Junker’s Blues: The Insides and Outsides of Smiley’s

It's been a while since we've done a Smiley's Flea Market update. While an ordinary citizen could effectively sum up the current state of Smiley's by saying, "It's still there," we here at Junker's Blues remain so obsessed with the place that you lucky readers are going to get a two-part column about my latest visit.

It's peak junk season: People are throwing their stuff in their yards and begging for it to be taken away. An Asheville junker has all he can handle just driving around trying to make sense of the tangle of yard sale signs on the telephone poles. If I want my Smiley's fix I have to get out there very early, so I can get back to town and hit a bunch of yard sales while there's plenty of a.m. left. Which means I'm wandering the rows of Smiley's outdoor tables in an under-caffeinated, zombified haze that only seems to get murkier as the years go by.

On the last few Saturdays, this internal grogginess has been mirrored by a series of misty, foggy, cloudy mornings that have kept the market from maximum dealer capacity. I feel personally persecuted by lousy Saturday morning weather – some nebulous force is preventing me from getting my junk on. I imagine this is the exact opposite of a "normal" person's take on how a Saturday should go.

If it's raining on a Saturday morning I think to myself, "Why couldn't it wait until the afternoon?" And if the afternoon turns beautiful, and normal people are outdoors, playing, hiking and having fun, I'll grumble to myself that it would have been a much better day if the weather had started out great and then turned rotten.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was wandering the rows, groggily grumbling over the number of blank tables, watching the early-morning dew warping the boxes of expired, past-date snack cakes, when, in the third row, I came across a batch of what seemed to be fresh records. I smiled at the woman behind the table and started to dig in.

"There's lots more inside," she said to me. "My husband and I just opened a new booth indoors and the back room is filled with records – there's at least a dozen boxes."

This moderately good news gave a slim Saturday a little potential. While I remain baffled by any business model for a Smiley's interior booth that focuses on something other than Mexican food or famous donuts, I am glad to skim the cream from the top, the bottom line being none of my business. 

But instead of perking me up, this information just needled my tired brain. Going through all the stuff outside before setting foot inside is a cardinal rule of Smiley's shopping.

But outside was looking grim, and anyone looking through these boxes would be alerted to the new booth. I was probably ahead of the pack, but was I far enough ahead to see everything outdoors and plow through all the boxes indoors before other diggers arrived? Sure, the records on the outside table were lousy, but all that meant was that the guy didn't know how to differentiate between good records and bad. In my fuzzy mind these bad records were a good sign. Such is the eternally hopeful thinking of the junker: Bad junk indicates the potential for good junk, rather than evidence of overall badness.

I decided that I'd walk the rest of the outside, rationalizing that it would take me a while to dig through all the stuff in the new booth, and in the meantime, what crumbs might be on the tables outdoors would be gobbled up. 

In the next row I saw another one of the regular Smiley record scroungers coming from the other way, a few records in an Ingles bag in his hand. We nodded our passive-aggressive pleasantries and continued on our opposite paths.

I became even more anxious – if he'd scoured the upper two-thirds but hadn't heard about the new booth, didn't it make sense to ditch the outdoors and go inside? Or did the stuff in his bag mean that there were records out there and going indoors now would mean I'd miss out on something in the first few rows? And just what were those records in his bag, anyway?

It was an awful lot for a guy with a half of cup of coffee in him to handle at 7:30 in the morning. I stuck to my guns, though, and walked (OK, jogged) the rest of the outdoor tables before heading inside, and was moderately rewarded for my decision. I got a few OK titles, including one I'd had my eyes halfway open for, a copy of Mott the Hoople's notoriously operatic follow-up to their classic glam album Mott, titled, naturally, The Hoople.

Then I headed inside, sure that some of my fellow regulars would be in there already, piles of old Blue Note and Prestige jazz records stacked to the rafters, claimed and selling for a buck a throw, making my little bisquits of classic rock worthless by comparison?

Taking a deep breath, I rounded the corner to where the new booth was, located it, and saw, to my relief, that it was empty of other foragers. I exchanged pleasantries and congratulations with the new booth owner, stepped inside and started to dig.

Tune in next time for Junker's Blues, in which we witness the phenomenon of a dealing frenzy and get a fairly serious headache.

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