Sold!

“Would anyone else like to speak?” the moderator asked as she peered around the room.
I raised my hand, she acknowledged me and I went to the podium.
“Hi I’m Bill.”
“Hi Bill!” the many members in attendance roared in unison.
I paused to collect myself. “I’m addicted to American Pickers.”

Of course, this hasn’t happened in real life, I just wanted to get your attention. But if such a group exists, I may have to grab a meeting someday. I am completely and utterly captivated by the show. Ok, addicted.

Mike and Frank are “the pickers”, antique enthusiasts that cross the country in their signature white van chasing the next great “pick” based on leads from Nicole, who holds the fort down at the shop and fields calls from people who want Mike and Frank to check out their collections of all things old, retro and vanishing from the American landscape.

There is so much for me to love about this show. I love old things, I am a history buff, a seasoned negotiator and I love a good story. I think I am a lot like Mike and Frank. Where most see junk, we see memories and a glimpse of days gone by. We live by the mantra “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. “

Mike and Steve go to houses, museums, warehouses, barns, storage containers and open fields in search of the next old/new thing. They get to know the owners, they get the backstory of why they collect or how they came across their forgotten treasures. Cars, toys, signs, shoes, juke boxes, photographs, truly anything can be found. When others open a barn door and retreat when greeted by the smell of mold and decay, Mike and Frank roll up their sleeves, put on gloves and climb over heaps of clutter in search of unique items that they can sell for a modest profit. As they do, I find myself captivated at what they may come up with.
pickerspickers4

I love the stuff. Seeing old Gas Station signs, board games, a rotting “Bob’s Big Boy” statue, a ’37 Harley Knucklehead with a sidecar, Flintstones lunchbox or a vintage Coca Cola sign really brings out the nostalgic side of me. And I get off on the enthusiasm, knowledge and respect Mike and Frank show the objects and owners alike.

It’s fun to find out who is a seller and who isn’t. Who is willing to let their stuff go and who will cling to it. The Pickers are wholesalers, they need to pay wholesale in order to sell for a profit. Some people are so sentimentally attached to their items they just won’t sell. The Pickers don’t get mad if they don’t get their item. They understand and respect it. They may leave just happy to have held that vintage GI Joe doll or Easy Bake oven. They love the process.

Maybe it’s the old auction guy in me but I so enjoy the negotiating process. They know what stuff is worth but never try to underbid and take advantage of the seller, and most know exactly what their stuff is worth. The Pickers offer a fair price and the real treat is when they tell someone that an item that they thought was worthless is actually worth serious money. And the Pickers pay it, if they agree to sell. You still have that guy, like on Pawn Stars, that wants 50 bucks for something, gets offered 10,000 and then counters at 11,000. You originally wanted 500! But, that’s human nature. Most items start at a fair bid, a chin scratch from the collector, a high counter offer and then a concession from the pickers. I’ve been around such transactions for decades in my career but I still watch in fascination. More often than not it ends up as a sale and the trademark handshake and verbal exclamation of “SOLD.” If they but 50 items, they shake on it each and every time. An old fashioned-gesture in a modern world.

All of the above are solid motivators to make me come back to the show week after week. But there is a much greater draw for me and that is the people behind the junk. It is the backstory behind the item and the tales of the collector. I have seen people that I would give anything to meet, to sit in their glorious, dusty personal museums and listen to their stories.

Oh, the stories. There is the man who finally agreed to open his late father’s garage to reveal a collection of all that is the motorcycle and talks fondly about his dad. There is the couple that once ran with Andy Warhol and have hundreds of pictures to prove it. There’s the elderly man selling rusty, abandoned pieces of his old amusement park who tells with a tear in his eye of the joys of seeing the smiles of the children as they rode in the Rocket Ship cars and miniature trains so many years ago.

Almost all of the collectors have one thing in common, they are middle aged to elderly and are connected to their treasures in a way that most in our throw-away society cannot relate. They come from or have a deep respect for the generation that knew how to build things that lasted. The generation that fixed things instead of discarding them. These collectors, as well as Mike and Frank, recognize that their belongings serve as a time capsule and a representation of a generation gone by. They hold onto their belongings until the right guy comes by, and it feels like the right time to let it go. Not to a junkyard or a landfill, but instead to someone who loves it as much as they and will promise to share it with the world so that the magical memories will live on. That someone is The Pickers. They are the Archeologists of Antiques, the enthusiasts of other’s crap, the curators of curiosities, and they are dedicated to preserving yesterday for the sake of tomorrow.

The show stirs up a wonderful memory of my Grandfather’s garage. It was a converted barn and I spent hours fishing through it when I was a child. He had so many old coffee and oil cans, tools, posters and auto parts to fit cars that weren’t made anymore. He never threw any of it away. I still have a license plate of his from 1929 on my wall. It was on his first car. I wish he was still around, so that we could drive the back roads of NH and Maine. We would drive by barn after barn and nod at each other, because we would be thinking the same thought…what treasures are behind those doors?

hipster

I see you there
with the skinny jeans
your Che Guevera shirt
surplus military jacket
and silly wool hat
In the summer heat
You’re so delightfully ironic
Take another selfie
The world is waiting
Holding its breath
To LIKE your pic

You reject all that is
the status quo
Just one thing?
Do you know
what it is that you don’t?
You talk the talk
You’ve learned your lines
Your indoctrination complete
but can you speak for yourself?
You challenge
Rebel and dispel
Then expel
the lies you are fed
As easily as you reject
Those that know the world
Yet it would be odd
If the young had wisdom

Free thought is still free
But you join the sheep
grazing on the grass
that was planted for you
yonder meadow calls
if you have the goddamn balls
to put down the phone
and try some of its own
different
controversial
unpleasant
real grass

Youth is wasted on the young

the quest for open-mindedness

I have faced many obstacles in my life as I have gotten older. Health issues, financial issues and a turbulent marriage both scarred me as well as taught me many lessons. I have largely let go of anger and bitterness over things from my past and have learned to pick and choose what I allow to bother me. I can almost say that I have conquered all of my demons. Except one. I struggle with open-mindedness.

To be clear, I am not closed-minded by any means. I am largely receptive to opposing viewpoints and I am civil and tolerant of those who disagree with me. But that’s a learned behavior not a mindset. In my heart of hearts I still get annoyed, even angered by things that go against my grain. And it bothers me.

I’m sure that I am not alone in this, especially among my age group. I was raised in a wonderful time period. I was exposed to the influence of my Grandparents, people who lived through the Great Depression and a World War. They knew frugality, community and practiced old-fashioned values of honesty, integrity, civility and the unspoken bond of a handshake. I then had my parents, who had the luxury of the same influence but also of the societal shifts in the 50’s and 60’s that saw great turmoil but also resulted in an expanded view of the world and society in general. Yet, they both were largely black and white on a lot of things. Unfortunately, I have been accused of that very thing. I was very bothered by that accusation. I didn’t agree and resented it. I had a black and white reaction to being called black and white. Isn’t that irony?

Being black and white is a defense mechanism. We take between 18 and 30 years to form our identity and belief system. Our identity can either be our aura that casts light on the world or a suit of armor that shields us from that which threatens us. I feel it safe to say that as we get older it is almost inevitable that our identity becomes a shield. Unless of course we make the effort to recognize and change the pattern.

This is the road that I am on. I am annoyed at the extremes of society that gnaw at my sensibilities. While I have never lacked compassion or empathy, I have had a fairly narrow view of the world. I sometime feel that part of me fights to maintain that narrow view as another part of me struggles to escape the confines of my upbringing and take a broader view. It is a daily struggle.

The knee-jerk reaction is the thing that has to go. Life is not about what happens but instead how you react to it. The knee-jerk reaction happens when something that you don’t agree with results in a visceral and personal reaction. But it’s not personal and it only affects your life if you allow it. Very few things are actually a personal affront. Yet we act as if they are. I’m guilty of it. It took me a long time to admit and address it but I’ve made progress. I have come to the conclusion that in this day and age of bad behavior, short attention spans, poor education and general lack of civility people have taken sides. When one takes sides, it is not unlike war. Defend your position and attack when able. It’s going on everywhere but I refuse to add to the insanity anymore. I have chosen to take the “walk a mile in their shoes” mentality. Every hot-button issue exists because a percentage of the population is affected by it. It is not an attack on me and I need to remind myself of that. Constantly. It sometimes requires me to even count to 3.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. There is a caveat of course, it must be an informed and properly communicated opinion. Just as in childhood, we responded positively to a even tone of voice laced with understanding, even love. When we were yelled at, we closed ourselves off and most importantly, fought to keep the words out. I am very open to an even voice, I am angered by being yelled at. In the whirlwind of the hundreds of issues debated constantly, the message is often drowned out by the noise and anger behind it. Thus, so is the reaction to it.

I have decided to count to 3 before I speak or type, I will then look at as many angles of the issue at hand as I can. I will do some research if necessary. Most importantly, I will try to not be offended. And then, once all that is completed, I will measure my response. If I even choose to offer one. I’ve been practicing this recently and I have to tell you it works. If more people adopt this mindset, imagine the difference in our current climate?

At an age where many are closed off, I want to open up. Many of my fellow bloggers are already on this path and I openly admire them for it. They are ahead of me. It’s up to me to catch up.

I want to end with a question? Would you call yourself open-minded?

The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Faith. Many of us have struggled with it our entire lives. Many of us will never truly reconcile the notion of a higher power. Unfortunately, we also fall terribly short in being able to discuss our differences on this complex and polarizing subject.

And then Tom of Tom Being Tom wrote this. Which I will now share for your reading pleasure. Do you follow Tom? If not I only have one question…why wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe in gods. Those of you who know me know that well, and those of you with even a passing sense of who I am probably understand that, too. 38 more words

via The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Blogoversary

1 year ago I started my blog. I was at an incredibly low point in my life and I believed that putting it to paper, putting it out to random strangers would assist me in exorcising my demons. It did so much more than that.

230 posts, not including many discarded, later I find myself in a caring, supportive community that has embraced me at best and at the very least allowed me to share my unusual, unique and perhaps inappropriate take on life, love, family, work, relationships and chronic illness.

My blog, and consequently you, have become part of me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, support, friendship and feedback. And of course, thank you for reading…

The bad day…conclusion

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. I welcome you to catch up here.

Mike had stepped outside to call his boss. Fortunately, he was only asked a question about a particular customer. Was Mike aware? Did Mike have a plan? When would Mike act on it? He was aware, he had no plan (he lied about that also), and he would act on it tomorrow. They exchanged pleasantries and ended the call. Mike looked around. The thought that his boss was on to him and sitting in a car across the parking lot waiting to bust him always occurred to him. It wasn’t an entirely unlikely scenario, managers spy on their employees all the time. He decided that at this very moment it would be a relief, shrugged it off and went back to the cold, non-judgmental beer patiently waiting for him inside.

Ninety minutes and 4 beers later Mike had still not called home. He mused that he would rather fill his asshole with honey and squat on an anthill then go home. The fighting about money was out of control. She wasn’t entirely wrong, Mike was clearly in a rut and he hated his own lack of effort to fix it. What bothered him was her methodology, and her timing.  She never let up and started with him at the worst times. So here he sat, avoiding…well…everything and everybody.

As Liz came over to offer him a refill Mike engaged her. “What was that about your brother you mentioned earlier?”

“Yeah, sorry about that. It was awkward as hell, I know. I said that he would love a hat like yours. He actually mentioned it to me a while back that he wanted one.”

“They’re available online and at the giftshop.” Mike explained. “Although they’re a bit pricey.”

“He doesn’t have a computer. He lives in VT and he’s broke.”

Mike was not proud of the next thought that popped into his head. The word “deadbeet” had come to mind. “Sorry to hear that.” Mike offered.

“He’s dying of Testicular cancer.” She said. She was tearing up. “I want to visit him but I can’t get out of my shifts this weekend.”

Mike was floored. He had successfully beaten Testicular Cancer 15 years earlier. He had been lucky. His heart ached for Liz. The conversation ended on its own awkward volition and Mike drank some more. When he finally decided to go home, he summoned Liz for his bill.

She brought it to him and he again offered condolences for her brother. She thanked him and walked away. He waited for her to walk through the swinging doors to the kitchen. Once she did, Mike quickly took his hat off, stuffed the bill and money in it and left the hat on the bar. He walked out as fast as he could.

As he sat in his car, composing himself for the fresh hell he was about to drive home to, Liz appeared at his driver’s door. She knocked. He opened the window.

“You shouldn’t have done that. I can’t possibly accept the hat.” She was crying.

“Yes, you can. And you will. Go to VT. Fuck your shift, fuck your boss, fuck all of it. Go see your brother.” He paused. “Give the hat to your brother and I hope he will feel better on some level.”

“Thank you so much.” She stammered. “It means so much to me.”

“Exactly.” Mike Valentine said. “To me it’s just a hat. To you it’s something that actually matters. I’ll be here this weekend, I hope I don’t see you.”

She forced a small laugh.“I hope not also. Thank you again.”

Mike smiled at her and put the window up without saying a word. Liz walked back inside.

For the first time that day he had done something that felt right. He liked the feeling. It was refreshing, invigorating. He wanted more of it. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

The kindness of strangers

I wrote a post many, many months ago challenging those who say the lovely, always productive phrase “people suck.” You can find it Here.

I’ve always hated that expression. I believe, I want to and have to, that most people strive to be the best person they can be. I also believe that the best way to reveal character is not in the year of your car, the size of your watch, how much you have in the bank or how many Instagram followers you have but instead by your deeds towards others.

I’m less interested in whether you have stood with the great. I want to know if you’ve sat with the broken.

I received a call from a Masonic Brother last week. He was checking in to see how I was feeling. I told him the truth. Virtually sofa-ridden, fatigued and in need of dialysis. He appreciated the update. We talked for a while and he then excused himself because he had something to do. I put down the phone, put my head back and settled in for the ninth nap of the day (I may be exaggerating a bit). Several minutes later my phone starting blowing up with FB notifications. I took a look.

He had excused himself to compose FB posts on every MA FB page related to Masonry regarding my condition and my need for another donor. It was overwhelming.

The messages began to pour in. Due to my brother’s gesture I have six, yes six people who have asked to be tested in order to donate a kidney to me. 4 of them I have never met or even heard their name before.
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I am humbled, excited, honored and blessed by this outpouring of support. It has given me something that I have not experienced, nor expected to, for over a year. What is that you ask?

Hope, I now have hope.

If I ever have the privilege of speaking to any of you, please don’t ever tell me that people suck. I’m not the guy who will buy into that mentality. The good ones are out there, maybe you have to look a little harder. Just remember…

If you can’t find one, become one.