Thursday, July 17, 2008
Junk Collecting and Matters of the Heart
I've spent years collecting attic artifacts and basement bargains from garage and tag sales and have had rabid bouts of garbage picking and dumpster diving. I really should have been in the salvage business my friends. My mother bought me a book when I was a child called Peter's Wagon about a young boy who scours his neighborhood for fabulous finds. He returns home with what his mother coined "junk" but to Peter, these pieces of the past represent an eclectic and often scoffed at hobby where you turn someone else's trash to your beloved treasures. That was the beginning of my obsession and insatiable appetite for a good deal on some great junk!
I've learned this art from my mother who has an eye for hidden values. Back in the 1970's, my mother would pack me into our little black VW Bug and head to downtown Albany where we would visit Mr. Garrow's house of junk on lower Dove Street. The store was packed to the gill with old chairs, stained glass lamps, mahogany and oak tables and other rescued furnishings that escaped the wrath of the wrecking ball. I marveled at the stacks of vinyl records and lamp shades that littered the entrance of the small but packed shabby antique haven. The smell of aging wood waffed through the air as you headed towards the back where the proprietor kept all his valued miss-matched china pieces. He had everything from Wedgewood to Limoge plates and cups that are now worth a small fortune. My mother would keep money aside each week for a new purchase, hoping for a new Tiffany lamp or a funky chair that we couldn't possibley sit in due to it's rotted spindals. Mother assured me that she was able to repair the pieces with a little wood glue and some shelac. What did I know? I simply believed her tall tale, further perpetuating her disease and delight for fabulous finds. We never left Mr. Garrow's without a purchase. Whether it was a child's desk with an inkwell or vintage fabrics for curtains or aprons, my mom looked not only happy but momentarily satisfied by her sharp eye and bag full of junk!
The other night, I managed to stuff a well-weathered wicker rocking chair into the back of my own VW with the help of a friend. I saved it from the New College Theater demoliton a few years back and have stored it in my office since then. I have also collected more than five chairs as well as my old boss's conference/dining room table which is far too large for my own home. It's a large goliath of a piece with claw footed pedastal legs. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it but I'm not about to let these savages toss it into a dumpster. That table has a lot of history with its various cigarette burn marks that scatter the top. It was the table that I was interviewed at for my job at Hofstra and the table all my colleagues sat around for spirited discussions and meetings. A valued piece of my own history...an artifact of sorts of my lurid career as a college administrator.
The lesson learned from junk collection varies from person to person, as do experiences. Today, I will play the role of anthropolgist and do a study at the South Baldwin junk sale held every Thursday in the backyard of a shady phonograph collector who lives in a collapsing Victorian house on Merrick Road. The "dealers" look more like carni's that escaped circus life. Most of them have horrible junk, but there are a few who manage to sqeak out a few treasures. I'm excited at the prospect of another addition to my own private collection of valued and significant piles of junk!