A Family of Scoundrels
By I. M. Picker
Careful language use. I use that all the time to... buy antiques; old things negotiated verbally and the transaction closed with cash. Selective language use is so easy and timeless, so fluid and raw, its hard to imagine it carries any puissance in the vast world of used material possessions.
We were invited to a home of “collectors” outside of New York City. Venerable, this home aired prosperity, taste, accumulation and refined sensibilities. “Collectors” is a least favorite type of estate call; one cannot buy a thing because everything is “good”, “bought right”, “valuable” and... “not for sale”. One sits and looks and touches and gets insufferably bored while the collectors extol taste and value and wave recent acquisitions around your face. If your lucky, there is something good to eat. In most cases, even that… “is bad”. I try to estimate how many hours I’ll be “stuck there”, my word choice.
In this case, we had to visit with two people; the daughter, a collector carrying on the family tradition as well as aspiring to be a dealer. And the Mother, at mid-seventies, still bearing the torch of the family’s antiquarian accumulation and taste. The daughter had first whack on us. Her full time position as a power person on Wall Street compromises her infatuation of “being a dealer” “full time”. Wall Street is very safe buying and selling compared to the antiques market. One sits at the desk, twirls in the chair, looks out the window to the street far below while closing a “buy” or “sell” on the …old style client chat…telephone and then twirls back to the next... old style client chat… buy and sell. After a few decades of this, the broker surveys the unregulated market of antiques with consternation. The still darling daughter had been titillated with “being a dealer” long enough to absolutely hate that we “are one”. Being “a dealer” has always been a very difficult “wish I could” for collectors. I engage it all the time.
We chatted briefly. She’s very nice, don’t get me wrong. Its just that I AM a dealer and a disparity exists. I was about to start the requisite “Tales of the Antiques Dealer” story and suffer then die when Ms. Daughter announced in an undertone that she and Mother “had started to clean out the attic”. I didn’t jerk in my chair. I didn’t mumble. I did antiques dealer on my fingertips: The Attic. The home was two generations, untouched, unsorted, “un-picked”... NO DEALERS. They had position, taste, income and STUFF... in the attic. Had to, could not have possibly thrown ANYTHING out. I lifted my head from bored complacency to the daughter’s statement as seconds elapsed. Sense of action issued: ...Language use. With no perturbation I enunciated “Attic? Let’s go there.”
She paused then repeated “We’re cleaning it out”.
“Yes, let’s go there.” I …repeated… and looked straight at her. “There’s nothing for sale here.” I continued, gesturing to the living room. I straight armed her verbally.
“Ah... OK, but we must wait for Mother”. Like a torpedo at mid-ship my language smashed through her haul, she shuddered, listed and took water. She was boarded and captured. Please understand that my direct assaults are very pre-meditated. Please particularly note that they come mere seconds after the initial muttering of the word “attic”. One must be that fast and adept with language and its use to be this effective… and nasty… when in stranger’s homes and chasing their attics. Otherwise… they “get away”. These collectors in their collector’s home… changed. They were strangers now; an old house, an old attic, an “estate call”, an open surface deposit of material oblivion to be probed with the ...tools of the trade.
The Mother appeared. Standing in the center of the room, she twisted as she said “The attic?”. We were granted the viewing, including a verbalized cover documentation of “buying” “anything”. Or was it “something”. I forget what word I chose to INSERT into our voyage. Off we went.
We approved of the attic. A Transitional Victorian home, ca. 1840, the “attic” was a former third floor; the Maid’s quarters. As dealers describe, it was “untouched and totally original”. This home above the home remained unchanged from the Civil War era. Original blue-gray trim outlined the original white washed plaster. This plaster was very Tom Sawyer style; smeared by rough hands, then smeared with whitewash and then… highlighted in “old blue” paint, the kind of “old blue” dealers ...buy. Yummy. We had no trouble smacking our lips and rubbing our hands together at this attractive workspace piled inconclusively full of boxes of... “junk” “everywhere”. The junk of generations, untouched. Other dealers could be less responsive to original paint and smeared plaster surface but surely they would sense… a good treasure trove? After we had left with our plunder, we chatted about the site. “I liked the way it had so many boxes to go through in every room” was said.
Once on the third floor, without the Mother who waited on the second floor below, the process was simple. We would spy and snare something they “HATED”, their language choice. Saying only a “We will pay (a specific amount) for that” and linguistically including NO OTHER overture, we would move our selected acquisitions to the head of the stairs. This stairs led past the second floor to the first floor front door. That led to the back of our truck. It was a very simple process, once verbally incited; a straight line from attic to truck.
The touch and go of inception was the first “purchase”. One must dance, always, on thin ice for those first few. It must be “hated” and the offer must be “right”. There will never be the prose to capture the swish of time, space, destiny and oblivion that comes with the first price and the first... “OK”. Linguistics play a vital role, but supernatural spirits, Gods, fate, timing, oral spacing, inflection and facial expression all manifest too. Once behind one; “the first few”, the festivity begins. When selling is successfully initiated in an attic, usually the party continues the… “to sell”. In this case the discoveries were approved by the daughter, then the price and object verified BY THE DAUGHTER to the Mother at the base of the attic stair. That the mother didn’t care became evident quickly. The money (cash) was conveyed. The daughter liked the feel of real cash. A “whisk it” into the truck was executed. We washed our hands in their kitchen. And left. It was an agreeable afternoon using properly deployed antiques dealer linguistics in …an old attic.