Junk, Ready to Buy

Richard Key

During a recent vacation, we found ourselves at an antique mall in North Augusta, South Carolina, that occupies the shell of an abandoned K-Mart building on the Jefferson Davis highway. In order to spare them any poor publicity, I won't use the real name. I'll refer to it as the Liverside Antique Mall. The way we found ourselves there was my wife saw something about it in a visitor's guide and was curious. For the record, there is nothing in our wedding vows about agreeing to satisfy each other's curiosity.

The Liverside Mall doesn't project a favorable impression from the highway. I doubt that it looks all that inviting from space. To the untrained eye, it appears haunted. I can't say what it looks like to the trained eye, but about the only way the place could look any seedier is if it were on an episode of The Walking Dead. It's surrounded by a chain-link fence that may someday come in handy to keep the zombies out if it comes down to that. The cars in the lot are parked helter-skelter, and the asphalt looks like it's been pelted by asteroids for centuries. The automatic doors don't work. You have to actually grasp the door handle and pull to enter. That's when you know you're not at Nordstrom.

With 103,000 square feet of space, they boast of over 200 booths. The actual number doesn't matter, especially if you've been sent here in the afterlife for bad things you've done. There will be plenty of time to explore. There's also a small café and a barbershop, in case you develop a hankering for a corndog while you browse or need to have your bangs trimmed.

Signs warn that security cameras are in use, which got me to thinking. The only thing worse than being trapped in an antique mall is being trapped in a small windowless room full of video monitors watching people shop for antiques. It would be like observing dung beetles on a heap of, well, you know.

Liverside mall has the expected antique store merchandise: Charles Chips canisters, Southern Living cookbook annuals, ancient Coke memorabilia, broken-down pianos, old sewing machines, and vinyl records. Someone was selling glass chandelier baubles as "crystals" for three-and-a-half dollars each. There's an optimist. An Army surplus booth had all the camouflage you could ever want plus stacks of MRE's—meals ready to eat. At least, they used to be ready to eat, like those antique Cokes were once ready to drink. Now they're just dusty curiosities with who-knows-what inside.

There are books for sale. A paperback edition of The Mole People was three dollars, which I thought was two ninety-nine too much. There was a hardback large print copy of Tom Brokaw's memoir of growing up in South Dakota—again overpriced. One booth, surprisingly, contained stacks of mattresses for sale. Wouldn't an antique mall be nearly the last place one would choose to purchase a mattress? Barely above an outfit selling items recovered from a sunken cruise ship?

Antiques—and here we're using the broad sense of the term to include memorabilia, outdated curiosities, and stuff that was as common as pine needles when you were a kid—appeal to certain types, chiefly the type that hunts for bargains. The bargain hunter is usually female and doesn't mind spending all day Saturday sorting through mountains of gravel to find the one pearl. The bargain hunter doesn't care how many games are on television that are not being watched. The bargain hunter is focused on one thing—finding that hidden jewel. A single good find will light up the bargain-hunters amygdala, flooding her nervous system with dopamine and keeping her addiction fed for days until it fades away as things like that inevitably do. She will tell others of her good fortune for a while, and then the memory and all the positive feelings associated with it will dissolve into nothingness.

My wife is a bargain-hunter, which is a double-edged sword. Yes, bargains are good. But why pay anything for something you don't need in the first place, or didn't even know about before sifting through someone else's rejects. Her aunt in Fairbanks loved to hunt for bargains at garage sales. We went with Aunt Mae once, and she found a five-dollar chair that was in mint condition. It was a simple desk chair with a pristine leather cushion, lovely curved wooden legs, and sturdy back. No arms. She didn't actually need a chair, so this five-dollar bargain sat next to a wall just inside the living room, waiting for someone to stub their toe on it. But Aunt Mae was over the top to have picked up such a good deal. I asked her a couple of years later how her five-dollar chair was holding up, and she didn't know what I was talking about. It was like asking a cocaine addict if he still felt a buzz from that snort, back in 2012.

These broad-sense antiques are generally less expensive than antiques used in the narrow sense to refer to fine furniture from recognizable past epochs in design, like a Louis the fourteenth vanity or a colonial American four-poster bed. The narrow sense antiques appeal more to the upper class of genteel interior decorators that have received the green light from their well-heeled customers to spend money wantonly. These genteel types don't just dig through dusty attics for their wares. They travel to England and France and Hong Kong to find treasures that are later shipped back to the US in crates. These genteel types deal only in the finest junque, and wouldn't last two seconds in Liverside Antique Mall. They would collapse from exposure to the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, and dust inhalation.

Despite my contrariness and my stubborn resistance to the forces of commerce, I did find two items for my wish list: an authentic Vietnamese rickshaw and a $425 set of chain mail. The rickshaw is, after all, essentially an early version of the Segway. It just needs a poor person with good legs to power it instead of a lithium-ion battery. And who couldn't use a stylish arrow-proof vest in these troubled times? If I can get the price down to $400, I might be high for days.


About the Author

The author was born in Jacksonville, Florida, but now lives in Alabama, where he works part-time as a pathologist. His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Adelaide Literary Magazine, American Writers Review, Bacopa Literary Review, The Broken Plate, Carbon Culture Review, Crack The Spine Literary Magazine, Edify Fiction, Evening Street Review, Forge Literary Magazine, Hawai'i Pacific Review, HCE Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Penmen Review, STORGY, Streetlight Magazine, THEMA, and The Tusculum Review. His website is: richardkeyauthor.com.