Sunday, 19 May 2019 12:29

COLUMN: Used books, raccoons and other flea market finds

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

When people think of things that are decidedly American, I'm pretty certain flea markets are somewhere on the lists. In almost every part of this nation, on any given weekend, you can find a flea market. Some are big and some are small. Some are not far from major metropolitan areas and some are in the middle of nowhere. 

The flea market as we know it is not just a place where folks can get things cheaply — they are a social hub in some areas that don't have too many places where people can gather. Some flea markets are little more than big yard sales, where people pile tables full of their old junk and hope to make a buck or two. Other flea markets are huge bazaars, with permanent stalls that have been in place for years. Where I am from, the former is the more popular type, and in suburban Long Island, where my wife is from, the latter is the more familiar style. I remember taking my wife to a flea market outside of Baltimore and she was a little surprised that most of it was outdoors. 

Some states have flea markets that stretch for hundreds of miles. When I first heard of this, I thought it was pretty ridiculous. Only after I did some reading, did I realize it was a loose chain of individual flea markets that dotted the sides of a major highway. This was not a giant flea market where you ambled past table after table after table for 400 miles. I told my wife I wanted to try out one of these big flea markets and her major concern was not whether we could afford to drive the full length, but knowing how I love a bargain, she was concerned whether I would have the money to make the return trip. She put the kibosh on the trip when my budget became equivalent to that of a small Central American nation.

Once in a while, I can talk her into going to our local flea market. It's not one of the better ones I have been to but worth a visit every few months or so. There is a big section with old books and I like to dig through and pick out a few. The woman who runs the book table chain-smokes Marlboros and most of the books smell like cigarettes. I used to smoke long ago, so it doesn't affect me as much as it affects my wife. Most of the time, she'll let me get some books, but I have to let them sit outside for a while and then Febreze them before they come in the house. I'm beginning to think it's not worth it for a two-dollar book. 

There's another vendor at the flea market who will talk your ear off. Usually, he talks about politics or current events with incredible vigor. He's in a wheelchair, but don't let that fool you. He carries a big revolver in his lap and proclaims in direct — and often profane — language that shoplifting at the flea market is discouraged. He explained this to me the first time I met him, as he waved his big revolver around like Yosemite Sam on wheels. Nowadays, we just skip that part of the flea market.

I have found most everything at the flea market. There is a big section that sells dry goods and groceries. Most of them, if you look hard enough, are close to or past their expiration dates. I'm not so sure I would have an issue with Brillo pads that were a year or so past their dates, but I might pass on the big jar of gefilte fish that expired last spring. I once found a case of non-expired Pepsi Cola that seemed pretty promising, save for the fact that the cans were printed in Mandarin Chinese. My wife told me she did not want to ask where they came from and how they got to coastal North Carolina.  

There seems to be a large quantity of animal vendors at the local flea markets here. You can find your garden variety cats and dogs and the occasional hamster. One Sunday morning, there was a woman at the flea market with three chinchillas, a ferret, and a rather surly raccoon. Ferrets are pretty common, so I asked about the raccoon. He really wasn't for sale, but if anyone was brave or stupid enough to take him, they could have him for free. His name was Bocephus and he, according to the woman, counted total destruction of living room furniture as a hobby. He got along with kids and adults, provided they left him alone and did not try any interaction whatsoever. My wife said no to the raccoon. I don't really care much for chinchillas. It looked as if Bocephus would not be coming home with us. 

This past weekend, we went to the big flea market in Raleigh. When my wife wasn't looking, I wandered off and found a guy selling wrist watches. I bought a vintage one and took it back to show my wife. She shook her head and asked how much I paid. When I told her, she shook her head again. 

At least it wasn't an angry raccoon.


Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he (usually) writes on the lighter side of family life.