Saturday, September 30, 2006

What do Richard Nixon and silky pineapples have in common, you ask?

What do these 2 items have in common, you ask? They are both fabulous finds I got at garage sales this morning, yes, indeedy!

This past week, the weather has taken a dive and it's been in the 40s when we get into the car in the morning. The leaves are JUST starting to turn orange, so I determined that this period would probably be that fleeting period known as "Autumn" which, around here, should more aptly be called "That one week at the end of the muggy/rainy summer when the sun shines and the air is crisp, just before Binghamton slides into 6 months of darkness and stinging cold."

That was my wake up call that we must be nearing the end of my other favorite season: Garage Sale Season! Damn, I mean Yard Sale Season (Not too many garages out here, but LOTS of yard, you see)

Last night, I staked out my plan of attack by perusing the local newspaper and plotting the route of the 3 closest sales that are also in better areas of town. Lucky for me, all within a few blocks of our house. You know they are going to be good when they start at 8:00 am and use their precious little advertising space to warn "No Early Birds!" And believe me, they are serious about that, as you will see . . .

I sprung awake at 7:00 am this morning, just like when I was a little kid and couldn't drag myself out of bed for school yet miraculously popped awake early for Saturday morning cartoons. The smell of "bargain" hung heavy and low in the air on this sunny, chilly morning, you betcha.

I arrived at the first sale at about 8:10 and I'm not exaggerating when I say that there were already 25 people there in the back yard, poking through 30 years worth of other people's junk. I first noticed the vintage 1981 "Diana, Princess of Wales" set of books, and the "Christmas 1980" paperweight, and thought it was going to be a bust, but no, my friend, the true bargain hunter can see through the junk and keenly spot the gems.

Which leads me to the photos above. OK, I lied: I bought the silky pineapple pillow at a garage sale 2 weeks ago. It made me laugh so hard when I saw it, with its stupid floppy green crown and faux elegance, that I shelled out the $2 (it was marked for $3) and brought it home to John. I fully expected him to prohibit me from all future garage sale-ing, but instead, he laughed even harded than I did and now we have this stupid pineapple perched on the trunk at the foot of our bed, like it's a pet or something, and we both crack up every time we see it. PLUS it has the added bonus of actually matching nicely with our "newborn" colored yellowy walls. $2 well spent if you ask me. It's truly a "gift that keeps on giving" . . .

The Nixon image is from 1 of a half-dozen vintage Time and Newsweek magazines I bought, all from 1973 and all covering the Watergate scandal. That was such a historic period in our history and we really didn't learn much about it in school. Plus, the magazines are exactly contemporaneous with our recently-acquired cache of vintage Playboys, which we are still working through slowly and hysterically, so we are really going to be immersed in that era. It will be so interesting to see how the two publications write about the same issues and play off of each other.

I'm hoping that, as the weather gets colder and the residential garage sales dry up, the ol' Church and Fraternal Club circuit will kick in with their holiday "craft fairs" (or "crap fairs" as some husbands call them) and I can indulge my need for poking through mounds of junky/smelly/chipped/worn stuff while simultaneously picking up a few hand-crocheted doilies. You can NEVER have enough of THOSE!!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How sorry ARE you, Senator?

When we were in Albany last week, we were struck by the offering of balloons at the flower shop in the retail area underneath the state legislature's complex of office buildings. There were TWO balloons that read "I'm sorry." How sorry do you really have to be to go the extent of not only sending flowers, but proclaiming your contrition in mylar and floating it in the air for all to see (my research indicates they can stay afloat for up to 14 days)?? VERY sorry, we concluded.

Having worked in politics, though, it was readily apparent to me why they would have a wide variety of "I'm sorry" gear- this flower shop is catering to politicians! Many of the politicians I've had to work with would do well to keep a stock of "I'm sorry" paraphernalia on-hand, because, with the virtual 100% rate of infidelity among state legislators, there's got to be a LOT of groveling to the wife that goes on.

On a related note, I had looked into possibly staying at a city club in Albany that has reciprocity with our Binghamton Club, but has overnight accomodations available. When I called to ask about the rooms, they told me that they were more like dorm rooms, with a single bed and shared bathroom. The woman told me that they were geared to visiting legislators, who would be travelling alone. Literally the first thought I had was, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard- where would the visiting politicians put their HOOKER?" Ahh, 33 years old and already so cynical . . . or is it "wise"?

Putting the Porn Back in Garage Sales

Garage sales in Binghamton are serious business. (I should probably call them "yard sales" since yards are in far greater supply than garages in our area full of 100-year old homes.) In the summer months, there are literally hundreds listed in the local paper. Whole streets will get organized and have a block-long yardsale. We just got "Craig's List" in the area a couple months ago and it definitely has not caught on yet, so the locals still firmly subscribe to the old "put your unwanted crap on the lawn and hopefully someone will pay you money AND take it away" school of thought. We love that many times the ad will say something like "9-4 pm, NO EARLY BIRDS." Apparently, eager bargain hunters aren't afraid to knock on the door in the wee hours of the morn.

Anyway, this morning, I was reading the paper and found a couple of "good" listings- that is, the addresses indicated that they probably had big houses attached and therefore better quality junk than the average, middle-class garage sale junk.

John was not especially pleased about my desire to go out and spend money and other people's junk. "Don't we already have enough of our own junk?" he pleaded. No. Absolutely not. You can NEVER have enough junk. And now we have a whole basement waiting to be filled with stuff we'll never use, so I was off . . .

The first sale had a unique attention-getting gimmick: to catch the eye of passers-by, they had strapped a stuffed Santa Claus to the telephone pole (see photo above). The result was disturbing: Santa looked like a flaccid Jesus impaled on the pole. Definitely not good marketing. Inside, the bad-marketing continued. At one point I was inspecting some piece of what-not and the man-of-the-house said, "If you decide you don't like it, you can always sell it at YOUR yard sale!" Yeah, not a good sales tactic. But I did end up buying the totally ridiculous silky pineapple pillow, and any houseguests will see it on the guest bed.

A couple of sales later, I came upon the holy grail of yard sale finds: an entire box full of vintage 1960s and 1970s Playboy magazines. John and I had just watched a biography of Hugh Hefner from which we were interested to learn that Playboy was really a world-class literary magazine in its earlier decades and that virtually every important writer of the last half of the 20th century (Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, Ian Flemming, Gore Vidal, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.) had published in it. It is also had some of the most cutting-edge and historic interviews- particularly ones with politicians like Jimmy Carter.

Needless to say, this had piqued my interest in vintage Playboy and I shamelessly bought 7 from the collection ("Do you want a bag for that?" the guy asked me. "Yes!" When I arrived home this morning, I came in with an armload of yard sale loot. Just when John was giving me a disapproving look, I proudly proclaimed, "I brought back PORN!"

What a good wife am I? I went to yard sales and came back with Playboys? I think I just earned myself carte blanche to scour garage sales for at least the next ten years, since this was the kind of treasured find that keeps people addicted to the hunt.

We started reading them right away and, between the sweet vintage '70s ads for things like below-the-belt "masculine deodorant spray" and stovepipe-cut Broomsticks brand polyester trousers, we were hooked. We went back and bought the rest of the box, and are now the proud owners of 2 dozen of the greatest publications ever. The articles, discussion forum and letters to the editor are fabulous- all about the equal rights movement, abortion, homosexuality, the Vietnam war. I was shocked by how many "Letters to the Editor" were submitted by rabbis and ministers.

Another funny thing struck me: was it really worth it to this guy to have all his neighbors pouring over his porno collection for the $15 he got for it? Pretty bad judgment on his part, I think. But I guess he didn't want to throw them away, and he couldn't exactly donate them to the library or the church rummage sale!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Albany: Governor Rockefeller's "edifice complex"

This 3-day weekend we decided to take a little trip to our new state's capital: Albany. Sounds like a boring, dead-on-the-weekends, bureacrats' town, I know, but nerds like us were lured by the politics, architecture and history of the place. It did not disappoint!

The most breathtaking part of the whole weekend was coming into the city at night- the skyline is incredible, thanks to the efforts of Governor Nelson Rockefeller (Gov from 1959-1973). Apparently, good ol' Nelson pretty much spent his tenure as Governor working on a massive building campaign that, among other things, resulted in the State University of New York increasing its enrollment 10-fold (with scads of new campuses and buildings to match).

His crowning achievement, at least in the way of building, was the Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, which you see pictured above. The Empire State Plaza is adjacent to- and stands in stark contrast to- the outrageously ornate and expensive (a cost of $25 million was spent over 3 decades before NY Gov. Theodore Roosevelt "declared" the building finished in 1899, without the dome ever being built!) state capitol building, which is worthy of a trip to Albany all by itself.

Rockefeller Plaza is really remarkable, though. Here is the recipe:

1. Wipe yourself a new urban canvas: In true 1960s "urban renewal" form, he started by wiping out almost 100 acres of "blight" (today we would more likely call the area "historic neighborhoods full of quaint but probably a bit shabby brownstones"); then

2. Take your sweet time: Undaunted by the highly controversial way in which the existing residents and property owners were unceremoniously displaced (we have MANY laws against this type of manuever these days), the Plaza took 13 years to build (1965-1978); then

3. Pick the most offensive style of architecture available: Although the Plaza is defensible today, with almost 40-years of perspective, its style - described as "International Power Style of the '50s"- was certainly not widely embraced in its day. Let's be frank, it looks like a 1960s-era medical office building on steroids: all sharp angles, cold colors (black & white) and materials (marble), and huge modern art installations; finally

4. Make sure it costs an unimaginable amount to build: $1.7 billion when all was said and done. 'Nuff said.

The first thing that came into my mind when I saw Rockefeller's pet project was "edifice complex" followed by "he must have been REALLY short!"