Junker’s Blues

The dude just has magic in him. 

There's no other explanation for it. I tell myself: There's no such thing as a magic junking touch. It's luck of the draw, right place right time, the knowledge about what to get, the instinct to take the right chances, and the constant, constant monitoring of the "hot spots."

Illustration by Nathanael Roney.

But I don't believe it. There is such a thing as a magic touch — I just don't have it.

But Allerton (we'll call him Allie for short) does. 

Don't get me wrong — I do OK — I find a little, flip it over, pay the bills. But I grind it out, pan-sifting gold dust, ankles frozen in the running river, back slowly twisting into a pretzel while I bend and shake, bend and shake.

But Allie's the kind of guy who picks up whole nuggets off the ground. He walks into a Salvation Army and finds a first edition copy of William Faulkner's Sanctuary sitting on the shelf, eagerly waiting to be turned into house payments for a year.

And then what does he do with it? Sticks it on his shelf. Says to me he'll have to look up its value some day.

I know, I know, the junk is always cleaner in the other guy's bag, right? You win some, you lose some. Everybody's got a right to his or her epic score. 

But I'm talking about a guy who can walk into a thrift store that's never had anything good since it opened, a punch line to any number of junker jokes, and come out with a pair of Design Acoustics dodecahedron speakers from the '70s, mint, fabulous, and worth well over a grand, for $30. I'm talking about a guy who can roll out of bed at 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday, stroll over to a yard sale every junker in town has plundered, just as the owner says, "Oh man! We forgot to put out those movie posters from Uncle Jerry's drive-in … I want to get that stuff out of here, they've been in our attic since '77 …" and his wife says, "Yeah, but most of it's smut. I didn't really want the neighbors to see them." So for $25 Allie scores posters from every exploitation film shown on the drive-in circuit in North Carolina in the '70s. 

Some people are just magic. I've studied Allie's technique — it doesn't really vary from mine, is in fact way more random. Rationally speaking, our score ratio should be about even. But he leaves me in the dust.

I went to the Goodwill on Patton a couple weeks ago. The big one, the Super Will-Mart, the one where you can actually park. And I look around a bit, cruise through the store, peer in the back room, and conclude the place is bare. So I take off. This is around noon. I didn't feel like hitting any other thrifts, so I go home.

Around 2:30, Allie calls me up — "You won't believe what I just got at the Goodwill!" He walked in just as they were putting out boxes of records — remainders from a radio station untouched since 1968. The records were bizarre unknown psych promos, uncirculated soul, garage bands begging to be played on the radio with personal letters from members who would eventually go on to front important and still touring '70s combos. "Oh yeah, and the lady charged me wrong – they were supposed to be 50 cents each but I got 'em for four for $1. You'd better get over there, I couldn't even get it all, you'll probably find some worthwhile stuff."

I hop in the car hightail it to the Goodwill on Tunnel Road — Tunnel is nearer to Allie's house, Patton nearer to mine, and I assume that they're at the Tunnel Goodwill. After all, I had just been to the Patton one — they couldn't be there. But when I get to the Tunnel store there is not squat to be had. Same old junk.

I call Allie back up. He wasn't saying they were at the Tunnel Goodwill. They were at the Patton one.

Later I will reconstruct the timeline, and it goes something like this:  At 12:15 p.m., I leave the Goodwill.  At 12:30 p.m., one of the donation trucks comes in with a huge pile of records in it. They immediately load them onto wire racks and wheel them out onto the floor. Around 1:15 p.m., Allie walks in, just as they wheel out the wire racks. He spends the next hour plowing through the boxes, picking cherries.

This is magic. I don't know what else to call it.

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