Until a couple of years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even considered – let alone enjoyed – wandering around in a large, one-room building lined with rows of booths filled with shelves packed with random stuff.

But now I like going to flea markets.

The idea never appealed to me of standing in a crowd trying to outbid someone in order to secure ownership of someone else’s house-wares, tools or furniture.

But now I like going to auctions.

And I used to think rooting through stuff piled on plywood boards resting on saw horses was a better way to stir up dormant mold spores than to locate anything worth purchasing.

But now I see yard sales as opportunities.

The bottom line is, I have punched a one-way ticket to used merchandise land and there’s no going back.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

And I don’t want it to be a round trip; I’m now a card-carrying member of the used merch club – I like the selling and I like the buying and what was once a silly waste of time is now interesting and a neat way to spend an afternoon.

I don’t think there was an instant when I suddenly came to a realization about the matter; I had no flea market epiphany, auction moment or yard sale flash. It came upon me more gradually, through repetition. At first, I went along with my wife to help out, but I was eventually “fished in.”

Of course, now that March has arrived, the busiest times of used merchandise season aren’t far off.

As long as a late-winter blast of cold from Alberta doesn’t settle in over the Ozarks, it won’t be long before those of us who enjoy the used junk culture will be “setting up” in Cabool, stocking up at the fairgrounds in Rolla, cruising the booths in Ozark or getting up early on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to make the rounds of a given week’s yard sales.

And now that nights are graced by the sound of frogs croaking in the cow ponds, it’s about time to organize all that stuff in the outbuilding and get it ready to be displayed for purchase. I don’t really remember what’s in all those boxes, but it will be fun being reminded.

I guess I’m looking forward to all of it – the sorting, the selling, the searching and the acquiring of more. And it will be interesting to see what really cool stuff my wife comes up with along the way. She has found some really nice house décor and furniture for a song at all three types of used merchandise venues – much to the benefit of our remote outpost.

Being exposed to the realm of used junk (OK fine, antiques and collectibles) and becoming familiar with its nuances, jargon and etiquette has been more than fun and fascinating, it has also taught me plenty.

My flea market knowledge now includes what it’s like to run a booth, what kind of stuff sells best and what makes some spots better than others when setting up outdoors.

In terms of auctions, I now where to stand, when to move and which stuff on the tables or backs of trailers is cool and which is going to have to be paired with something else to move even for a buck.

I’m now even comfortable with the term “vintage.”

In turn, I can now tell the difference between a vintage metal oil lantern and one that has been sitting around rusting and gathering dust after being purchased at Walmart six years ago.

I now know that Shawnee pottery can get some people really excited and cause them to lay down some pretty serious cash.

And I have seen first-hand how a box of random stuff can be bought for $2 and end up containing everything from worthless old plastic cups to an old vase that can be resold for $23.

Yep, my whole perspective of the deal has changed –even the way I view auctioneers.

I always thought the way they used badly-tuned, crackly-sounding portable public address systems to bark out unintelligible “language” was just, well, silly.

Now I think what auctioneers do is kind of cool, even if they are seemingly oblivious to how bad their audio systems sound. I admire the way they can stay focused for hours on end on the importance of getting $3.50 out of a set of salt-and-pepper shakers instead of $3 and making sure the best books are sold separately while the rest go in sets of three and four.

And there’s nothing quite like experiencing the fleeting moment of triumph that occurs when a tried and true auctioneer points at you and says “sold to number 169 – 169’s the buyer.”

I’ve even seen them keep their focus at outdoor auctions in January when the temperature was 30 degrees, wind was blowing and wet snow was falling. Now that’s dedication (or something else). But I much prefer the warm-air variety of sale, as I’m sure the men with the microphones do.

Having perused many an Ozark flea market (and there definitely is MANY an Ozark flea market), I’ve gained a much keener eye for what I’m looking at on those shelves and walls and strewn around on the floor.

I now understand that you never know when you might see the corner of a really nice framed painting of a horse sticking out from under a pile of button-down sweaters. You have to stay alert so you don’t miss the valuable carnival glass candy dish that’s priced at only $1.75 but is obscured by an ugly old lampshade.

And there’s always that possibility of finding a VHS copy of that movie you always wanted to see and purchasing it for only 50 cents – but you may have to check the tapes at the bottom of the box that are hidden by others piled on top of them.

I suppose it’s no coincidence that one of my favorite TV shows is the History Channel’s American Pickers. I’m pretty sure they have one of the ultimate forms of occupation.

Sorting through junk piled to the ceiling in a Tennessee backwoods outbuilding that nobody has set foot in for 30 years. Moving a dusty old broken dresser out of the way and discovering a well-preserved 1930s era toy car under an old blanket.

Finding and buying rare, old junk and making good money selling it.

Sign me up.

And speaking of making the rounds of weekly yard sales, it’s uncanny how you can end up seeing the same friend or acquaintance at almost every stop. When that happened one time with a lady my wife and I know, she said, “we ought to plan ahead and car pool.”

That idea sounds good on the surface, but the problem with it is, if we find a great vintage rolling beverage cart or get a deal we can’t refuse on a pair of 16-inch saddles we know we can turn for double the amount, we might need to put some stuff in the back seat.

Then what?

Anyway, enough crunchy grass and wintry mixes. I’m ready to get into used merch mode.

The time is nigh when someone at an auction is going to get a good deal on a barely used four-person tent, someone at a flea market is going to find an authentic cast iron Dutch oven (complete with lid) that’s priced like a copy, and someone’s going to triple their money on a box full of lead ropes and bridles they found lying on a rusty metal chair at a yard sale.

The way I see it, that someone might as well be me.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. E-mail: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

 

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