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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guest Blogger - Bob Deakin: Estate Sale from heaven

This is really what it's all about; to find the sale of all sales.  Has it ever happened to anyone you know? Bob Deakin resides in Florida as a newspaper and freelance writer and maintains his own web site (see the "sites worth visiting" section to the right or just go here).

One of these days I'm going to find the estate sale from heaven.

I'll be driving by late on a Saturday afternoon, long after the professional “taggers” have contaminated the place after their week of planning, research and subsequent assault.

I'll park in the large, shaded driveway, not on a narrow two-lane major thoroughfare with a 55 mph speed limit, and I won't feel like I'm walking onto the set of King of the Hill if it wasn't a cartoon. I will comfortably get out of my car and no dogs will be there to harass me, nor will I experience the requisite rise in testosterone preparing to kill them.

I will leisurely stroll over to the house with a presence of pleasant human beings when a lovely female hostess arrives, leading me through the spotless, palatial estate. Thereafter I take in the sights, observe the wares – all tagged with prices – and wring my hands at the countless opportunities while the score of an Italian film from the early 1960s plays softly in the background.

Right away I find an old Hammond B-3 organ, just like the one on the pop and rock songs of the 60s, and it works. I confirm the model by easily looking on the back panel, see that all the parts are in place, and make it known to the hostess that I plan to walk out with it, and find that she wants only $50, a significant discount from the several thousand dollars I would expect to pay.

I then head back to the items on display to find a vibraphone with the electric vibrato foot pedals in place, also working, also with a price tag of $50, again a solid discount from the several thousand dollars I would expect. Once the purchase is secured, before I even make my way across the room, I stumble over a Bang & Olufsen turntable, never used and still in the box from 1982. There is no price tag on it but the hostess doesn't even know what it is and tells me I can have it for, “does five dollars sound fair?”
Indeed it does. I secure it and continue browsing.

I pass the countless antiques, Ansel Adams prints, 1920s cuckoo clocks, 1930s telephones, 1940s baseball memorabilia and neon Ballantine Ale signs from the taverns of Manhattan in the 1950s, making small talk with the hostess. I then spot a dark blue, sharkskin suit with narrow pant-legs, matching white handkerchief and cuff links, circa 1962, a la Dean Martin in the Rat Pack movies. It's a perfect match for my size, and the hostess modestly utters, “would you be interested in the cocktail mixer set, including etched-glass martini shaker, ice bucket, silver-plated snifters, bottle stopper and tan leather case from the same era?”
“Indeed I would, although I only have so much to spend, and I would like the suit, so...”

All my dreams of the 1960's are nearly complete and I take a complementary walk around the place, ponder a few more purchases, and notice that I'm a bit parched.

“Would you care for a Negroni? The hostess offers, introducing herself as Maria. “It's the original martini, the perfect blend of gin, sweet vermouth and bitters. If you don't mind vintage martini glasses from the set of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, I'd be happy to pour you one.”

“Well... I guess one wouldn't hurt,” I politely respond.

Maria, who is the spitting image of Sophia Loren in 1960, pours two and hands me one, then gently caresses my hair with a swath of her hand, admitting she's a bit shy for being so forward on a Saturday afternoon at an estate sale.

“My sincerest thanks to you, my dear,” I say, raising my glass toward hers. “Such a lovely day among such opulence, with such a charming hostess being so kind to a gentleman stranger. What, may I ask, have I done to deserve such splendor?”

And just then, I turn over in my bed and wake up. Damn it! Another Monday. Why can't I have these dreams on Saturday mornings.

Thanks Bob!  What about your greatest "find?"  Drop me a line if you have a story to tell.  Size doesn't matter, and as you have read, reality is optional.

Coming next time: 

Just what the Doctor ordered...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lost GPS finds me! - The conclusion

I'm not a big fan of cliff dwellers/coat hangers or what ever those suspense-type stories are called. In part 1 (here), I found myself prattling on a little too long about a successful Saturday sale-ing and decided to make it a 2-part post. If you have the time to read on, you'll see why.

It is always best not to expect too much out of any electronic (or electric) device that you can't test.  This can be a good haggling point, because the sellers probably won't be able to confirm that either.  As I mentioned earlier, I had brought batteries with me by accident and that was my reason for digging deeper into this unknown GPS.  After fumbling with it to find the battery door, I was not surprised to see a small cloud of rusty dust appear and then settle to reveal one  chamber was harboring a corroded battery. The other chamber's batteries seemed fine as I slid them out. One, two, three....uh oh, where's #4?  Though corroded, the first battery had slid out and the contact on the battery door was tarnished but it rubbed clean. The second battery was wedged tight. I began looking for a  tool, among ones spread out for sale that would set this decayed energizer bunny free.   I found an ancient awl and began to peck away at the enemy. After 3-5 minutes of no luck, I thought about offering a dollar (down from $5) for this likely piece of junk. 

To my surprise, the older gentleman who had seemed cheery when he greeted us, now turned cantankerous and stubborn. "No!" he grunted, and took the unit attempting to free the ever-rusty battery himself. I watched in surprise as he over-zealously whacked the GPS on the edge of a workbench, "bang. Bang! BANG!!"  I interrupted his destructive ways by saying, "Uh, well.. You might not want to do that, being kind of a delicate instrument.."  He stared down the battery chamber as if to telekinetic-ally free it from its alkaline bonds. I was still open to haggling, figuring that he should have given up and countered by this point, instead, he enlisted his middle-aged son to tackle the problem.  The son immediately took the unit and walked into the house to who-knows-where?  AVA and I continued to look around the garage for something to pass the time. Lord knows what was happening to the GPS.  I figured it must have been one of those gifts that had some kind of history and despite the greatly reduced price from its purchase 10 years ago, they needed to get a tiny piece of it back. 5 minutes went by before the guy said, "Tools are in the basement, don't worry, he'll be out soon." I quit trying to force the issue of haggling, since I couldn't do anything until junior's return. At 10 minutes, I started to tell AVA that we were done, and as we headed out, junior made his emergence...but the battery was still lodged in deep. The owner took a good long look at the unit and said "How bout we both take a loss?... 2 bucks!" At this point I would have paid 6 just to get out of there, and said, "Sure!"  

Funnily enough, I not only bought the GPS, but the obsession over the extraction of the battery as well.  Near Route 7, I began to imagine finding a service station open and some veteran grease monkey ready and sympathetic with the right tool to pop out this Dur-rust-cell. We were at the point of our afternoon where my partner begins demanding that her weight in ice cream is the only thing that will keep her in her seat. I usually try to beg her off in order to keep from succumbing to the elitist pricing of Cold Stone and others like it.  I am well aware that her favorite flavor is Bribery. Fortunately, 2 miles up the road was a small ice cream shop and a service station next door.  Parked in the back we made our way to the most senior and greasiest mechanic we could find. "Tom" emerged as we got close, and though he tried to come up with a solution, he was stumped and could only give us the key to the bathroom, which at least made AVA happy. 

Back at the car, as AVA slurped her way around too much ice cream on too little cone, I tried to solve 2 problems: Why was I so obsessed with this? and, What the hell was holding that battery in there so tightly that 4 grown men couldn't budge it?   I figured that it must be something else that was holding this battery in. Since I had fresh batteries, maybe three good batteries plus one bad one might equal a small sign of life, thus energizing me to continue this pointless battle.  With 2 securely in place I began to slide the 3rd one next to its corroded cousin and found that it wouldn't go down all the way. My frustration quickly turned into renewed vigor as I realized all the banging, tapping, and coaxing had actually achieved a tiny victory. Even though it meant re-lodging the old battery back where it came from, it was actually a relief to know that it would budge. Well, now I was alternately tapping and banging and pushing with the hopes that whatever corrosion was in there would now sand itself down and become looser and looser. I was also running out of ice cream, as my companion, in between slurps was exclaiming louder and louder, "Let's just go, daddy!" I think I was just hearing that as, "Go daddy!" and finally, with enough of an edge to grab, I was victorious! Ceremoniously, I spiked the evil battery on the gravel parking lot yelling, "Gotcha! You S.O.B.!"  Unfortunately, all I had gained were the frozen stares of several patrons. Uttering a soft "ahem." I sheepishly sat back down in the car.

Fearing the worst for the newly freed contacts at the bottom of the chamber, I tapped out as much of the left-over corrosion as I could and replaced it with the new batteries. 
Not unlike Dr.Frankenstein, I thought "It's Alive!" and after about 3 minutes began tracking several satellites above. I had little knowledge of how it actually worked or what I would use it for, but it didn't matter; the little 45 minute battle I had fought and won tasted much sweeter than the ice cream that was now just a memory (and a mark or two) on AVA's face. 

In conclusion, I have found that this was a very popular device for hikers, campers, and fisherman for plotting and finding their way through dense forests. With the ability to mark points in near precise longitude, latitude, and altitude and save those points to return the same day or another, this was a neat little device to own, thanks to the 30 or so satellites that circle the globe for just such a purpose (as well as many other reasons). This story ends with a favorite topic of mine: coincidence, serendipity, or kismet. The next day, at work while sorting though a bag of videotapes (left for the tape recycling program we started 4 years ago), I noticed a shrink-wrapped vhs tape.  We have often separated these from the others so they can be resold at the local library book sale to help raise funds. It was the last tape I would have ever expected to see.
A complete how-to video for the "XL" model, which includes the model I had found. Whoa! Now that was a "find" that was meant to be found!

Coming Soon!  Guest blogger Bob Deakin shares the ultimate Estate Sale story. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

My daughter wanted me to share this on my blog. I have titled it: "Suburban Supernova."
I especially like that she got the air conditioner (on the right side in blue) with wavy lines depicting the hot air blowing out. It is rather hot here today.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dig Report 6/13/10 - Lost GPS device finds me!

Why was I carrying 4 "AA" batteries with me this day?  I have to thank my co-pilot who has her own collection of battery eating toys. The tag sale trail is not meticulously mapped.  There is no "war room" with back-lit maps and croupier sticks moving assets while strategists plot a course under the haze of numerous smoldering cigars. Nope, it's not even the "probability & outcome" scenario.  Tag sale-ing, for me anyway, is pure luck.  Yes, I know what I like, and sometimes I am on a mission, but with no guarantee, the hunt has to be left up to chance.

I have already confessed that I am an incurable gadget-ologist. (read this post) All it takes is a black box, several buttons, some sort of display and I am hooked. Thankfully, my thriftiness precedes me, otherwise I might well be a broke pack-rat, or a hopeless eccentric with a basement laboratory in search of a "B" Science Fiction film plot. AVA and I had drifted to Wilton after disappointment in Ridgefield among the threatening rain clouds. Wilton, like the other far-off places we have been has to have something to entice us or it isn't worth the trip. In this case it was a moving sale, which means a good quantity of items and people motivated to sell.

This sale was deep in the heart of Wilton, and it was nearly a bust. The tables were full of household items and nothing seemed original to the house. Maybe the good stuff had gone earlier in the day?  It was maybe out of desperation that I took interest in this box:
I knew what it was, and I recognized the manufacturer, but immediately wondered how old it was.  Anything portraying itself as a GPS these days better have a color screen or at least a high resolution display. I was curious enough to paw through the box and see.  The manual told me it was possibly from 1997,  the idea of GPS units has always intrigued me, especially the idea of holding something in your hand that is communicating with one or more satellites.  Then I see all the distracted drivers these days and notice that this is one of the evil triad of distraction: Cel Phones, Ipod/media players, and GPS units, which has steered me clear of them. (I already have the first 2 distractions). Thinking that I may have another dry weekend (no good "finds") I begin to wonder if this might be a fun project, even if I am spending 5 dollars on something I plan to dissect.  And then I remember, I have 4 "AA" batteries in my pocket. Why not see if it works? 

Coming soon!  Lost GPS finds me! Part 2

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Will you ever be the butt of a joke? You bet your ASH!!

Here’s a story from a buddy of mine who lives in a suburb of Albany, NY. Tony and I go way back to the late 70’s and we still keep in touch – often over the cell phone amidst a Saturday of searching for treasure. He had an odd find recently and I invited him to be my first guest author.

So, my kids and I, who often will take great pleasure in finding a good sale, had a pretty good sale-ing day last weekend. My son found a brand new, never used bike with a price of $30.00 that we haggled down to $20 (Thanks to Greg’s real time haggle tech-support advice over his really old noisy cell phone). I hope this doesn’t go to his head.

After you’ve made your first good deal of the day, the rest of the hunt was pretty much going to be a win any way we looked at it. But it wasn’t long after we hit the road to the next sale that we turned the corner and saw the "estate sale" sign. As Greg has told you, being less frequent than tag or yard sales, if you are looking for treasure these signs can make you a bit giddy. Now, I am not as much of an enthusiast (I prefer to call him “freak”) as Greg, but an estate sale is more than a hunt for good stuff. It’s often a search through someone’s personal history.  Sure, it can seem ghoulish, but you do it anyway. You can say that sifting through the life of a stranger is a bit like a voyeur at a binocular convention, but you keep wondering, “What little nugget will I see next?”  I typically looking for stuff I need or want, not like your Vmartyr who just wants to find those items that nobody ever thought existed until he dug it up and now wants to blog about it.  This estate sale we discovered was one great weird-o-rama jackpot. 

 Want proof? I found what might currently be the only personalized ashtray in existence. Oh, I bet maybe 40 years ago this was the cat’s p.j.’s. You want to give dad that special gift that will have him thinking about you everyday. Hmmm, what could you personalize? Let’s see… He loves to smoke. He’s always smoking… How about a, ummm, glass ashtray with my picture? Yeah! Every time he smothers out another cancer stick on his way to an early grave, nothing says,  “I love you” like the ash covered remains obscuring a loved one’s face.  Like I said, this was probably from years ago when Hollywood was securely in bed with big tobacco and made smoking look so cool.

Truthfully, the picture looks like it was probably lifted out of an old yearbook and quickly glued onto the ashtray as a joke gift for someone who, from the picture, looks as though he was probably chain-smoking from the crib. The list of other oddities is too long to share here. I don’t know where Greg find’s the time to blog but when I figure out his secret (possibly time-travel), I will invite you to read about the rest of my weird-o-rama sale stories as well. 

Thanks for the story Tony! That image was snapped at the sale, in case you were wondering, “Why in the world did he buy that ashtray?” That’s not Tony’s style, as he so clearly described, and fortunately, it not my style either. But an interesting story none-the-less.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

When it comes to the Band Wagon - I'm a Hopper!

When I can't find anything worthy of a post from the tag sale trail, I have to resort to my "vast" stores of stuff that I have kept for some reason or another.  My tastes in stuff are simple: old paper - gadgets, whose purpose is a mystery - electronics I drooled over as a kid but couldn't squeeze a tear at the right time to provoke a parental purchase - and other items of nostalgia, and/or curiosity.

While cleaning up the garage (notice, I said "up" and not "out") I came across a TIME magazine from 1969. Space exploration and science fiction are among my favorite topics, but mostly with the anniversary of man's first steps on the moon just 6 weeks away, I thought I should put this aside for a post topic. Then I thought, "Nah!" Why wait?

A truly classic cover, but then again, so were all the others commemorating this event. However, this is the only one I have. It is typical of the time, trying to make as clear a picture for the reader what had happened, and what it was like for the astronauts and their families. Then it goes into the politics, like who owns the moon? Can we colonize it and claim it because we touched it first? No, a 1966 treaty between Washington and Moscow labeled the Moon as  "No man's Land" and available to all countries to explore and exploit. I most enjoyed the speculations that  presents a future that could see colonies on Mars by 1982!  Whoops! Not so fast, we are only now enjoying the magic of the viso-phone that Ma bell promised so long ago (and never delivered - thanks for nothing Ma!). Anyway, when it comes to Mars,: never send a man to do a robots work!

I would like to go on and on about the in-depth articles on the moon and the ability to make good on a dead president's promise, but as I flipped through the pages I found a more intersting connection to current pop culture in the movie reviews.
 Dennis Hopper dies and just a week later, in and old magazine, I am reading a review of the movie that was possibly his defining moment. Well, I wanted something for my blog that would dovetail serendipitously in to the present and here it was.  I never saw "Easy Rider" maybe parts of it, but because it reflected a period in history that I was too young to grasp (I barely remember my parents trying to wake me up to watch a fuzzy image on the screen of the stay-puft marshmallow man bouncing around on the Moon). I tried to watch it in college and it didn't grab me.  Dennis Hopper has always had an intensity that he brings to his characters, unfortunately, he didn't pick the kind of scripts that would fully endear many of the portrayals to me.  Blue Velvet - Nope. The Rivers Edge - good, but nope.  Evil leader in Waterworld - ugh! Booby-trapper/bomber in "Speed" - Nope. Though I really enjoyed his characters in "Apocalypse Now!"
and "True Romance". If you have a favorite Hopper film, place it in the comments.  I am sorry he is gone, but I am even sorrier that I jumped on the same band wagon as most other bloggers by reporting on his death.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"99 and a half just wont do."

The "Wicked Pickett" said it best....have to be a hundred.

I started Blogging as a New Year's resolution in January of 2009.  I don't know if you can call it much of a resolution, I really didn't know what it would do for me...could be good...could be bad.  Many of you may be thinking - Bad.  Noticing the hour these  posts are often published and the send time of my emails, it might look as though I don't sleep and just Blog the night away.  Well, that's partly true, as a matter of fact, I should be in bed right now.  However, Blog or no Blog, I would still be a night owl.  I think it has something to do with a tired brain and the release of chemicals that signal the onset of a night's sleep. If you can fight it off, it often brings on an interesting state that lies somewhere between lucidity and lugubriousness. Might not be too healthy, but it does make for some interesting blog posts. I discovered this, not intentionally, but by accident as I try to find the time to update the blog around parenting and husbanding. Another interesting discovery is the balance between slack and flack, the slack my wife and daughter extend me, and flack I get when the slack runs out.  

Somewhere in between January 2009 and now, I managed to write 100 posts.  I don't know if that is a lot, or if they could all be considered legitimate full posts, but it is a milestone to me.  In celebration I will share one of my favorite "find" stories.

For many years, my good friend Robyn and I would spend Saturdays hunting for sales.  She had things she was searching for, and I had things I was searching for.  She deserves some mention in this blog because many of things I have written about were found during these journeys.  Though we no longer have the time to hit the tag sale trail (life, work, and other responsibilities have taken their toll), I know that once in a blue moon our calenders synchronize and there will be time for us to hunt again. 

It was a typical Saturday maybe 10 years ago, maybe more. Robyn and I were winding up an afternoon by traveling some familiar roads looking for one last sale.  There are 2 times in the day when it is most advantageous to hit the sales: very early in the morning, and very late in the afternoon.  You've heard of the early-birds, hated by most tag and estate sale proprietors, but they are usually the ones to walk away with the best stuff.  Hunting in the late afternoon, presents a different set of benefits; no crowds, less stress, and goods deals.

As we made the final rounds through Bethel, CT a spray-canned plywood board beckoned us to a church for an estate sale.  Closing at 4pm, we had fifteen minutes to try and make the last sale of the day a good one. This was a unique estate sale consisting of the contents of the parsonage to a church which was right next door.  The house was clearly turn of the century and had many interesting corners to explore.  There wasn't much left, but this was one of those sales that taught me not to look at the obvious, but at the in-obvious.  The attic was huge, with wide floor boards that were full of gaps. Upon closer inspection I found I could pick out bits of paper that were tucked in the gaps.  Almost immediately I found a ticket to a ladies cotillion from 1898.  The manger of the sale was with us at the time and I offered it to him as a piece of the church's history that should be saved.  He agreed and thanked me for turning it over.

On the wall I noticed several sealed glass vials resting in hangers; part of an ancient fire suppression system.  Foolishly, I asked if I could remove them and was given permission.  There were 3 which I ended up keeping for far too long until finally relinquishing them to the local fire department.  I was informed by one of the firefighters how dangerous the contents were.  I was more fascinated by the design and the mechanism that kept it in its hanger until the heat of flames was supposed to cause a fuse to break and the hanger arms to separate, dropping the thin glass vial on the fire and (hopefully) extinguishing the flames. They could also be thrown at the base of the fire, but I would have still recommended running in the opposite direction rather than use one of these.

Robyn and I made our way to the basement with the manager not far behind. The second we stepped into this dark dank place, we were informed that we could have anything we wanted out of there.  We both began to search as much as the waning light of the day would let us. It was mostly empty with several rusty piles of metal and an old coal bin which looked as though it had just been emptied. I was drawn to a shelf unit sitting, almost floating, in the middle of the basement.  The shelves were empty, but I was curious as to why someone would hang a shelf with a couple of 2" x 4"s on either side.  My eyes followed the boards up to the ceiling to see how they connected.  I noticed that I was now looking at the underside of the kitchen floor above - linoleum and all.  The shelf was actually and old dumb waiter. After the coal bin, I shouldn't have been surprised to find this, but I had never seen one frozen in time and re-purposed.  I saw now that the boards were rails, and I wondered if it still worked.  It was empty, so I lifted it a few inches and then back down.

I was expecting a harder landing than I got, so I inspected underneath, and got the surprise of the century.  It wouldn't have been strange for someone to want to cushion the dumb waiter in case the rope were to break, but I was stunned to find out how long their solution had worked:

Even though a stiff breeze might turn this into dust, I had to take it. Notice the creases where the bottom of the "waiter" waited on it for so many years. This was also what preserved the color for almost a 100 years. The stamp on the book shows it is now 106 (almost to the day). I had no concern for its monetary value, but more for the historical value.  I was living in New Milford, CT at the time and enjoyed leafing through that (4 page) section recognizing several family names which are now familiar streets there. But there wasn't just one phone book cushion:
This one was in a little better shape, yet four months older. The best part was the directions on the inside cover (Click on it for a readable size):
 I wanted to scan a few pages so readers could see how few listings several area towns had.  The telephone would have been more of a luxury than a necessity at the time.  The pages are too fragile to handle, but it is no less amazing how long they were there until Robyn and I came snooping around.