the early 1990s, during the first Bulls’ championship run, John Starks was the embodiment of  the New York Knicks. They were the only team that could threaten the Bulls, and they came within an eyelash of actually beating them, but for this remarkable defensive sequence. Starks had the ball, and thought about shooting it but passed the ball off to Patrick Ewing, who then passed it to Charles Smith under the basket. I’m sure Smith just wishes that Starks or Ewing had shot the ball instead.

As I’m walking out of the sale, recalling those glorious times from twenty years ago, my eye catches the Bulls logo on the shorts of whoever it is that’s defending Starks. I laugh at the irony of this. Of all the teams it could have been on that player’s shorts, it had to be the Bulls. It’s almost as if Starks has no purpose, other than serving as the Bulls erstwhile, yet ultimately unsuccessful foe. In a very weird twist of fate, Starks played four games in a Bulls’ uniform in 2000, after he had left New York. Seeing him in a Bulls’ jersey is proof that anything can happen.

I pay a dollar, and leave the sale with a reminder of the Bulls’ glory days and a story to tell on my blog. That seems like a fair trade to me.

Something from another time and place

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There’s a reason I go to estate sales. There are several reasons, really, but one of the biggest is that I like looking for unusual things. And if I can get them for cheap, so much the better.

Today was just such an example. A man with an apparent love for all things Vegas must have recently passed, and people had descended on his house to pick through the things he didn’t need anymore. I stopped in, headed for the basement–since that’s where the most interesting things usually are–and found the perfect holiday present for my father-in-law. I very much doubt he reads this blog, so I can write about it here.

What I found, and purchased for the grand sum of two dollars, was an enormous zip-lock bag, filled with matchbooks and match boxes from various Las Vegas casinos. Many of the places probably don’t exist anymore, which makes them all the more interesting. As a cigar aficionado, and a seemingly part-time Vegas resident himself, this is something that he’s never received before, and never will again. Sometimes the best gifts just present themselves.

But the most fascinating match box of all, at least in my mind, is the one that I scanned and am presenting above. I’m not sure who Debbie and Alan are, but thirty-two years ago they got married–where, I can’t tell–and they had match boxes printed up with their names and their wedding date on it. Would anyone think to do such a thing today, when smoking has undergone such a dramatic shift in public opinion? I can’t believe that they would.

Other matchbooks may be presented here, if something interesting reveals itself. But for now, I can only hope that Debbie and Alan are happy with their spouses, whether they are listed on that matchbox or not.

Making a circle of flags

Earlier this week, I spent a day with some colleagues at work, making cards to send to soldiers who are stationed overseas. We began the day with a stack of blank sheets of cardstock, and ended up with many dozens of brightly-colored greetings. Or at least they had the potential to become greetings, because the insides were left blank, so that the soldiers can fill them out to send to a loved on back home. It’s a great idea, since going to a Walgreens or a CVS to pick up a greeting card probably isn’t an option for soldiers stationed overseas.

From the experienced and talented scrapbookers, to the people who struggle with drawing a straight line, we all wanted to give something back to those who serve this country so bravely. We rarely see them–which desensitizes us to the work that they’re doing–but we know they’re there, and their families are still among us, bearing the burdens that these absences surely cause.

I’ve never been in the military, but my grandfather served in the Navy during World War I, almost a century ago. It made me proud, on the day that Veterans Day was being observed, to give some time and effort on behalf of those in uniform. Sending the finished cards out, knowing they would help to abridge a long and perilous separation, was a very humbling experience.

Since I was coordinating the day’s card-making activities, I spent last weekend looking about for room decorations, craft supplies, markers, glue, different types of paper, and anything that might make the experience go better for those in attendance. And one of the things I found, or so I thought, was a string of lights with plastic American flags over the bulbs. I secured them, together with a box full of envelopes, at an estate sale. Estate sale purchases, like garage sale finds, are always a crapshoot, and this strand of lights was no different from the rest.

As I was setting up the room on the day of the event, I pulled out my strand of lights and found a place where they would look pretty good. I plugged the strand in and…nothing happened. I tried other outlets around the room, and still nothing happened. I then put the lights back into a box, thinking that it had been a quarter wasted.

But tonight, while putting some of the room decorations away at my house, I rethought my position about that. After all, the light bulbs themselves might not be working, but the flags covering them were still just fine. I separated the flags from the non-functioning lights, and considered what to do with them. Christmas is coming soon, and attaching them to a strand of lights on our tree is one option. Another is to get a different strand of lights, perhaps white lights used outdoors in the summertime, and attach the flags onto them, instead.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw these patriotic light-coverings away, but didn’t know exactly what to do with them, either. So I arranged the flags into something approaching a circle, took out my cellphone, and captured the image shown above. The flags themselves are now in my basement, awaiting further use in the future.

In the meantime, here’s a brand new picture of Old Glory (almost a dozen Old Glories, really) up on the internet, just waiting for online image searchers to access it for as long as the internet is in use. And here’s a story about them on my blog, as well. It now feels like the best quarter I’ve spent in quite awhile.

Paying the price

Over the weekend, my young daughter had a swimming lesson at a park district pool here in Chicago. As she was in the water, I had a chance to do a bit of wandering, and before I knew it I found myself in a used bookstore that I hadn’t known about before. My love for books in general, and used bookstores in particular, has been well-documented in this space, so I went inside and started to look around.

The store’s square footage was limited, since it’s on a busy street in a gentrifying area. I imagine that the rents are very high where the store is, while even five years ago it would have been far more reasonable than it is today. But better to have a bookstore, or any business really, than to let the space sit empty.

The store was a labyrinth of books, literally stacked from floor to ceiling in order to maximize the space they did have. How anyone can browse for books that are far off the ground I never bothered to ask. I figured my time was too limited to get into any of that. I’ll ask about it next time, if there is one.

I had engaged a few of my old friends from high school in a discussion on Facebook earlier in the day, and I had invoked Thomas Paine and his Age of Reason. It occurred to me that I was familiar with the work in a general sense, but hadn’t actually read it before. And what better place to remedy that than in a used bookstore? It was as if I had gone there for exactly that reason, even if it seemed like I was just trying to kill some time during a swimming lesson.

I somehow managed to find a copy of Paine’s work, but there wasn’t a price written inside, as there were with many of the books in the shop. So I took the book to the checkout register, presented my find, and asked what the price was. The proprietor of the shop gave me a price of six dollars, tax included.

The price seemed a bit high, since I’m used to going to garage sales and picking out books for a quarter or fifty cents, at the most. There was also a public library nearby, and I could have probably found a copy of Paine’s book there, for free (that is, once I pay off whatever overdue fines are on my account). The bottom line was that six bucks for a book seemed a bit high to me.

But then I realized that the cost of the book also took into account the rent on the space, and the electric bill, and the heat, when the winter sets in. Used bookstores are a rare treat, in the world of Amazon.com and Wal-Mart selling books and titles on Gutenberg and e-readers proliferating every day. If I want to help keep this bookstore in business, I need to pay a premium to do it. So I dug out the money, handed it to the shop’s owner, and walked away with a couple hundred pages of Thomas Paine’s take on matters of faith.

On my way back to the swimming pool where the lesson was finishing up, I felt good about supporting the cause of bookstores like this one. They’re an endangered breed, with all of the pressures that are building up on them every day. And if I have to kick in a little bit more to get a book that I want, I’ll do that because I’d hate to consider what a world without these types of shops would be like.

Hey yo, Apollo

I’ve always wanted to write something about Apollo Creed. The Rocky movie series (some call it a franchise, but I prefer series because it sounds less like a business that way) was dependent upon this character. The first movie told the story of a bum fighter, more of a street thug really, who was chosen by the champion of the world to get a shot at the title. If you accept that that can happen, then the rest of the series just falls into place: Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, all of it (up until Tommy Gunn, that is).

So when I picked up a couple hundred random baseball cards from the 1980s at a resale shop recently, I started pawing through them, looking for interesting things, when this card turned up. An Apollo Creed card! It was better than any baseball card could ever be.

Yes, Apollo Creed is a movie character, but that’s beside the point. He gave meaning to the Rocky series, which was escapist storytelling at its best for the teen-aged male that I once was. I hated Ivan Drago, but less for being a steroid-using Russian than for being the guy who killed Creed. That whole speech Rocky gave after beating Drago was nice, but avenging Apollo’s death was the real satisfaction for me.

Rocky V is almost like it never existed. Carl Weathers, the actor who played Apollo Creed, wanted a part in the movie, and Stallone said no. So Weathers wouldn’t allow footage from the earlier films to be used in Rocky V. And where there is no Apollo Creed, there is no Rocky series. If I’m the only one who feels that way, so be it.

So an Apollo Creed card, which I didn’t even expect to find, was a rare treat. And not rare meaning valuable, either. I had to convince the people at the resale shop that these cards, all of them, aren’t worth a thing, at least not to me.

There’s still some notion that a little cardboard rectangle with a picture on it can have some monetary value. Great monetary value, even. I can only shake my head and wonder how that ever came to be. The real value in these things is the memories they bring back, and the stories they can lead to. So yes, this is a very valuable card, in that sense. But the people at the resale shop might not agree with me on that.

Those days are gone forever

My car was in the shop this afternoon for some routine maintenance. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, and they were probably busier than they are during the week, I was told it would be an hour and a half before the car was ready.

At this point, I could either sit in the waiting room, looking for a magazine to read or getting sucked into whatever was on the television at that moment, or I could get out and explore a little bit. Of course, I chose the latter course of action and, predictably enough, I came away with a story that I want to tell. Or at least try to get the words in my head into some sort of an intelligible thought. We’ll soon know how well I can do this.

I remembered seeing an estate sale sign on my way to the service place, and even if I did nothing more than walk over there and walk back, it would be more enjoyable to me than sitting in a waiting room. It was (and still is, as I write this) a lovely afternoon in Chicago, and the “it’s too hot to do anything outdoors” excuse of the past few weeks couldn’t apply to even the laziest person alive. Well, perhaps the laziest person alive, but fortunately I’m not that person.

The estate sale was a five minute walk, and I entered the house, as usual, looking for just a few things: books, first and foremost, and anything else that might catch my interest. For every estate sale where I buy something, I probably go to five or six more where I don’t. It’s always interesting to see what you can learn about whoever the recently deceased was, just by combing through the things that they left behind.

Today’s sale was being run, as many of them are, by a service that comes in and appraises everything, in order to make sure that no priceless piece of art is sold to a sharp-eyed collector for ten bucks. I can understand why this is done, but these services–whose job depends on wringing out enough for the estate to justify the cost of hiring them to begin with–make negotiating  more difficult than it otherwise might be. That’s probably good for the sellers, in the long run, but less than ideal for those on the other end of any potential sales.

Another thing I keep an eye out for at these type of sales is baseball memorabilia. I’m not a collector of it by any means, but if something with a personal attachment presents itself and isn’t too expensive, I’ll gladly pick it up. And so, at today’s sale, it seemed like I hit the jackpot. On a table in the garage there were boxes and boxes and boxes of old baseball cards. There were more of them than anyone needs to have, myself included, but I still wanted to see what I could get them for.

The manager of the sale came over, and I explained to her that I didn’t know what exactly was in that pile, but I was interested in taking the whole lot of them away if they wanted to sell it. She told me that she would value them at $300 for the entire set. She’s apparently under the delusion that it’s still the early 1990s, when a childhood hobby somehow turned into an investment game. Sports cards went from something that you looked at and held in your hands, to something that was enclosed in plastic binder sleeves, and never touched for fear of bending the corners.

I explained to her that sports cards aren’t nearly as valuable as she thought, and I was looking for things that I could look through and tell stories about, more than anything else. I then offered her $50 for the whole bunch of them. A counter-counter offer on her part might have continued the process, but she suggested that she would be “giving them away” and she couldn’t do that. With no agreement reached, I walked away empty handed and returned to the auto shop, where my car was ready and waiting for me.

I would have liked to see what could have turned up in this mega-lot of old sports cards but, in the end, I reserved the right that a buyer always has in any potential transaction: the right to hang on to his or her money. I don’t know whether any of the cards were sold later in the sale, but it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. I already have a lot of these things anyway, such as the truly bizarre one above, from the 1976 baseball card set. There’s really no good reason for acquiring 50,000 more of them, that I can think of.

So I was able to fill up the downtime, get some exercise, and remind myself that the sports card craze was a period that I’m glad has gone away, even if not everyone realizes that it has.