I hit the rummage sale scene as a mere tyke, not yet in double digits.
My maiden voyage was the Free Library sale, and I branched out from there. Various churches held rummage sales, but from time to time they were also in the town hall, I think sponsored by the golf club (no pun intended, honest).
It didn’t matter who put them on or where they were held — if they happened, I was there.
While the prices were always right, my rummage sale shtick had nothing to do with scoring bargains, per se. Instead, they were the only place I could get old things.
I’ve no idea where my love of old stuff comes from. It was just always there, as long as I can remember.
The ’50s were THE Decade of the Car. And in order to hustle them en masse, Detroit went out of its way to make the plumage so garish, no one could resist the vehicular mating ritual. Giant fins, tinted windshields, two-tone paint jobs, monster V-8s, jet cockpit dashboards — you name it, and if it made a car better in any way except safety and efficiency, American cars had it. And every American loved it … or at least every American but me.
As far as I was concerned, none of that glop rated even a second look. To me, a car — a REAL car — was one of the old classics, a 1940 Buick Roadmaster, for example. Clean lines; shiny black paint job, elegance without trashy flash — that was my kinda car. Or if I wanted class with a futuristic twist, there was the Chrysler Airstream.
And speaking of such: My all-time favorite edifice has always been the Chrysler Building, THE apex of Art Deco.
My sense of fashion never got out of the ’30s and ’40s either. Maybe a double-breasted suit, cuff links, fedora and wing tips couldn’t make any guy look like Bogie, but I’ve no doubt it could’ve made him FEEL like Bogie.
As for accessories?
I know digital watches are infinitely more rugged and accurate than the old mechanical analogs, but so what? No matter how you cut it, digital watches are just chunks of plastic with a cheesy numerical readout. An old Bulova or Hamilton or Omega, on the other hand, was a small work of art. And when it comes to accuracy, how much do we need? Is there any situation where it’s more important to know it’s 11:47 than it’s about a quarter to twelve — space launches and amphibious invasions to the contrary?
It should come as no surprise that I never lost my love of and fascination with old things. I don’t have a TV, but I listen to radio constantly. I read books only in print, never on tablet (even though I have one). I shave with an ancient Gillette and soap and brush; I’m writing this with a fountain pen.
Keepin’ an eye out for the peepers
Over the years, there was one thing I always wanted but never found — a pair of wire rim glasses. And believe me, I didn’t find it for the lack of trying, since I started my search about 50 years ago.
Before I go any further, let me clarify something. I realize things from 20 to 50 years old are accepted by most peeps as “vintage.” But not to me. To me, something 50 years old is contemporary, and something 20 years old is current. My idea of vintage is something made no more recently than in the 1940’s, and in fact I don’t think of something as “old” unless it came from the 30’s or earlier. That said, while wire rim glasses were in vogue in the 60’s and 70’s, a pair from that time held no interest for me. The wire rims I was looking for had to be from the 30’s, preferably the 20’s.
With that restriction, it’s no wonder finding a pair was such a chore. Besides, I had three requirements for them, since I intended to wear them, not put them in a showcase. First, they had to be in good condition. If they were fragile, missing parts, or needed repair, they were useless to me. Ditto if they didn’t fit. And finally, the price had to be reasonable.
Over the years I found quite a few old pairs of wire rims, and while some of them met two of the requirements, none met all of them.
I intended to use them as reading glasses, so replacing the old lenses with new ones, while not beyond my imagination, WAS beyond my pocket book. And while I tried on every pair of old wire rims I found for the past half-century, I knew buying a pair was really just a pipe dream, not a actual pursuit. And I was fine with that. After all, there’s a certain delight in searching but never finding — especially when the search is a frivolity in the first place.
Serendipity at its best
A few weeks ago, Jen-X and I took a day trip to Plattsburgh. Superficially, I had things I needed — legal tabs in Staples, some craft stuff in Michael’s, a burrito in Chipotle — mostly it was to get out of town, just for the sake of getting out of town. Having been hunkered down here for the past four months made a few hours in P’burgh seem like springtime in Gay Paree.
We did our requisite shopping, and then on a whim decided to hit up the Antique and Variety Mall in downtown.
If you’ve never been there, the A and V Mall is a two-floor bazaar, with lots of different booths from different vendors. The place is clean and neat, though not oppressively so, so you don’t have to walk around on tenterhooks, afraid you’ll knock over a priceless Tiffany lamp (not that there’s one in there anyway). The staff is friendly and let you wander at your leisure, without either laying a hustle on you or trailing you with an accusatory glare.
Jen-X and I went our separate ways, neither of us looking for anything in particular or expecting to find anything, and figured we’d meet up after maybe a half-hour and head back home.
Brother Bruce Young, who’s an A and V Mall guy, told me they had a lot of old men’s magazines and maybe I’d like to cop a couple, get in touch with the testosterone-drenched “literature” of my youth. Then, on my way to the mags, I spied some old eyeglass cases, and of course had to stop and check them out.
There were three cases, all containing old wire rim glasses. The first pair was too small. The second was on the eve of destruction. Then there was the third pair. The case was in excellent condition and when I opened it and checked the glasses, they were in great shape as well. I tried them on and much to my surprise, they fit perfectly. I took them off and checked the lenses — crystal-clear, without a nick or a scratch or chip. But that was just the beginning.
Remember, I said I wanted the wire rims for reading glasses? Well, this pair was bifocals and, amazingly, the reading lenses were perfect for my prescription. Even more amazing, the distance lenses corrected my myopia, imperfectly but well enough. And most amazing of all was the price — a mere twenty bucks!
I called Jen-X over, asked her how they looked on me. She confirmed my opinion — they gave me an air of elegance and dignity that couldn’t be had with glasses costing twenty times as much (which is probably what a new pair of glasses would cost…if I was lucky).
I diddy-bopped to the cashier as if the roof was on fire, paid, and left the emporium one very happy Dope.
So was 50 years too long a wait? Of course not, especially since I could’ve gotten a pair of those glasses at any time — I just would’ve had to spend a lot of money. But I got these with almost no money, just a lot of patience.
To my way of thinking, a little money and a lot of patience will serve you far better than tons of money and little patience. If you doubt that, just read some history — or current affairs, for that matter. Examples abound.
So 50 years was clearly NOT too long to wait.
In fact, for the Bargain of the Century, it was just right.