Sunday, October 11, 2009

A flea in her ear

HUBBARDSTON: The dream of a beach day this year was never realized, but we did finally make it to Rietta.

Many months ago, Fitchy invited me to come along on a pilgrimage to Rietta Flea Market, "a family fun experience," says the website.  and Fitchy too.  So I began to roam the house looking for flea-worthy finds.

Oh, that picture at right will be explained soon enough.  It serves the same purpose there that it did for all us all day -- it attracts attention.

The hook to Rietta is that the tables are provided.  You rent the slot (or slots) and rig it up as you need.  Some of the regulars are elaborate, indeed -- canopies, chair rigs, tarps on the ground.  One family near us had a full taco bar going on in the bed of a pickup.  It reminds me of that scene in Charlotte's Web when they are packing up to go to the fair, where they will live for a couple of days through the ag shows.  Only at Rietta, it is only 1 Sunday at a time, from 6am to about 2pm.

Junk Bonds
Fitchy's family stays packed for these events, and use it as a go-to like your family might use touch football or yachting.  I imagine your family as the Kennedys.  As it turns out, I did too, because our original date was rained out, and after that it became near impossible to coordinate.  My bins stayed in the garage, taunting me, but the joke was on them.  They were in the garage, and no longer in my house.

As a result, I had time to pad my cache with pure-profit finds, namely, books from the town dump.  Some background reading to catch you up. (TV Guides, Bibles)  References may occur.  When the opportunity presented itself, I would load up on the kind of mass-market p'backs that the public go for and toss them into the bins with my thigh-length jackets, size 10 clothes (ha-ha, how cute) and entire bag full of ripped jeans that I boldly labeled "scrap denim," like that's a thing.

I found (yes, really found) a Casio keyboard missing its adaptor cord, some corporate-label swag from the Mill, and Otto's Sega Genesis, which he bequeathed to me as a house-warming because he knows my love of Lethal Enforcer ("keep a-goin'). 

Late Saturday afternoon, the family mobilized, and the plan was on.  Meet at 7am, drive to Hubbardston, add our carload to the family table already in progress.

The Early Birds
Fell into a few categories:
1) The Cadillac Jacks - these are the guys who buy for buyers.  When I am shoveling through the book bin at the dump, I pretend to be one.  It seems more respectable than being a person who shovels through dumpsters.  This is entertaining: according to, a signed first edition of Cadillac Jack goes for $8500.00
2) Old Guys - I think they come for the coffee, and because they are already up
3) Other vendors - who will catch you unprepared and paw through boxes while you are opening them, then resell on you later that same afternoon

The hoarders come later.  They can't rush through the house.  But they will come.  Because
this is who we want to be
this is who we are

650 vendors, of which we were 2, with our own table in between, 2 clothes racks, a shoe rack, a portable crib and a dog kennel, which we were careful to keep apart so they didn't compete with each other.

You in America Now  (said Old Fiddler to Kunta)
If you find the crowd at Walmart just too pretentious... if NASCAR's dress code is too formal... come to where America lives.  and smokes.  and barters you down from $2 to $1 on Ann Taylor linen pants.  And you give them up, because you already feel bad for not just donating them to start with.

People will tell you their stories, which was why Cadillac Jack did it, and a lesser author would have turned him into a detective franchise who solves crimes through his obscure knowledge of Americana and collectibles.

No charge for ranting
A guy who bought a book on cassette so he could tape over it complained to me about how hard cassettes tapes are to find, and even more expensive to buy, but people think the government should pay for health care.  It was like someone hit the remote on my Rant-o-Vision.

Big Ticket Items
Our biggest bulk, the crib and kennel, went fairly quickly, and not to the same family I am happy to say.  The Sega began to get dissected, since I could sell the games without the system, but the whole package made a better price.  The guns and LE game went to an Early Bird, who caught me before my brain was caffinated, and I let him get away with it.  A frequent flier kept trying to talk me down once the only games left were Disney, and he admitted he was only interested in the box, which I found suspicious, so I reserved the right not to serve.  By the end of the day it was $20 with 3 Disney games, and still had the $149.99 Lechmere price tag on it.  Lots of nibbles, but no strikes.

Which brings us to
The Attention Grabber
I no longer remember which of you gave me the pretty boys paper dolls.  I certainly got my enjoyment out of them (and I don't care what you think that means) and decided it was time to put them aside.  I priced them at 50 cents and put them in my book box where p'backs were 50, hardbacks a dollar, a first edition Lovely Bones for $2, which I hid in there for the treasure hunters, and the latest stash of Bibles, each marked "Free."  You can see why the cover of the Romantics Heroes paperdolls would be an eye-catcher (he's not actually naked, but he is wet).  Passersby would see that, the Bibles, then me, and are probably off writing their own blog right now.

It became a quest to sell the paper-dolls.  I pitched it as a gag -- "you want at least one thing today that makes you laugh," -- and they would laugh, then put it back.

Game On
The other item I stashed for the collectors was 4 TV Guides from the big haul -- Michael Jackson, Charles and Di, the Golden Girls, and Valerie Bertinelli.  I purposely obscured them, to see if I could lure a legendary monster trout out of his hiding place.  Next time I will have a rig for them, and bring a lot more.

A 2-foot tall clear spice mill, of the kind you find in Marshall's, or receive in Yankee Swaps, couldn't be given away.  Maybe because it was full of  unspecified "spices," maybe because it was branded as "Betty Boop," when so many chefs are available.  Maybe because it expired in 2006.  Even the woman wearing a Betty Boop fanny pack didn't want it.  She said "enough is enough."  She said it as if we had manufactured the thing.

The buyers have their games too.  One common move was to show a wad of bills (usually under 5) and claim it was all that was left.  Another was to offer to buy the entire box of shoes at a cut rate because they were going to Africa.  Both had the effect of pegging us as Richies (because of my shiny new Cobalt, no doubt, and the fact we were not smoking) who didn't want to take this stuff home, and who felt bad about asking poor people to pay for our castoffs.  It half-worked.  By that I mean, the shoe guy won; the woman who wanted the blender did not.

Fitchy's dad had a scheme for giving stuffed animals away.  They were priced, but if a kid showed any interest, he was going to get it for free.  On other items, he stood firm, but he was working his own set of rules.

Also priced as free was a book called "Free Yourself from Clutter," which I gave to a grandmotherly type who said she was going to hand it to her family and say "you take over."  Funny, or...??

Speaking of Therapy
I found my calling in Fitchy's boxes of baby clothes, which presented so many opportunities for sorting: boys/girls, seasonal, jammies/clothes, sizes... I learned quickly that sizes were what was called for, and created under 12 month, over 12 month, and Ts.  I maintained order throughout the day.  When people ask me "well, what do you want to do?"  I am not really kidding when I say, "fold things at the Gap."

This is not our set-up.  I just thought the page needed a break.

Let me close with this observation of what it is like to work hard for the money.  After about 7 hours (1 coffee, 1 donut, and the best hot dog ever made) I had personally cleared $32.  Not a bad margin when you figure most of the stuff I was selling I had never paid for, and I didn't have to kick in on my share of table fee.  The clouds and wind rolled in, and reminded us it was fall in Massachusetts.  Prices began to slash.  We began to look for people who had touched the peppermill before, or stared long at the Sega.  The paper dolls went down to 25 cents and sold seconds later.  Gag gifts are only a quarter-dollar funny.  Not half.

Fitchy and I ate most of our earnings for lunch.  We strategized for next year and were grateful we did not have to earn every meal that way.

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