Can I find something and give it to you? Can I say that men smell like pee, drink too much, fall down and pick up cigarette butts on the street? Do you ever buy painting from this sort of person. If... one sees a man pushing a shopping cart along the street WITH a FRAME sticking out of it... . And within that frame one sees an oil painting of “an Arab and camels” and this is from forty, fifty feet “away”. Do you stop the man and buy it? When I sold this painting, “signed by the artist”, the “fine arts” dealer spent a good six minutes “going over it” with his “glass”. Probably this was because of the “price” I was “asking”. Right?
I remember, after school, going to this one “store” where at nearly every visit there was this man in dirty clothes lying next to the building in the shade ...asleep. ONE DAY, a Saturday, I “went there” “early” and this same man was INSIDE the store selling an “old bottle”. The proprietor only casually regarded my entrance to the store for... I’d been there “before”. I was left to wander. I was in ear shot of the on-going exchange. It was a transaction in progress? It was! The man, a fat man in the dirty clothes, was trying to SELL the bottle. I saw the bottle. I liked old bottles. There were not any other old bottles in this store. In fact, the store, particularly to the back, was filled mostly with old magazines. Stacks and mounds of old magazines. Columns, towers and spilled cascades of old magazines. Wet, stained, smelly, trampled terminal moraines of ...old magazines. Except, of course, for the odd angled partition way to the rear right where, if one was youthful and agile, one could, at an un-noticed moment, slither “behind” and discover a little space filled with “dirty” magazines... very neatly arranged. These were not the kind of dirty magazines my friends at school “ripped-off” from corner drug stores. They were “better”. I had been into that space enough already to have passed beyond fatal attraction. I was more interested in what was “new” in the store. That “material” was toward the front, on top of the counter and in the left front window, a space accessed from only behind the counter where the proprietor stood.
My: Wouldn’t this man have curious old things for sale. What was curious about them was not that they could be qualified as “good” in the appraising eyes of the “people who know”. What made them good to me was that anyone would “try” to sell them... at all. The “antiques” shops that I frequented (and frequent them I did) never had “stuff” like this man “offered”. In fact, this man’s stuff looked like the STUFF one saw on the TRASH! WOW! And I would always ask how much for this or that and glow while the proprietor glowered and wished me away. As there was rarely anyone in the store but I... that (the glowering) was that. When there WAS someone in the store and I NOW know that they were DEALERS (actually; I pretty quickly figured that out), I spent all of those moments watching and listening to EVERYTHING; each noise, motion and gesture featured toward each object. The camera rolling of my mind captured vast footage of interaction over “stuff” from “the trash”. BUT: It also captured people; real people. I didn’t realize I was learning about “that” “too”.
This stuff, I discerned, was acquired by the proprietor from “people” who “found it” and brought it into the store and “sold it”. That was the source of these curiosities; these “people” who I soon learned are “pickers”. I learned I was and... still am... one of these “people”. Like many of the shops of this sort, the proprietor had preferences for a certain direction of stock that one may see to this day. Coins (in little ink labeled paper cases), guns (usually of dubious quality and condition), knives (extensively jack-knives) and pocket watches (“good ones”) always seemed to surround the immediate working space of the proprietor of this sort of store. I suppose to this day that “they” “like that” “stuff”. Beyond these treasures was the “rest of the stuff”; iota purchased and placed out of reach of a customer and also away from bothering the proprietor’s “workspace”, an area generally used for sitting, smoking and reading the newspaper while a radio station one has never heard of “plays” something at a low volume “always”.
I understood the dispersal of goods and quickly assimilated the learned skill of visually dissecting the “mound of accumulation” method of inventory management. To this day I may be found staring at piles of “stuff” looking for that “stuff” that is “new” to a “pile”. The counter area added drama to my youth for it required that I stand in full view of the owner of these things while I, I learned to do, scanned the mound behind the counter, the shelves behind the counter, the trail side of the path to the front window from behind the counter AND the silent mental review of the contents of that front window that I had studied before I entered the shop (often the head and eyes of the proprietor would appear above me from inside the window before I entered) all IN COMPLETE SILENCE. Silence, complete, is a trademark of professionalism in the “trade”.
The art eye and art mind in motion, silently climbing and descending mountains of “trash” was and is my action as a picker. This is tiring exercise, well understood by those who do it and is loathed by those who do not. It is so much easier for pretty dealers to ask if one has “something good”. These... fools… not only expose themselves to a “price” but, of endless curiosity to me, are requesting a showing of “good stuff” from ...someone who wouldn’t know “GOOD” from a ...cat box cookie. Don’t do that (ask anyone to show… anything). After the visual hike upon the material mountain I would ask a price of single items. ONLY THEN, after fully knowing the price, would I ask, ever so politely, to handle the item. EVEN IF IT WAS the “worst piece of crud” “you ever saw”. This is because the requisition of an object required the proprietor to “do something” as opposed to sit, smoke and read the newspaper. Further, I learned, the objects of greatest interest to me were usually the most dejectedly positioned on the behind counter mountainside so I had to “handle the situation” “carefully” to not... anger the proprietor.
I accomplished this. The way I accomplished it was to develop the in-the-trade understanding that before requisitioning an item I was, preferably, 85% plus sure that I was “going to buy” “that”. THERE was the secret admission I obtained to this store: I BOUGHT “stuff”. REGARDLESS of how much this man “HATED” “KIDS” “IN THE STORE” I quickly gained rank above “that” because I “BOUGHT”. The proprietor, at first, would try to sell me coins or knives or any other bauble he felt a boy would “want”. That would take place AFTER I had agreed to “buy” “that”: “You want that?”. Soon, the man recognized I was not going to buy anything he thought I should and seemed, to his knowing eye, to be much more attracted to “stuff” that he “got” that was “cheap”. Although it was years before I was “allowed” to be “alone” with his stock, he quickly granted me a courtesy of ignoring me, particularly if someone else was in the store. This extended to allowing me to gaze, gawk, touch, reach, poke, pull and fondle anything I could reach around the counter area without any comment. THAT was power. That allowed me to dawdle in the midst of a transaction with a “He’s (she’s) a dealer”. It also allowed me to... dawdle near a “buying” situation, although to this day I KNOW most dealers do not like “anyone” to “be around” when they’re “buying” “no matter what”. But I persisted in hovering and, since I was a kid... got away with it. THAT power position allowed me to be next to the dirty fat man with the old bottle that Saturday morning. I HEARD the decision that the proprietor would not “pay twenty for that” and the emphatic “ITS WORTH A HUNDRED” from the dirty fat man which resulted in the bottle being placed on the counter “for sale” for “twenty-five, I get five”. I also learned that the dirty fat man had FOUND IT (!) while walking along the curving path behind the two buildings and across the vacant lot up beyond the store. FOUND IT he said because he was looking down and saw the top of the bottle shining in the sun at the top of the dirt in the lot. He, seeing such an odd piece of amber glass had got down on his knees and excavated the whole and perfect specimen; had recognized its commercial value and ... had scurried on down the vacant lot’s path to the store to vend his discovery.
GOOD GRACIOUS was I fully attentive for... a number of reasons. Of course I concealed that by spending the whole of this conversation pretending to be extremely and suddenly very interested in a book about the guns of World War II that was “just down” from the counter. Foremost, the reason the bottle was discovered was because it did have a very large top, a mushroom shaped lip of thick amber glass that protected the cylinder shaped body of the bottle. That full form I recognized as the well regarded “TIPPECANOE” medicine bottle; an embossed with the decoration of a log and a canoe patent medicine bottle that was ... “GOOD” ... if you ... “found it”. SECONDLY I knew “exactly” where the path through the vacant lot was because I walked on it when I came to the store. “WOW!” and before the official end of the two party consignment negotiation took place I left the store, traversed the street to the two buildings and followed the path into the vacant lot. Sure enough, after a very easy examination I discovered, just to the left of the path the exact hole of discovery and excavation complete with the molded outline of the base of the bottle where it had been pulled from the soil. “WOW!”.
I returned to the store to find the man gone and the bottle on the counter. I handled it without asking. The proprietor watched me, said nothing, watched me as I sat it back down and then put a “$25.00” price sticker on it. The bottle was still dirty. It even had dirt inside but it also still had a piece of the cork in it’s top. I handled the bottle again, holding it up to the light from the front windows. “TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS” expressed all that I could develop as mental energy. This was because I KNEW that the fat dirty man was right; that it was a “hundred dollar bottle”. Actually it was only a SEVENTY-FIVE dollar bottle. And actually, that value, I understood, turned downward to a “FIFTY DOLLAR BOTTLE” should one wish “quick” “resale”. Quick resale was the core of my skill for capital outlay during my eighth grade year floundered at “twenty” or higher. Even at “fifty” it was not a “sure thing” to ... an eighth grader.
But the poetry of the story was true! Oh was it true. And I, like a blind fool had walked that same trail a hundred times. And my eyes had never rested on the treasure. OH and that MAN had FOUND IT! Between the buildings! Why of course! Treasure is found in spaces between! OF COURSE! Must I? I must! From now on: EVERY SPACE that is between! The bottle sat on the counter. I did not buy it. I left.