I should be so lucky


I’ve written about estate sales before in this space. No only are they a chance to peer into someone else’s life, just after the fact, but it’s also a chance to pick up things. Not new things, because that’s what Target is for (and they didn’t pay me to add that link, either. I did that just for fun). No, estate sales offer the chance to step back in time, and to pick up something that hasn’t been available for quite some time.

So the estate sale that I snapped a picture for as I was out and about today will hopefully have, as the sign says, some interesting stuff. There’s not too much on the shelves of a Target store that interests me anymore. And who knows, maybe I’ll find something to write about here. It’s happened before, after all.

An estate sale find


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.

Saving the paper

Elvis Papers

Yesterday I had some time to kill while my car was being worked on. The usual procedure is to go into their waiting room, get a cup of coffee, and flip through a magazine as the mechanics are working their magic. But yesterday was a bit different than that.

Around the corner from the car dealership is a resale shop, which is closer to a standing estate sale. I’m sure that their inventory comes directly from estate sales, where after the estate sale is closed and people have carted away what they want, a significant amount of  detritus still remains from the deceased person’s life. The things that a deceased person thought enough of to hold on to in life, but don’t have any similar meaning for those who are still left on the earth. Things that are probably going to end up in a dumpster, unless someone steps in and assumes ownership of them.

I went to this place, with the intention of filling up the time I had to wait for my car. As I moved through the items, looking for interesting items to pick up–or at least write about on my blog–the perfect item came to me. I didn’t buy it, but I’m more than happy to write a few words about it in this space.

The item was a copy of the Chicago Tribune from August 18, 1977. Elvis Presley had just died, and the paper was filled with stories about his life and career and impact on music and on American culture. And someone, all those years ago, did the same thing that I did whenever important events occurred: they saved the day’s newspaper.

In today’s world, nobody really does this anymore. We read about events online, and we watch television coverage of the event itself, but there’s no reason to save a newspaper when you don’t read newspapers to begin with. But the internet didn’t exist for most people back in 1977. If you wanted to learn about these events, and you wanted to help record the event for posterity, you grabbed whatever newspapers you could find and you put them away somewhere.

The paper from the day before Elvis died wound up in the trash, but the paper from the day after Elvis died was special, at least to this person. Throwing that paper away would have felt like a denial that his sudden passing was significant in some way. And so they held onto it instead, to prove that something important had happened, and that they were alive to see it.

When Barack Obama was elected back in 2004, and took the oath of office back in 2005, there was still a remnant of that left. I remember waiting in a line at the Chicago Sun-Times to buy a copy of that day’s paper. People would have, in an earlier time, just held on to the paper that was delivered to their house that morning. But home delivery of a newspaper isn’t so widespread anymore. People like myself, who were out of the newspaper-reading habit, had to make an effort to obtain a newspaper. It’s a sign of the times, really. As fewer and fewer people are familiar with reading a newspaper in a physical form, the act of saving a paper for posterity will become a thing of the past, if it isn’t already . That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something worth pointing out.

I walked out of the resale shop, without the newspaper or anything else. I walked back to the dealership, and my car was waiting for me when I arrived. And as I got into my car and drove off, I found myself whistling a few notes from “Heartbreak Hotel.” I suppose Elvis’ legacy goes beyond what you could find in an old newspaper, anyway.

Something from another time and place


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.

An allegiance to the heart

I’m just wading into a book called “Chicago Stories” edited by John Miller. I picked it up at an estate sale last weekend, and it’s exactly why I go to them in the first place. No matter what else is available for sale, it always starts–and usually ends–with the books. I look for history topics, books about Lincoln, baseball, and Chicago. These are the topics that interest me; they grab my interest and scratch my intellectual itch. And the Chicago Stories book seems to be exactly what I was looking for.

Reading the book’s introduction, I learned about something the writer called the Chicago Tradition (and yes, capitalization was employed for this term). The writer claims that great writers come from lots of different places, but Chicago’s voices have no parallel anywhere else. There’s certainly something that makes this city special, and trying to define it is the task of a lifetime. Fortunately, many attempts at it have been made over the years.

The Introduction to the book ends with a description of the perspective of Chicago. The city has what the writer calls “an allegiance to the heart” that comes from being at the heart of America. As a turn of a phrase, and an attempt at describing something that may appear indescribable, I like it. It speaks to me. It tells me that heart is what we all have, and need to protect in order to survive.

This city always survives its challenges: fires and floods, riots in the street, Lollapalooza. There hasn’t yet been, and there never could be, anything to cut the heart out of this place. That’s why I’ll live here for as long as I live anywhere on earth. That’s why this is home for me.

Bring on the rest of the book. I’m certainly looking forward to it now.

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.

“Next year” never came for him

Today I went to an estate sale with a friend. I’ve written about them before, and being at one is different from going to a yard sale or a garage sale. As I get older, and realize that everyone’s time on this earth is limited, I also appreciate the opportunity to take a peek into the remains of a stranger’s private life.

I picked up a book, as I sometimes do at these things, along with a couple of Cubs-related artifacts. One was a couple of ticket stubs from Wrigley Field–one of which is shown above– and the other was a number of special pull-out editions from the Chicago Sun-Times detailing the 2003 Cubs’ playoff run. The absence of anything related to the others sports teams in Chicago led me to conclude that the recently deceased was a Cubs fan, and only a Cubs fan.

The fact that he saved only 2003 newspapers was especially telling for me. Like him, I thought that was finally going to be the year, the “next year” that every Cubs fans dreams that he or she will live long enough to see. There were no papers saved from the 2004 season, when the Cubs tried to get back into the playoffs before fizzling out late. And nothing from 2008, when the World Series looked to be a lock before the playoffs actually started, and the Dodgers swept the Cubs instead. Nothing from 1984, 1989, or 1998 either, suggesting that the urgency that set in after 2003 hadn’t arrived for him yet.

Psychoanalyzing someone based on their possessions isn’t something I do lightly. But it became clear to me what his story was, at least from a Cubs fan’s perspective. 2003 was the year that it was finally going to happen, until, regrettably, it didn’t happen.

Following that final crushing defeat against the Marlins in 2003, nothing again ever made a newspaper feel like a relic that was worthy of keeping. That feeling probably saved me a dollar or two at today’s estate sale, but it was something that I can completely empathize with. I feel the same way about it, myself.

A “win now” mentality for the Cubs took root in 2004, and it persisted until General Manager Jim Hendry was let go during the 2011 season. Then Theo Epstein came in and a building program started, where young prospects are being allowed time to develop into big league ballplayers.

This strategy might pay off in the long run; I’m certainly hoping that it does. But the downside is that the man whose estate sale I went to today went to his grave, without seeing something that he apparently wanted very much. I never met that man, but I can appreciate the way that he felt, just the same.

I’m sure that this story has repeated itself hundreds, if not thousands, of times already this season. And it will continue to be repeated, until the one moment that an MLB12 video game commercial has envisioned for us already. I can only hope that the current “rebuilding” process–which won’t end before 2013, at the earliest–doesn’t extend past too many more Cubs fans’ lifetimes.

There’s a weapon….


…that we must use in out defense: Silence

I went to an estate sale yesterday. People can have all of the garage sales they want in their lifetime, but they only get one estate sale, and someone else gets to oversee that. Think of them as the garage sales that nobody wants to have.

It’s strange walking through a fully furnished house full of things that are all available. I walked through such a sale, knowing there was nothing there I could buy. I had no cash in my wallet, and a skating coach was busy helping my daughter practice her moves. This was relieving me of any estate sale funds, but those are the tradeoffs that have to be made. I’m not complaining about it, either.

So I walked through the house,  looked at a rather tasty vinyl collection, and thought to myself that this person couldn’t be much older than I am. My birthday’s coming up soon, and I would spot the recently deceased ten years on me, at the most. In the absence of any knowledge of who the deceased actually was, that’s a fair assumption, I think.

It was a nice house, and a company had been hired to come in and set prices for everything. It must be an interesting process, I’m sure. They take everything that a person owned at the time of their death and liquidate it, while being sensitive to the survivors and relatives of the deceased person. It’s like picking through the carcass of a person’s life, or at least facilitating the picking for other people like me.

I made it out to the garage, where I was looking through a box of books as some music was playing. And the GoGos’ Our Lips Are Sealed came on. I’ve heard the song dozens of times over the years, but for some reason one of the lines only came clear to me in that spot. It’s the first line of the second verse, and I put it in the title and first line of this post. And if you came here looking for actual weapons discussion, my apologies to you.

I smiled when I heard it, because heretofore it had been a string of gibberish ending in “Silence,” at least in my mind. It now made sense to me, and I realized that, when I walked out of the sale–empty-handed, of course–at least the process hadn’t been for nothing.

My condolences go out to the family of the deceased, of course, but life does go on, and the Go Go’s and this song from decades ago shall always remind me of this fact.