The Things We Carry, and Buy, and Sell

In response to my introductory post someone asked about the connections between physical objects and stories: “it awakens my interest with old stuff with back stories and history” (nonoymanga). I have failed thus far to be able to make they experiences with the items connect with my writing. To see this done well, read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This fictionalized memoir or creative non-fiction works better than anything I’ve seen or produced to connect the material with the idea in a literary form. I have some thoughts of how to portray these connections relating to my present time-to-occupation of reselling.

Often a business discount an item in order to lure customers, and like sinking a smelly, fat worm toward the bottom of the lake for the catfish, the business advertises its bait. In the case of Willie P’s Resale and Antiques, we discounted a roll top desk. This desk is not an antique, but is made of heavy hardwood, stained maple, with three drawers on either side, one in the middle, and numerous smaller drawers, cubbies, and shelves in the upper, enclosable section. This beautiful, massive wooden bastion of scholarship and intellectualism, waited to be used, waited to fulfill its purpose as a receptacle for the inspiration of some future great. We had dropped the price to about half than its normal value and no one bought it.

The temporary intent of the desk was fulfilled as people stopped to look. They bought other things. Instead of the desk, I sold tools, a jack, a table, some chairs, a concrete swan, a doll, a plate, speakers, a smaller but no less inspirational writing table, and so on and so on with an eclectic—I love that word—mix of this and that and the other. And from someone across the way at the Hwy. 82 Swap Meet, I bought potatoes and cayenne peppers (grown not even five miles away) and a salt shaker like my family used when I was a child and considered an old military fork.

But as they looked at the desk, they hemmed and hawed and sighed. They asked an additional discount on this gorgeous desk as if it was not already the best deal in the county, the response of a mindset that I believe is in reaction to the firmly priced retail stores conjoined with the communal desire for the return of the barter system, a system used by the smaller communities of our species for generations. As buyers, we want to be able to talk to the sellers (or especially to the craftsmen) of our goods. We want to negotiate the value of an item with the seller’s value and come to an agreeable middle ground wherein both parties profit through the exchange—well, most of us do.

The world of resale is a closed community and like any subculture (carnies, police, Hasidic Jews, English professors, lesbians) resellers (pickers if you watch television) allow the voyeurs to peek in from time to time. Resellers need those outsiders; for even though, like any subculture, they would prefer to associate with only one another, they need the voyeurs to create commerce, allowing the resellers to purchase goods from that outside world with cash, though we too prefer the barter system. It’s how our larger economic system works.

Soon, I will buy or trade for a WWII Army silverware set because it’s the kind my father used during the great push near the end of the war, and perhaps I’ll obtain a new writing table for myself because I’ve been thinking of redoing my writing work space.

Perhaps, somewhere in the midst of the activity, I will be able to connect the past of an item and make that a part of its significance in my own literary efforts.

Blessings to all.

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4 comments

  1. My grandmother had a desk like that. Sadly, she passed it on to my sister rather than me, but I always loved that roller top. I love antique shops and flea markets because there’s wear there–it isn’t as mass market as today’s consumer products, and a lot more beauty went into even simple items.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve recently come across some light fixtures made of cast iron that I’m sure were considered nice when first installed but are now treasures. Also, I love when we get a large quantity of items, boxes of unknowns. Going through to look and discover and imagine the historicism of things, for me, is precious.

  2. Connecting the past of an item to your present or future…as a lover of literature, which you obviously are, I urge you to read a wonderful new novel by Lynda Rutledge, Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, an Amy Einhorn book, published by Putnam. It is done beautifully. It is Lynda’s first novel ( a lot more to that story) and she lives here in Central Texas. …and I am looking forward to reading Tim O’Brien’s book. Thanks for your continued wit, humor and wisdom.

  3. Thanks, I’ll add Rutledge to my reading list. Charlotte, if you keep showing up on my blog I’m going to think you are a bit of a masochist.

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