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Monday, October 25, 2010

Dusty Old Racism

My wife and I went to Cape May yesterday. Going to the beach in mid-October has its advantages. There are no beach tags, no lifeguards to collect said beach tags, no annoying people listening to the Phillies game on portable radios, no annoying people smoking, no annoying children kicking sand in your face....

No, well, people.

It was 71 degrees. The perfect type of weather for consuming freshly-prepared chicken and vegetarian sandwiches on portable chairs, running lines for my upcoming production of Iolanthe, and basking in the glow of four years of marriage to my partner. In crime.

Don't worry-- it's mostly misdemeanors. We're pretty vanilla.

Our mid-October trek to the beach was sandwiched in between trips to antique shops. Antiquing is a strange sort of hobby that neither my wife nor I enjoyed very much until we got, as Basil Fawlty would say, "manacled together," and, ever since then, it is something that we very much enjoy doing. Typically, we have a mission. We need some obscure item for some even more obscure reason. Case in point: we found one day that we needed a china cabinet. Why would a thirty-year-old and his twenty-nine-year-old bride necessitate a china cabinet? Because my wife's great-aunt Frieda (my wife's father's father's sister) passed away many several years ago, and neither her son nor his children wanted her prized Limoges china.

Well, we wanted it! Bring on the crap-- we'll find a home for it and, if not, we'll buy a home for it. (Actually, my mother-in-law paid for the china cabinet, which was very nice. We paid for the rental van to schlep it to our house.)

Hunting for the china cabinet was entertaining. Antiquing becomes more of an adventure when you have an actual mission, something specific you are looking to procure. A pair of antique eyeglasses for a play, a pocketwatch to add to the collection, some odd piece of Victoriana that you just can't do without when you're, um, gay.

However, this weekend there was no specific mission, nothing on the horizon or agenda that we needed or that was lacking in our lives. We were just another couple, puttering around the vast depths of the past's detritus, seeing if something glittery or something threadbare might catch our eye.

Nothing really did, and we bought exactly nothing (well, except for an overpriced Kit-Kat Bar [not antique] because we were on a bit of a sun-drenched sugar-low by around 3:20pm) but we still enjoyed our little romp through the decades and centuries.

I don't particularly know why people go antiquing, and I'm not even particularly sure why we do it, but we do it. We don't have especially a lot of money to toss around, and, when we do make purchases at antique shops, they usually aren't terribly momentous ones. A $40 typewriter, a $15 pair of glasses, nothing very dramatic or impactful. Maybe that's why I like antiquing, because there's something that makes it accessible for everyone. We know we're not going to come home with a $3,000 armoire, and that's okay with me.

I like antiquing in various parts of the country to see the objects that pop up in different geographical areas. Antiquing in Hershey is fun because of all the chocolate-related business. Antiquing in Lancaster yielded lots of Amish goodies, and also lots of Pennsylvania Railroad stuff, including comfy-looking woolen blankets given out to passengers emblazoned with the PRR logo. Gone are the days of such luxuries.

Some antique shops have bins of shitty old VHS tapes. These boxes are required, by law, to contain the following:

"Sweatin' to the Oldies with Richard Simmons"

"Top Gun"


"Uncle Buck"

"Fatal Attraction"

"Caddyshack II"

And there's always some Jesus shit for children, with some terrible drawing of J. C. wearing a dress with his arms outstretched and a camel and a sheep standing around looking stupid and a big star shining in the sky or something.

And then there's always the Nazi stuff. In the larger antique marts that are home to multiple vendors, there are booths manned by the following archetypes:

Charming elderly lady

Catty elderly lady

Morbidly obese elderly lady with cyanosis, attached to an oxygen tank

Ex-hippy middle-aged woman with hair down to her ass

Liver-spotted elderly man who smells like a century-old humidor

Vaguely homosexual man wearing sunglasses and a kimono and smells kinda purty

Ex-army whackjob with PTSD and a twitch

The latter gentleman is most typically the one who's got the Nazi stuff, and it's challenging being an overtly Jewish schnozzite walking past this type of antique-dealer's booth without feeling a bit, well, prickly. And scared. And moist in the trousers-- and not in the good way, either. There's just something about seeing a case containing a bunch of knives bigger than my torso, surrounded by German army officers' uniforms and swastikas and SS patches everywhere that kind of makes you want to lose your lunch.

There's also, of course, the black stuff. I jokingly refer to it as "Negrobilia." Aunt Jemima grins at you in thick-lipped consumeristic glee from inside alarm clocks, transfered onto serving plates, from her original cardboard and paper boxes and advertisements-- and you can still see her in the supermarket, turning stomachs of liberal-minded white folks since 1893. There's ceramic renderings of wide-eyed elderly black men in sharecropper's garb settin' on down on a fencepost, suckin' down some watermelon, boss, and salt-and-pepper shakers made to look like a slave and his wife. Let's not even get started on the creeptastic Al Jolson record covers. Jazz hands, indeed.

And, somehow, it's perfectly okay to put all that schlock out for sale, amongst the rotary telephones and the filigree engagement rings with the old mine-cut diamonds, the red-handled kitchen tools, and the Victorian hair mourning jewelry. Don't ask me why, or how, because it always still feels wrong to me.

Then again, so does Victorian hair mourning jewelry.

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