Junker’s Blues

When you're a junker, it's hard to avoid magical thinking. Success is so dependent on serendipity you start to believe it's not just random. It was, for instance, easy to feel things were "meant to be" when I found, via that magical portal of Facebook, that my friend Rabuck was heading to the Biltmore Square Mall just as I was heading there myself.  We decided to carpool.

Rabuck is, among other things, a junker of no small ability, a yard sale scourge with a bounteous basement. He was on his way to buy advance tickets for a movie that evening. I was going to Hospice Treasures. These are, as far as I know, the only two reasons to ever go to the Biltmore Square Mall.

Illustration by Nathanael Roney

The sunny ride on the uncommonly temperate July afternoon generated its own buzz. I got in this game to goof off at thrift stores with my buddies when other people were being productive. Now my productivity is based around what I get at thrift stores. Clearly I was meant to renew the social aspect of what is, professionally, a solitary pursuit.

Rabuck dropped me off and went to get his tickets. I walked into Hospice Treasures and made a beeline for two plastic tubs full of vinyl LPs. They looked fuller than the last time I'd been in, and were moved up front. Ah-ha – I knew I was supposed to come here today.

As I started to dig, my phone rang. Normally, I don't stop the hunt for phone calls, but I was expecting a visit from the plumber that afternoon. Was, potentially, blowing it off (or at least cutting it close) by hitting a thrift. So I answered it.

It was the plumber, hoping I could I outline a bit more of my situation. I told him my water troubles, digging through the LPs, which weren't as good as I'd hoped. And he began to explain my options.

He explained. And explained. We had a bad connection, so I stopped digging to listen, figuring it'd be over soon. But it wasn't over soon. He talked so long that Rabuck had time to buy his tickets and come back to the thrift store.

And the next thing I know, Rabuck is digging through a box of 45s I'd overlooked on my way the LPs!

Now, albums may be my bread and butter, but 45s are my meat. I also DJ, and for my style, the 45 record is the most perfect song delivery method ever devised. To miss a box of 45s because I was talking to my plumber is a totally bush league. I begged off the plumber, telling him I was about to get in a car wreck.

The 45s were all from the late '50s and early '60s, made by also-ran companies with artists few people have heard of, exactly the kind of thing I like to see in a box of 45s. And since it all looked good, Rabuck, who, as I've said, is no piker, was picking most of it out.

"Did you look through these?" he said, clearly confused that there was so much good stuff left in the box.

I explained about the plumber.

"Oh man, that's too bad. I only started to look through these because I'd figured you'd gone through them already."

I looked through his stack. There was record by a cat named Larry Kingston called "I'm a Flop." I knew how Larry felt.

"That's the problem with two people coming to the same place," Rabuck said. "I know. I've been there."

It's true. Everything's fine as long as there's no goods, but come time to dig it's hard not to feel like the best stuff is in the other guy's box. You're glad your pal has scored, but if you haven't … it's tough.

I tried the best I could, describing the labels I knew something about, cheering a good pull. And I hope I sounded genuine, because I was. Mostly.

When he was about 2/3 of the way through the box, Rabuck stepped back, and said, "Go ahead, I feel bad you haven't been through these, you need to get first shot at some of them."

Now, I had been the one who suggested we come to Hospice Treasures. But, ethically speaking, the box was all Rabuck's. I had missed it – no excuses. That is clearly the law of the junker land.

Be there any man more blessed than he who offers to share his box under such conditions?

Me, I didn't argue. I dived in. And a few of the sweetest cherries were in the back. We ended up buying the whole thing for $15 and splitting the box. All in all, a fun and fortunate venture.

But clearly, what was meant to happen was for me to ponder, and then present to you, the question – "If you were in Rabuck's place, would you have given your friend first shot at the back of the box, would you have gone all the way to the back before you stepped aside, or would you have bought the whole batch for $15 and kept it for yourself?"

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3 thoughts on “Junker’s Blues

  1. Suzie Millions

    Got to say this column is just the most fun!

    I’m a junker for life, and know the ‘whose got dibs?’ dilemma well. Here are a couple of resolutions that have worked for me:

    Joint custody: Road trip junking forces the issue. Years ago on a pecan-pie-tasting trip through Alabama, a girlfriend and I walked into a junk shop together and were both immediately transfixed by a gleaming green resin clock, imbedded with shells and mica and all things sparkly. In complete synchronicity, we looked at each other, then looked at the ground, knowing this was going to be a tough one. We split the cost, tossed a coin to establish who got it first, and made it a ritual to trade the clock off on New Year’s Eve every year. After a few years, she gifted her share to me. I shared a similar joint custody of a VHS tape of “Payday”, the Rip Torn as a troubled country star movie.

    Deference: My friend Marisol and I were New Orleans junking partners for years. Although we were both passionate about our junk, we were able to partner by following a code of deference: the object in dispute should go to whomever had the established, more intense interest in it. I recognized any big-eyed item, cat-related thing, or dead-on 70s object was Marisol’s dibs, and she deferred to me on plastic flowers, retro craft, and bad art. Vintage slips were a problem.

    Joint custody of a box of records would be odd, but fun. If you and Rabuck had had a deference policy in place, records would have been your dibs, and any awesome home furnishings would have been Rabucks (Mr. Rabuck is the king of ridiculously cheaply acquired Mid-Century). Without the pre-agreement in place, Rabuck would have had every right to bogart the box. His solution was kind, and honorable, like Rabuck himself.

    Having a penchant for living with game-show flourish, I propose the following solution for future record spotting dilemmas:
    1 Split the cost of the records in question
    2 Sit facing each other with the records between you
    3 Take turns pulling one record from the stack while maintaining constant eye contact (so there can be no charge of a peek sneaked)
    4 After the records are divvied, leave things as they are for a peaceable, Karmic solution, or invite trouble by making swaps

  2. The Matron Saint of Asheville diggery has spoken.

    Thanks for your insightful ethics-pertise – the game show solution sounds completely reasonable and offers the added benefit of double junker suspense – with the eye contact/blindfold method in place you get luck of the draw added to thrill of the hunt.

    In such a situation I would actually amplify suggestion #4 by establishing beforehand that what each person draws remain undisclosed and said scores just show up in personal/party/DJ rotation at some future date. My primary error in the composition this column was suggesting that there were some “cherries” at the end of the box. This unfortunately lead to Mr. Rabuck all-capsing me on Facebook with the admonition “YOU NEVER TOLD ME THERE WERE CHERRIES!!!!”

    Such a visual (eye?) lashing was a small price to pay for a copy of Little Natalie and the Gifts’ “It’s Uncle Willie”, I suppose, but this is one of those cases where a tactically well placed little white elephant lie (standard softening construction: “I got a few nice things”) would have been better than an out and out (and undeserved) score-strut.

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