Junker’s Blues

For the last several months I've shared some of my adventures acquiring junk around the Asheville area, but I haven't really talked a whole lot about what I do with it. This is only natural – it's a whole lot more fun to hunt for junk than it is to sell it. Acquisition rocks. Dissemination is really a lot more like work. Work, by and large, is not all that much fun to write or read about, let alone do.

Illustration by Nathanael Roney.

My methods as a seller of junk look a lot like those of the South Park underpants gnomes (whose profits manifest under similar steps). Step 1: Acquire junk. Step 2: ????. Step 3: PROFIT!

Step 2 is actually several steps. I clean the junk for its new life as "goods." I research the junk. I price the junk. Then I have to sharecrop it on eBay or send it to the little junk field I till in the real world, my antique booth.

And finally, when the junk is ready for its last step in its magical journey, I ship that junk. Shipping itself is its own multi-tiered organizational process, involving spreadsheets, labels, specialized packing materials, glued-up scissors, Sharpies, and miles and miles of clear tape.

This is the time of the year when shipping gets crazy. There are some days when I can hardly get out the door, because by the time I finish wrapping a package that just sold, another one will have sold, and I'll have to wrap that, and then another will sell, until I feel like I'm walking the wrong way on a conveyer belt, running to keep pace. This is when the wrapping dreams start.

I also have to remember the little personal notes for shoppers who want us to send items directly to friends. Which means I often have to tell total strangers I love and miss them. And I have to make sure I don't screw up the order. People understand errors in the off-season, but you best not be screwing up around this time of year. If you blow it in June, you can fix it. If you blow it in December, YOU RUIN CHRISTMAS! As a retailer, every year, for over a decade, I have ruined somebody's Christmas. The best one can do is minimize the ruination.

As I write this, I have survived another of those mythical holiday landmarks, the dreaded Cyber-Monday. This is when all of the world apparently goes on-line and shops its collective unconscious out for the exact hearts' desires of their nearest and dearest.

I've always suspected Cyber-Monday was a creation of a secret cabal of Amazon, eBay and Google – a symbolic kick-off point to let people know that they need to be getting their December shop on. But there's no denying that if you have a certain number of goods in an online arena for the last week of November and the first two weeks of December, you're going to be making some extra trips to the post office.

I usually hit the post office a couple of times a week, but this time of year I go up to four, so I see an awful lot of people with an awful lot of Christmas packages. And you know how folks like to refer to New Year's Eve as amateur night for drinking? December is Amateur Month at the post office. And most people need a designated shipper.

I get to stand in line watching customers with all sorts of packages in various states of unwrap and ill prepare grouchily berate a long-suffering postal staff who try to soldier them through the scary process of making sure their baked goods arrive to their nieces by Christmas Eve. And I try to keep my head down to duck the dirty looks of the folks standing behind me, glaring at my 20 or 30 boxes and envelopes. Readers, trust your post office people – they want your packages to get there safe and sound so they don't have to listen to you gripe. (But do beware of the upsell)

It all reminds me of an inspiring Christmas story, narrated by the late, great Soupy Sales. It's called Elbo Elf, the Package Master of Christmas. Elbo is a low budget, junky version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Born with four arms, he's a terrible toy maker, all thumbs and imprecision, and he's ostracized by the Elf community for his ineptitude. But one un-Unionized Xmas Eve, when the foreman elf neglects to assign anyelf the job of package wrapper, Elbo is able to save Christmas by wrapping all the gifts in one night. So this year, remember to send a little mental cheer to all the little Elbos across the world who wrap their fingers to the bone so everyone can get their stockings stuffed with Christmas junk. 

And remember, no matter how shiny and new it might be on Christmas, it's all going to be junk someday.

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