When I was growing up, while other kids decided to be doctors, firemen or sports stars, I chose a different career path. At three years old, I’d tell any grownup who would listen that I was going to be a paleontologist. I was going to spend my life digging up dinosaur bones. I guess I was just born to dig, because now I’m a junker.
A junker? Yes. Thrift-store troller. Yard-sale roller. Flea-market hopper. E-bay sharecropper. I purchase second-hand goods and resell them for mortage money. This is not an easy career. There’s no business model. The junker is dependent on the winds of whim. Chance. Timing. And perseverance. I spend much of my week digging through stuff other people no longer want. I’ve crawled into crawlspaces, battled giant spider webs in basements, twisted my body into back-killing, cirque-du-salacious shapes, smelled the foul leavings of household pets and washed the dust of ages from my frayed fingers, all in pursuit of lost treasure. I’ve warred against other junkers for a tasty looking box, bin or shopping cart, and watched people cry as I took away some part of their past for profit. I am a junker, and shame is not an option.
But don’t take from my self-deprecation that I’m unhappy doing it. I am never happier than when I’m digging, searching for the score. My mind focuses. I go into a kind of trance. It’s free-market meditation.
And also know that I am not purely mercenary. My house is filled with junk—second hand furniture, books, records, sock monkeys, clothes. I like to make a buck, but I’d just as soon cop for myself. Junking may be one of my income streams, but only because it was in my bloodstream first.
I see secondhand shopping as a different way of being in the modern world—one where I don’t have to run my debit card through a grey plastic machine in some giant overlit church of commerce while chatting on my cell phone. It’s one-on-one, a dollar for a doohickey. If you and I can come to terms, we can make a sale! In a world of $700 billion bailouts and impossible-to-follow finance, this method of doing business has worth beyond its value. As our culture rushes endlessly forward towards economic meltdown, buying yard sale at least combats spiritual poverty.
Junker’s Blues will be a diary of junking—its ins and outs, its whys and wherefores. We’ll go where the goods are—thrift shops, flea markets, antique malls, second-hand shops and yard sales. We’ll go online, read newspaper ads and sift through the stuff left on the side of the road. Sometimes we’ll just pop in quickly, but we’ll also peak into the back room to check out the inner workings. We’ll score and we’ll strike out, we’ll win and we’ll lose, spend, speculate and occasionally splurge.
We’ll also talk to other diggers to see what they’re finding out there. Junk culture is amazingly diverse, and it would be a shame to focus exclusively on my own repetitive adventures and limited interests at the expense of the much larger world of junkistry.
One thing about this column: I’m just the writer, not the “expert.” Just because I’ve been doing this for years doesn’t mean I do it well. In theory, Asheville can support a column like this because part of our city’s essence is in its second-hand shops and how its citizens use them to make their first-person lives. If you have good digging stories, tips for finding fun stuff or a major recent score, go www.mountainx.com and share your thoughts and discoveries. With active participation we can make the life of the thrift culture enthusiast more fun and diverse. Not that I’m expecting you to give your best trade secrets away—I know I won’t be.
With the country’s finances in the dumps there’s no better place to find out what’s going on in the world than in the places where people dump their stuff. As a fellow digger friend of mine says, “As the economy gets worse, the digging gets better.”