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Settin' Up Shop

Settin’ Up Shop

(Wondering where we’ve been all summer? In addition to renovating rental properties, Opidell’s spent the summer selling at outdoor antique and vintage market places.  Read below how Chaddy Daddy adjusted to his first outdoor show at the Burlington Antique Show…)

  Mother of God!  Why do all auctions and garage sales and flea markets and estate sales have to start so damn early in the morning?  Were the first auctioneers farmers in a past life?  Do garage sellers all suffer from insomnia?  Maybe they’re all hardcore drunks that happen to intertwine their need for strong beverage with early morning commerce.  That reminds me of a quote, “If it weren’t for alcohol, think of all the sunrises I would have missed.”

Quite obviously the ride to our first show in Burlington was too early.  I am by nature a night owl and morning completely eliminates this foul’s attempt at flight, in any form.  Jill had tuned the Satellite Radio to a 40’s channel, further lullabying me into clouded daze of grumpy slumber.  The trailer bucking against the hitch was the only thing keeping me awake as the sun began to peek over my left shoulder.

Panic immediately set in upon our arrival.  Our space was occupied by an opportunistic Java truck that made an unauthorized upgrade to our spot.  Jill stormed off in route to the front gate while I sat, half asleep, blocking the road.  My Suburban and trailer intentionally and defiantly clogging the flow of commerce into Kentucky’s largest antique show.

In order to preserve the peace, and more importantly facilitating the caffeine seeking customers that would soon arrive, we were moved to an adjacent spot on the corner of some sort of rodeo pen.  As I attempted to park the big truck in a small space, our neighbor began chatting immediately.  He was already set-up, impeccably dressed and a genuinely likable person. I instantly hated him.

Him, as we soon found out, was Charlie.  Charlie would be with us, or rather we would be with Charlie, for the duration of this year’s Burlington season.  He was just too damn cool too damn early in the morning.  While I battled the steering wheel, he would peer around the corner offering suggestions and advice I didn’t want to listen to, but knew I should.

I parked and sprung into action, chucking merchandise from the trailer like a man possessed.  “Early Bird” buyers, as they were called, who paid extra to get in the gates two hours earlier than the general masses, were beginning to arrive.  I titled this group “the darts.“  Mostly because their eyes and bodies darted from one booth to the next, scanning for that one mis-marked treasure they could scoop up to immediately resale for big-big profits.  But also because, like darts, they would fire blindly at your marked price, over and over hoping to hit a bulls eye.  Many were armed with flashlights to scan the merch since the sun hadn’t completely awoken either.

I was cold, sleepy and unsure of what I was supposed to be doing.  I kept lobbing stuff from the trailer while Charlie kept smiling.  It was that kind of smile of self-acknowledgement, as if to say “Yea, I been there.  They’ll learn.”  But I didn’t want to learn.  I knew what I was doing and the Charlies of the world, well, they don’t know any better than me.  Cold yet sweating, I kept up my mad attack on the trailer until everything we owned was spread across the dew soaked lawn.  It resembled a jilted wife’s revenge against a husband coming home too late.  Charlie interjected at the conclusion of my tirade:  “Is it still fun?”  Don’t poke the bear Charlie.  Don’t poke the bear.

I tried to sit down, steam raising from my body.  Jill couldn’t sit.  Her primping and set up and rearranging had just begun.  With the unfettered attention of an old west bartender, she continually polished and cleaned delicate wares until I thought she would shine the glazing right off.  She settled on a semi-circle arrangement with small items out front and large stuff in the rear.  It resembled an orchestra when completed, with Jill acting as conductor.

Almost immediately we had our first sale.  It was rather boring.  An “early bird” saw an item, inspected an item and bought an item.  No negotiation, no conversation, just a no-nonsense grab and pay.  When I tried to engage her in some obligatory banter, she cut it short by saying, “I’m only interested in items I can resell.  Thanks.”  And into the morning light she scurried, like an ill-tempered squirrel with a shiny nut.

As Jill continued to conduct her merchandise, I went in search of the facilities.  I wasn’t necessarily in need just yet, but when visiting a foreign country, it is always wise to know where the UN is located.  Besides, I needed to give Jill time to primp without me over her shoulder offering such kind advice as “How many times you gonna pick up that damn dish?”  Oddly enough, the first bank of UN’s I found were located at the very front, directly ahead of the main entrance to the show.  Bad planning to say the least.  It is difficult to accomplish a bit of challenging paperwork knowing you are just yards from a row of angry motorists whose temporary slip on the accelerator marks your untimely and comedic demise.

I returned to our rented block of asphalt and grass real estate.  Each time the wind fluttered, I gritted my teeth.  Delicate items swayed in the breeze, threatening, with each passing gust, to commit tiny little suicides.  I was certain that by day’s end, either the glass or my nerves would be shattered.

When we finally did sit, the cool air combined with the post-unload sweat caused us both to chill.  Jill would hop up to help prospective customers while I just rocked back and forth in my chair, holding a packing blanket around my back for some makeshift warmth.  “If you keep that up, we are liable to get a sympathy purchase.  You look more special than uncomfortable.”  Don’t poke the bear Jill.

The sun finally came up and began warming all that lie beneath its morning glow.  For the first time I could truly see the massive nature of the sale.  There were people and cars and antiques as far as I could see.  Coffee and pizza smells thickened the air.  I couldn’t decide where to train my eyes.  I tried to help, but ended up looking like hired muscle looking over our stock, arms folded, refusing to allow anyone inside.

Charlie on the other hand was a pro.  I watched him as he would slowly invite himself into other’s conversations, offering immediately to “make you a much better deal, that is, if you‘re interested.”  He had perfected an amazing marriage of gentlemanly kinship with the hard sell.  It was like watching a pro athlete…he made it look so easy.  Closing his fist around the proceeds of yet another sale he walked back to his vehicle to retrieve a replacement item for the one he just sold.  I was mesmerized.  Now I really hated Charlie.

Mid-morning was fast approaching.  We were sleep deprived, mostly since our sandwich and snacks prep didn’t occur until 11:00 pm.  Due to our 4:45 am alarm, sleep was a much needed commodity.  I snapped from my lethargic gaze when Jill announced, “I think I might go shopping.”

“Shopping?  What shopping?”

“You know, take a stroll around, see if there’s anything good.”

“Who’s going to man the booth?”

“You can do it.  You’ll be fine.  Call me if you have any questions.”  And off she skipped to do what Jills do best.

ME…MAN THE BOOTH?  Madness.  I’ve never manned the booth before.  Not even at her shop.  What if someone wants to make an offer?  I don’t know what period that piece is from.  I can’t talk shop to these people…they’re pros.  Be strong.  Show no fear.  You’re a bull-shitter by heart…so bull-shit, man!

But it was too late.  The mid-morning shoppers smelled blood in the water and descended on my booth like locusts on a crop.

“Hi, can you tell me about this piece?”

“Mind if I make you an offer?”

“This dish is scratched.”

“Can you give me a better price on this?”

I was projecting “HELP” telepathically to Jill, but it didn’t work.  I opted to try my cell phone.  “Come back to the booth.  There are people here with questions.”

Jill came back just in time.  Like a priest waving a cross in front of a team of blood-thirsty Vampires, they all backed down to at least a mildly civil demeanor.  I went back to my blanky and rocking routine, shell shocked and quivering.  Charlie just shook his head.

At lunch time my stipend was a cold sandwich, a cold piece of cheese and cold water.  I felt like my internal temperature had to be close to the external temperature.  The warm smells of burgers, grilled potatoes and kettle corn teased my senses.  I allowed myself to be lulled into a wonderful carnival-style trance.  Until…

“M’kay, I’m heading out again.”

“Woman, are you mad?  They’ll tear me apart.”

“Oh, you’ll be ok.  Besides, I saw some vintage dishes I want.”

“Yea, we don’t have enough dishes,” I gurgled under my breath.  Jill gave me a defiant smile and waded into the sea of people once more.

Don’t make eye contact.  Go inside yourself.  Project that we are closed.  I tried all my tricks.  Meditate…close your eyes and wish everyone from the booth.  I opened my eyes only to find two great big-haired skinny Germans  looming over me.

“Uh, hi.  Can I help you fellas find anything in particular?”

The taller of the two said something to the other gent in Japanese.  Damnit, they’re Japanese not German you big dummy!  “Yes, vat do you know about zeese two chairz?”

HA!  I knew about the chairs!  I had found, purchased, packed and cleaned those chairs.  Looks like the Guppy just became the Shark.  “Oh those two.  They are mid-century, Herman Miller chairs.  And they are marked as such on the underside.  Really nice, really cool chairs.  I purchased them at an industrial auction.  They are in good shape, but I did spend some time returning them to their original luster.”  You used the word luster without giggling…way to go!

“Hmmmm…zey are qvite nice.  Vat is your best price on zee chairz?”

“Tell you what.  You guys obviously appreciate mid-mod like myself.  I’ll knock off 10% right now.”  Hold your ground.  Stare back at them.  The first one who talks looses, right?  Uh, oh…they’re conversing in German again.  No, it’s Japanese you fool!  Why can’t you get that right?  OK, they’re done talking.  Why aren’t they saying anything…they’re just staring at the chair.  Good Lord, the silence is deafening.  Why aren’t you people talking?  Are they even breathing?  Telepathically HELP………….Jill!!

“Ok, ve vill take zem.  You are ze only person here with ze Herman Miller.”  I have no idea how the one with the German accent learned to speak Japanese, or why.

“Oh wonderful.  I hope you guys like them.  Here is your change.  Also, here is a card for my wife’s shop.  If you are ever in Lexington, look us up.”

“Ummmm…tank you.”  The Japanese fellow attempted and gave a little bow.

“Enjoy,” I returned contently.  That’s how you do it Charlie!  Charlie approved.

During the course of the day I noticed several rude behaviors that I would now like to address.  I must first relay this story:  when I was a child I went with my mother on many shopping excursions.  If Charlie is the pro-seller, mom is the pro-shopper.  I mean, marathon runners would be winded keeping up with this woman.  Anyway, when we went in stores with breakables, I was always told, “Chad, put your hands in your pockets.”  I was a somewhat rambunctious child, but this fail safe worked every time.  To this day, when we go in an antique store, you’ll find me strolling the isles, hands buried past the belt.

That is just one courtesy that others should employ.  Here are a few more:

1.)  Don’t eat food over merchandise – the “if you break it“ rule should also encompass “if you stain it.”

2.)  Don’t swing your purses – not unlike an uncoordinated dog, sometimes you ladies don’t have a strong control of your artificial tail.  Keep it under control or hold it in your hands, especially when navigating narrow isles.

3.)  Don’t feel fine fabrics after just eating popcorn – it’s amazing vintage clothing has lasted this long.  Don’t make it age unnecessarily.

4.)  On the same subject, ask to try on clothing…especially when doing so over your street clothes.  If you’re a medium in everyday life, chances are you aren’t going to fit into that small over jeans and a sweatshirt.

5.)  Don’t smoke anywhere near a booth – ashes get on items.  But also, fire around antiques is never a wise idea.  As a general rule, keep cigarettes confined to asbestos antiques only.

6.)  CONTROL YOUR KIDS – you would think that would be self explanatory, but it ain’t.  Seems common courtesy is becoming less common every day.  It’s rarity is matched only by common sense.

During the occasional lull, we would strike up conversations with would-be consumers about a wide array of topics:  the weather, other cool booths and even our own personal lives.  During one of these particular asides, I was privileged with my own private giggle.  While Jill conversed with an older gentleman about her chickens and play-farm life, his grandson had picked up the “Jolly Pecker”…an old vintage wind-up novelty that jumped around when released. What was it?  Well, I’ll let you figure out what the “Jolly Pecker” did.  Needless to say, the grandson pondered its usage for the duration of the chicken conference.

Another funny consistency was the number of mothers and fathers who showed their sons and daughters a magic device known as a typewriter.  It had no screen, nothing to plug to the wall yet it still produced nicely typed correspondence.  The children were amazed.  We promptly changed the description on the tag as a “vintage laptop” to hopefully widen its appeal.

The day slowed as the sun perched atop its highest nest.  I was now fully thawed.  But the suns rays began to softly encourage me to close my eyes and sleep.  I had to fight the urge.  I became semi-delirious once more.

A big-boned gent walked through with a t-shirt that said “Wussy.”

A pre-teen boy walked through attempting to sell a “blue duck.”  I am not sure if he was a budding young picker / entrepreneur or a figment of my imagination. Our Burlington Guru Charlie was watching my slow descent with amusement.  I just didn’t have the show stamina he possessed.

Jill left her post again with strict instructions:  “Absolutely no discount while I am gone.”

Shoppers descended.

“How much for this bowl?”

“Is this original?”

“Do you know where the bathroom is?”

“I can’t pay $100.00.  Would you take $10?”

A fella’ carrying a large metal horse walked into our booth just as Jill returned to spell me.  I launched into a drunken rendition of “A horse is a horse, of course, of course…”  I was immediately silenced and shooed from the booth to go wreak havoc on our competition.

I walked the grounds, pumping much needed blood back into my brain, and participating in my favorite spectator sport:  people watching.  There was such a fun crowd at Burlington.  Old and new.  Hipster and traditional.  Bargain hunters, consumers, users, admirers and reminiscers.  The variety of fellow man varied as much as the items on display.  Odd, quirky, beautiful, useless, fascinating and unique, the horizontal merchandise matched their vertical counterparts in quality and quantity.

We accidentally pulled off one veteran move:  we brought our own food.  Not only did it save us a pile of money, but it probably helped increase our selling stamina as well.  We didn’t have to leave our post to grab food, which conserved our much needed energy.  But more importantly, the food itself, although it smelled divine, was too state fair-ish.  I’m sure if we would have partaken of the food trucks, the grease would have immediately begun to thicken the blood already feebly attempting to pump through our tired veins.  It would have caused our eyelids to grow heavier and heavier until we entered into a perpetual state of slow motion.

I noticed there was a camaraderie between booth owners.  For one, we all shared a good-hearted us vs. them attitude.  Not in a malicious way, just a simple nod that we are all after the same thing, but in different ways.  Nobody spoke to a neighboring booth owner’s client, while they were in the booth.  Additionally, if the booth didn’t have the item that you were after, they were glad to point you in the right direction.  You also didn’t badmouth your neighbor.  I never heard uttered, “Good grief, he has such junk.  And it’s way too expensive.”  The sellers presented a common professional front.  It was quite impressive.  It was sort of like being in a card game with them.  However, in this game, they didn’t show their cards, but they really didn’t hide them either.  Direct competition for the consumer dollar was right next door, but each neighbor handled themselves with a level of decency that, if extended to the world outside the Burlington gates, would create a modern utopia.

Our first Burlington Show, or any show for that matter, was drawing to a close.  Dust blown onto our sun-blocked skins created a grimy film all over our tired bodies.  Guru Charlie had finally sold the “Boy Scout Plow,” his signature piece I had heard him pitch dozens of times through the course of the day.  He had also donned a goofy white wide brimmed hat that seemed to inexplicably draw the antiquing masses toward him.

The lady in the booth across the drive from us brought several ornaments and other knick-knacks to Jill, for free.  Jill had purchased a few things earlier in the day from our across-the-way neighbor, and, seeing Jill’s appreciation for such things, let her have them instead of risking breaking them on the long journey back to their home.  That is not the first time people have offered stuff to Jill for free.  She has a way about her that lets people know she’s not just here to make money.  That’s a bonus.  The real reason she is here is because she has a deep admiration for beautiful and unique things.  Makes me wonder why in the hell she likes me….  Jill, upon receiving her new loot, immediately shut down and started rifling through it.  She would be no help loading.  She had touching and feeling to do.

I watched our neighbor Charlie a lot during the day.  I watched him deliver his pitch, approach customers, take them in and explain to them how this or that would illuminate their lives.  He was charismatic.  A born salesman, but also an interesting character.  Everything he did seemed spontaneous and accidental, which is why I knew it was deliberate, maybe even rehearsed.  You don’t get that level of fluidity on a whim, it is painstakingly acquired.  He showed us the ropes, helped us along the way and even gave us bottled water when the day was done.

When the last heavy piece was loaded and the trailer was latched down for the trip back to Lexington, Charlie asked how we liked the sale.  Would we be back?  We both gave a less-than-enthusiastic maybe.  Guru Charlie told us some more tales allowing us enough or a pause to our breath.  He told a couple of jokes that seemed to lighten the mood after such a long day of loading, unloading and loading again.

As Charlie offered his parting words, words I have since forgotten but remember them to be witty and wise, he quipped over his shoulder, “Throw that damn TV away.  You’ve got Charlie!”

     By the end of the day, I liked Charlie.  He would be our neighbor and the one consistency for the entire Burlington season.  Over time Jill did buy some stuff from him, but no amount of profit from the items he sold would reimburse him for his Guru wisdom, constant companionship or general kindness to two “kids” way over their heads, and only Charlie, with his goofy hat and kind way, would be there as the life preserver to remind us that, old or new, anyone in this business has to be a little crazy.