Short Story Of the Day, Yard Sale by Bill Chance

It was a bizarre and weird agglomeration of stuff. Right off the bat on a table of old, worn, and useless kitchen gadgets (none of which looked exactly clean) he spotted a single, ordinary spoon.

—-Bill Chance, Yard Sale

Graffiti in Deep Ellum. This warrior is nothing if not well-muscled… plus he is carrying off his prize of war.

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#4). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Yard Sale

Ever since his family had left him to move to California, Marcellus had been walking Margie farther and farther from the house. Margie was old, deaf, and blind but could still cover distance if they walked slow enough. They began to know their neighbors better than they ever had before.

On the outer edge of the territory was a house with a couple of ex-hippies in it. They must have always been at war with the neighborhood association because the trim was painted an odd purplish color. On certain evenings Marcellus heard loud rhythmic drumming from the backyard, floating over the privacy fence.

One Saturday morning, Marcellus and Margie were walking by and the couple had a big yard sale going. His curiosity was irresistible and he decided to take a good look at all the goods spread out on the various card tables or blankets on the ground.

It was a bizarre and weird agglomeration of stuff. Right off the bat on a table of old, worn, and useless kitchen gadgets (none of which looked exactly clean) he spotted a single, ordinary spoon.

“Who sells one spoon?” Marcellus said to Margie, “What horrible thing happened to that spoon to make them say ‘just sell it!’.” Margie couldn’t even hear him, let alone answer.

Marcellus needed a belt and had discovered that new ones cost more than he had thought they would so he decided to look for one at the sale. A box looked like some sort of belt-like strap and buckle jutted out of the top and he thought that would be worth a closer look. As he dug around he realized it wasn’t a belt but some odd harness. The box contained some rings and chains festooned with fur, some long curved objects and some smaller bullet shaped ones. Marcellus jumped back when he realized it was a box of sex toys.

He almost left right then – he didn’t judge – anybody could do what ever they wanted – he had what he thought was an open mind. But owning stuff like that is one thing, and selling it used was something else altogether. The prices seemed reasonable, though.

He was distracted by a woman with short, bobbed hair who began arguing with the couple at the main table.

“Hello, my name is Karen,” Karen said, “And I was wondering if you could sell me this for a dollar?”

“What’s it marked? Twenty? That’s a collector’s item, I really can’t come down on that – not to a dollar.”

“Well, I think people come here looking for bargains. I think you are asking too much.”

The argument went on, but Marcellus turned away and tugged Margie around looking at such things as:

A deer head, spray painted purple,

A planter made from a doll’s head with the top broken off, holding a dead fern,

Six ash trays, obviously made by children as art projects,

An abstract sculpture, four feet tall, made from glued toothpicks,

An old silver artificial Christmas tree used to display at least twenty bras, all obviously used,

A half bottle of salad dressing over a year out of date,

A small corked ceramic bottle labeled “Dead Flies,”

A bottle of shampoo (it was opaque and he couldn’t tell how much was in it),

A stack of large paintings:

-A naked man chained to a rock beside an eagle,

-Jesus and a dinosaur,

-A naked woman against a sunset, embraced by a man who’s lower legs were a building under construction,

And of course:

-Dogs playing poker,

-Elvis on black velvet,

-A well-muscled Aztec warrior carrying a woman off somewhere,

-Cats with big eyes….

He looked up from the paintings to see Karen glancing around furtively. She didn’t spot Marcellus and he plainly saw her pulling 25 cent tags off cheap kitchen items and swapping them onto items marked several dollars which she had in a box she was lugging around.

At that moment Marcellus found the stash of old clothes and fished through the belts which were hanging on an old high-backed chair. He pulled the longest one, a plain leather belt, down, stretched it around his middle, and was surprised to find it fit.

He walked up to the table where the couple were going through Karen’s box of stuff – adding everything up. He felt he had to say something.

“Excuse me, but I saw her….”

Karen turned, eyes wide, angry, “Shut up old man! It’s not your turn! Can’t you see I’m doing cash business here. And keep that damn dog away from me.”

“But, I saw you…”

“Nobody gives a damn,” Karen said, “ Leave us alone.”

“Uhh.” Before he said anything else the woman running the sale caught his eye and gave him a slight nod and a bit of a smile. Marcellus decided to shut up and stood there, feeling stupid. The woman received her change and without a word glared at everybody one last time and marched down to her Mercedes where her husband was waiting behind the wheel. Marcellus walked up to hand the woman the belt he had picked out.

“You know, she was switching prices. She was ripping you off.”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said, “I know, of course. It just isn’t worth it. We don’t really make any money off all this junk. We just want it to find somewhere useful, someone that wants it more than us. If she wants to rip us off, it’s her problem. Karma, you know.”

The woman and the man smiled at Marcellus as he paid for the belt. He had the exact change.

“It’s a hot day,” the man said, “Let me get some water for your dog.”

“Oh, that’s all right…” but the man had already gone into the kitchen through the garage. Marcellus saw a pyramid of various drums stacked up on one wall.

“We see you walking your dog around here every now and then,” the woman said, “She’s a good girl.”

“Yes, she is. Her name’s Margie.”

The woman bent over to rub Margie’s head as her husband came out with a plastic bowl. Marcellus noticed it had a couple of ice cubes in it. Margie began lapping greedily.

“You know, every Saturday night we have a drumming group, a drum circle,” the man said, gesturing at the garage wall, “it’s a lot of fun, you should come.”

“I don’t know… I don’t have any musical…”

“That doesn’t matter, you could just watch if you want, and bring Margie.”

“Well, she goes to bed early… and, umm, I usually go to be early.”

“Oh come over tonight,” the woman said, “About eight. The sunset’s nice.”

Marcellus nodded, said goodby and then turned to walk home.

“You’ll be alright alone for a few hours won’t you Margie?” he said as he walked. “I think I’ll come over. And wear my new belt.”

Community Beer Bicycle Swap Meet

October in Texas is a special time. With the killer summer heat broken – we have a short time of pleasant, comfortable weather… no more than a few weeks before the violent swings of winter set in. There is so much crammed into this sliver of time – there is a desperate feeling of having to gulp it all down – do everything possible before it is too late.

That’s especially true of bicycling events. October is Bicycle Friendly Oak Cliff’s Cyclesomatic – a month long series of rides and events. I’m trying to do as many as I can.

So on Saturday I loaded my bike onto the DART line and headed downtown – then wound through the traffic under I35 and on to the Community Beer Company for a Mosaic IPA and a swap meet. Thinking about it, I’ve never driven a car to Community – but have been there for a couple of brewery bike rides… in February and a couple weeks ago.

I am a sucker for bicycle swap meets. I’ve been to a few, here, here and here. Sometimes you find something beautiful. My combination of a lack of pride and dire poverty means that I’m able to get by with old gear that is too worn out for the original owner.

Today, I didn’t buy too much – two dollars for a seat bag for my Technium and ten bucks for a new mini frame pump…. Still, it was cool seeing the bike stuff, talking to folks, and having a bit of brew. A nice day… getting while the getting is good.

Live Music at Community Beer

Live Music at Community Beer

The good folks from Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles

The good folks from Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles

Nothing better than vintage bikes.

Nothing better than vintage bikes.

Bicycle Swap Meet

Bicycle Swap Meet

Bicycle Swap Meet

Bicycle Swap Meet

Swap Meet and Bicycle Porn

(Please excuse the title, but I have learned that the inclusion of the word “Porn” in a post title results in a lot more hits – a lot more)

Getting up before dawn on a Saturday off work to drive up to Frisco by 8AM is not something I usually do, unless I have to. But there was a big bicycle swap meet up on the infield of the Superdrome bike racing track and I wanted to give it a go. Since I had tickets to the Deep Ellum Brewery’s 1st Anniversary party downtown at noon – I knew I’d have to get the bicycle thing done quickly.

As I get back into riding after all these decades, I am working with two ancient bicycles. I have my Raleigh Technium road bike, which I bought around 1986, and my generic mountain bike, which I bought used a few years later. The technology used in these bikes is long out of date, but they still move when I push on the pedals, more or less.

I want a new bike, but they are so expensive. I have been thinking lately that I should be able to make do with what I’ve got. Still, I need some replacement parts and especially some accessories to help me make my way in the big city and get in the miles I want. New parts are not readily available for bikes that old and I don’t want to spend any more money than I have to – so a swap meet, where I can buy old, worn-out crap at stupid cheap prices is exactly what the doctor ordered. Since I’m now commuting to work and bumming around town – I need storage options on my bike – the more options, the more often I can work in a ride in my busy schedule.

It was cold as the sun peeked up over the steep bank of the Superdrome Track but once it did the day warmed quickly. I walked the circuit, looking at the tables, and slowly picking out what I wanted and what I could afford.

So what did I buy?

Vintage Raleigh Seat – $5
Cage Rocket Storage Pod – $5
Two matching silver bottle holders (my bike now has a pink and a purple one) – $5
Retro Profile for Speed Aero Bars (don’t need these – but always wanted a pair) – $10
New tiny cable lock (not extremely secure – but good for a quick trip into a store) – $5
Zefal Rack Pack (already finding this really useful) – $5
Bar ends (mine are all beat up from falls) – $5

Working now on getting this stuff cleaned up and installed. Now I need to get out there and ride.

Bicycle Swap Meet inside the steep walls of the Frisco Superdrome racing track.

(Click for a larger version on Flickr)

The bell for the last lap at the Frisco Superdrome racetrack.

Lots of buying and selling.

Bicycle Parts Porn

More bicycle parts porn

A beautiful bike is a work of art.

(Click for a larger version on Flickr)

Estate Sale – An Orgy of Greed, Voyeurism, and Necrophilia

Candy and I have picked up a new activity/obsession – going to estate sales. I’ve always had a strange enjoyment in poking around garage sales or maybe stopping by a thrift store on my way to somewhere important, but now I’m mainlining it.

I still keep an episode of Hoarders on my DVR and watch it before going to make sure I don’t buy too much stuff. Actually, I’m not that interested in buying anything – it’s the going that’s important. You see, a true estate sale, where the owner of the house and contents is recently deceased, is a summary of a person’s entire life translated into the language of junk. You can walk through the house looking at the piles of dishes, mounds of mementos and knickknacks, and especially, stacks of books – and read the life of the owner. There, spread out on tables with little pieces of tape bearing prices is the history, values, and taste of humans beings – a life… decades of hopes and dreams, successes and failures, prizes and gifts, laid bare for hundreds of casual shoppers to see.

An estate sale is an officially sanctioned orgy of greed, voyeurism, and necrophilia, disguised as bargain hunting.

Today, you don’t have to go cruising around the hood looking for “Estate Sale” signs taped to telephone poles or stapled to stop signs. You don’t have to get out your reading glasses to squint at the classifieds. The Internet will bring you the cornucopia of an estate sale buffet right to your cathode ray tube. There are sites that list the upcoming sales, complete with glorious descriptions and often pages of photographs. There are instant messages to your smartphone, email list servers, and even Twitter accounts all poised to keep you informed about homes full of old crap for sale. So I can sit there with a website, a handful of emails, and Googlemaps and plot out a route to cruise the most interesting looking sales.

One of the unfortunate things that happened was that I hit a gusher on one of the first sales I attended. It’s sort of like getting a big win on a trip to Vegas – you keep thinking this will happen every time. You get a feeling about a person from seeing their possessions and this was a person with too much in common with me. Right off the bat, in the living room, I found a Sheaffer Snorkle Fountain Pen Desk pen on a table… twelve dollars. I scooped it up and carried it around until I bought it. Then, back in the home office room, I found bottles of ink, piles of blank journals, and a stack of calligraphy instruction books. These were priced a bit higher than I wanted to pay.

I told Candy, “This guy had a lot of ink and stuff, I’m surprised he doesn’t have more pens.” She answered, “Didn’t you see the case of pens up at the front.”

Sure enough, the mother lode. There were a handful of European school pens, some Pelikan Piston fillers, a Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Point, a Lamy 2000, and a big, beautiful Montblanc. I picked them up and looked them over – great pens. Unfortunately, the prices were a bit too rich for me so I put them all back.

The Woman running the sale said, “You know, tomorrow at noon, the prices will be cut in half.”

So that gave me a day to think about it. At 12:05, I showed up again and went straight for the case. All the pens were still there. The Montblanc was a great bargain – but that pen is for show and not the sort of thing I’m into. That left the Lamy 2000 and the Vanishing Point. It was a tough choice, I’ve always wanted a Vanishing Point, but I bought the Lamy.

The woman said, “Tomorrow, at four, for the last hour, the prices go to twenty five percent.”

So you know where I was at 4:05 the next day. The pens were all gone. That’s not a surprise – they were a bit overpriced at first, but at fifty percent they were, if not a steal, at least a good value – so they all sold. The place was getting empty – everyone was hauling out everything that wasn’t nailed down. I ventured back into the office room and discovered all the ink and paper were still there. So I scooped up four bottles of Waterman ink, six boxes of various cartridges, some blank writing journals, a metal tin of sketching pencils and accessories and a Lamy leather pen case for ten dollars.

Oh, I love the Lamy 2000. I’m working on my macro photography, I’ll see if I can put some pictures of it up here soon.

Finally, I’d like to talk about a house Candy and I visited this last weekend. It was in a nice area of North Dallas – an established upper-crust area of winding streets and big trees. It was built out in about 1974 – which is actually pretty old for Dallas standards. The house was amazing – not so much for its size, but for its unique floorplan and astonishing flair. The place had over a thousand square feet of “porches.” Every bedroom had its own little private outdoor garden – now all overgrown and rundown, but with echoes of elegance and luxury still clinging from the salad days. The kitchen was piled with setting after setting of beautiful china, crystal, and servingware – there must have been a long series of elegant dinner parties. The whole house was set up for entertaining – thick shag carpets or hand-cut stone tiles. The living room held a monstrous pipe organ – the largest and most elaborate I’ve ever seen outside a church.

The master bedroom was the size of a generous living room and painted a bright lavender. A huge headboard covered in gold leaf leaped from the bed, growing across the wall like the crown of a golden tree. Across the rest of the walls, gilt angels peered from behind gold clouds. The attached bathroom was done in deep dark purple with a gigantic tub rising on a carpeted column in the middle of the room. In every room were piles of statuary, mostly of nude women, and on the walls were hundreds of pieces of art – oddly mixed from obviously valuable originals to tacky 1970-s era hippie posters, framed and under glass.

The house was too big to show in one setting. It will be open again next weekend, with the furnishings on the outside and in the garage for sale. I’ll probably go back for another dose.

I seldom wish I was wealthy, but I’d love to drop a half-million or so for that house, then spend another couple hundred grand bringing it back to its former elegance – while updating it into the proper century.

Such dreams.

We did buy something from amid all that faded opulence… a two dollar microwave omelet pan for Lee to take back to school with him.

Library Book Sale

The Richardson Library had their annual big-ass book sale this weekend down in the crowded basement multi-purpose room. This used to be a massive deal to me. I would get a huge donated shopping bag at the entrance and fight my way along the long tables piled with paperbacks or heaped with hardcovers – the stacks screaming, protesting the weight. I would fill my brown paper bag until the kraft was tearing, pay my fee, and eagerly get my haul home.

Now, though, I have my Kindle. There are more books hiding in that slim slip of plastic than I can possibly read in the few remaining years I have allotted to me. I feel fairly certain that I will pass through this vale of tears with more than a few files left unopened.

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

Still….

I almost skipped the book sale, but I went more out of nostalgia than any logical purpose – though I do know there are books that I’ve been looking for that are not out in digital format. Plus, it is sometimes nice to have a real, physical paper book – something you can give away or curl up with when your peepers are tired of pixels.

So I eschewed a shopping bag and simply pushed myself past all the enervated shoppers. Once more into the breach.

A good part of the large but cramped basement room was dominated by a handful of families that knew each other. They had a fleet of the massive baby carriers (barely smaller than the aircraft variety) that blocked entire aisles and provided a perch for their pre-reading hellions to reach out their snot-and-saliva encrusted paws and pull teetering piles of books onto the floor while giggling like giddy gibbons. Their slightly older siblings were grabbing stuff out and exclaiming wisdom like, “I only want books about dogs!” or “Are you SURE this is a childrens’ book?” while their mothers clucked loudly at each other with self-satisfaction at the precociousness and preciousness of their satan-spawn procreations.

Finally, after forever, this boiling mass of distraction and pain moved out the front and could be heard arguing over the price of their purchases in the hallway. The sound in the room was reduced to a certain low growl made up of the combined almost-inaudible grunting of the serious bargain hunters scooping up endless tomes that they had never known of until today but could simply not live without. This is a sober business. The air-conditioning, installed under a government lo-bid contract, struggled to cut the heat and miasma of used book mold-spores and bargain-hunting sweat.

So, did I buy anything? You betcha.

Hardbacks were only two dollars and paper seventy five cents. It would be a crime to let this opportunity go unheeded.

I bought a really nice hardback copy of Alice Munro‘s Open Secrets. Someone at work expressed a love of short stories yet had never read any Munro (yeah, I know…). I want to reread “The Albanian Virgin” carefully and outline it – it is the most amazingly structured piece of short fiction I’ve ever seen and I want to try and figure out how she does it.

On a whim I grabbed a paperback collection by John McPhee. This one is called Table of Contents and is a collection of his amazing short non-fiction. I can always read me some McPhee and come out of it knowing something I didn’t before.

After choosing these two light bits of bon-bon I thought for a minute and hauled out a big hunk of meat – the nine-hundred page posthumous magnum opus 2666 by Roberto Bolano. I have had my eye on this gigantic pile of translated text for a bit. For some reason I thought it would be fun to attack it as a fortress of paper rather than a cloud of bytes. Will I ever actually read it?

Probably. If I live long enough. Stick around and find out.

The parking lot had been full and I had to hike almost to the post office to get to my car. A thin older man scuttled by me, on his way in. He stopped and stared at the burden under my arm.

“Hey, I want all three of those books! I was worried they would be all picked over by now!”

He shot off towards the maelstrom of the book sale. If he had waited I would have sold him the three I had… at only a slight profit.

First Saturday Sale

Customers

A wide variety of customers listen to a sales pitch at the First Saturday Computer flea market in Dallas.

Candy’s laptop is hosed and we need to get her back into the digital world. She is thinking about an iPad or a new laptop, but in the meantime, Lee has decided not to take his desktop computer back to school with him. It’s a Frankenstein machine I built for him years ago, carefully assembling it from pieces as they went on sale at Fry’s or MicroCenter. It’s now about half a decade out of date, but it’s still functional, chugging along as always. It’ll work fine for surfing the web or doing some light word processing. He has a nice monitor that he’ll take with him, so all we need is a new monitor and we’ll be good to go.

I know I can get a cheap used monitor at the First Saturday Sale. And today is the first Saturday in August.

The First Saturday Sale used to be a big deal. It started out in 1969, in the pre-digital days, as ham radio aficionados would gather in the vacant lots on the east end of downtown Dallas and trade tubes and microphones and whatever passed for electronic equipment back in the day.

With the rise of the personal computer, digital technology entered the picture, and the popularity of this high tech swap meet/flea market grew until in the 1990s it reached the stage where hundreds of vendors and up to forty thousand customers would descend upon the cracked asphalt. Rows upon rows of vendor tables would stretch over about a square mile of real estate with crowds milling between, staring at memory chips, picking through piles of used software, or feeling hard drives, wondering if they would work or not.

I remember needing to buy a replacement drive, and picking up three of them for less than a tenth of what a new one would be. I asked the guy if they worked and he said, “I have no idea, I pulled a thousand of these out of a corporate job and don’t have time to test them.” I figured at least one of the three would be good – two were.

I used to enjoy going down there during the salad days. Actually, I would seldom actually buy anything, but to walk up and down the crowded rows gawking at the stuff was fantastic entertainment. I remember once a guy had about a half-dozen high powered industrial lasers for sale out of the back of his pickup truck. The vendors were wildly diverse, everything from legitimate computer stores picking up a little extra business to people that were obviously spending the week dumpster-diving and dumping their crap in a big pile with a cardboard sign that said, “Everything One Dollar.”

The only people making big money probably were the folks that ran a breakfast sausage truck feeding all the hungry bargain hunters. I remember salivating at the smell of the cooking sausage as the sweet smoke crawled down the aisles between the vendor tables, pushed by the yellow light of the rising sun. The sale was officially Saturday morning, but to get the hottest deals you had to get there at one or two AM. The whole thing was pretty much over by noon. Candy went down there with me once to score some deals on used music CDs and said, “I have never seen so many nerds in one place in my entire life.”

It was a blast, and like all good things, it didn’t last. The rate of change in computer equipment accelerated to the point that used stuff wasn’t good for anything. The prices for hardware kept dropping until it was cheaper to buy something new. And software migrated into two camps – extremely expensive (and the First Saturday Sale has always been crawling with the authorities looking for bootleg software – there were some spectacular arrests) and free – neither category does well at a flea-market. The vacant lots of the east part of downtown were torn up and replaced by the billion dollar development of the Dallas Arts District and the humble computer sale was pushed west under the Woodall Rogers Freeway Overpass.

It’s still there. Even though it is only a vague shadow of its former self, bargains can still be had at the sale. I have had good luck buying headphones, networking gear, wireless keyboards, small obscure components, and especially, flat screen monitors.

monitors

There were several vendors with tables full of used flat screen monitors.

So down we went. We didn’t want to deal with the heat so we left as early as I could haul myself out of bed – about seven in the morning (it was still plenty hot, though the rumbling overpass overhead provides some well-needed shade) and everything was in full swing. Years ago, it would take an hour to walk from one end to the other, but now it is so compact that within ten minutes we had bought a nice used Dell flat screen monitor for forty bucks. We walked around a bit more and Candy bought a beat up old tool box for next to nothing, but I didn’t see anything else that caught my eye.

Working

It's a lot of work sometimes to get this old crap up and functioning.

There are still bargains. I you need a computer, you can buy a useful desktop for a hundred dollars or so. These are obviously corporate units that have been replaced and refurbished – they should work fine. There are still vendors selling top-quality stuff at a discount and there is still a big area where it looks like someone dumped a huge pile of random junk – if you are brave enough you can dig through this and find a jewel – something that you never knew you couldn’t live without.

Instead of a breakfast sausage truck there is a taco truck, and they seemed to be making the most money. But it is nice to know that there are still enough die-hard nerds to keep the sale alive, if barely.

Geezers

A couple of experience computer bargain hunters work their way through the many bins of parts. Coffee helps.