WHAT A BARGAIN!

Unfortunately, because we are retired, I am now expected to eagerly accompany my wife on excruciating shopping excursions in the always elusive search for the proverbial nugget that will, ultimately, be found while panning for gold.

But let me tell you, in order to find that nugget you have to sift through a lot of sand.

Now it is common knowledge that there is an extensive list of shopping horrors a grown man can be subjected to; however, nothing delivers as much misery per square foot as an antique store.

My wife literally swoons at the prospect of getting her hands on the very same items that other people couldn’t wait to get rid of – usually with good reason. Why? What is the point? Why do women obsess over buying the discarded junk of total strangers?

Please, trust me on this. I am speaking from personal experience.

I have spent hours on my hands and (sixty-four-year old) knees alongside my wife digging through stacks of broken dishware trying to find a hideous gravy boat painted with little blue cherubs to match the fake china that her great-great-grandma Myrtle brought over in a trunk from Lithuania in 1872.

And I have frequently been coerced into helping my wife in her never-ending search to add to her Aunt Gertie’s unique collection of ceramic moose figurines (Not elk!) – the ones she will only purchase if the tips of the antlers are hand-painted the perfect shade of Spicy Muskmelon. A color that my wife informs me is far rarer and, therefore, incredibly difficult to find. Which means they cost ten times as much as those painted with plain Muskmelon. (Whatever Muskmelon is.)

Simply put, I will never understand my bride’s all-consuming passion for accumulating items that cannot be put to some kind of use.  

Women need to understand that when a man decides to buy something, he wants it to be brand-new. He wants it to be powerful, and he wants it to run on gasoline. That means it must be something expensive that will put them deeply in debt for years struggling to make the monthly payments long after the fun of having it has disappeared. That is a purchase that makes sense to him. Consequently, to her dismay, he will repeat that buying behavior for the duration of their marriage. 

However, the issue is not just the antiques themselves – it’s also where they are found. You don’t shop for this discarded dreck in ultra-modern climate-controlled malls that offer the total shopping experience. No, no. Antiques are exclusively housed in deteriorating buildings that are teetering on the verge of collapse, just waiting to be condemned.

These dilapidated structures feature poor lighting (it’s a real “selling point” that you can’t actually see the deplorable conditions of the “sale” items). They are brimming with enough choking dust and mold to rate a full-scale health alert from the CDC. And, due to the unfortunate absence of air conditioning, the stifling air can lead to profuse sweating, dizziness, rapid pulse, muscle cramps, and general crankiness.

These are conditions that would be vigorously contested in court by the ACLU if they existed in federal prisons.

However, I find it ironic that although these establishments cannot afford air conditioning, they can afford dozens of high-priced security cameras that offer the same level of protection used to guard the gold at Fort Knox. Obviously, ceramic moose theft is a grievous offense that runs rampant through this particular segment of commerce and must be thwarted with state-of-the-art technology.

Now what follows is the absolute truth. (More or less.) My wife once spent an exorbitant amount of our hard-earned money on an expensive hat sitting in a round wooden box.

As my lovely spouse was leading me through the narrow aisles of a particularly dark and dingy dungeon feasting her eyes on the towers of treasures stacked haphazardly from the floor to the ceiling, (how do these businesses ever take inventory?) her gaze fell upon the exquisite hat. She nearly fainted from excitement when she saw it, and without hesitating, she snatched up the box before anyone else could lay claim to it, even though we were the only customers in the place.

The woman behind the counter, who it seemed to me was overly eager to get her hands on our money, complimented my wife on her refined taste. My bride blushed with pride. After all, she knows a good deal when she sees one.

We walked out the door with her clutching her prized possession, and I headed for the car. But for some reason, my wife took off in the opposite direction. I turned around just in time to see her reach into the wooden box, pull out the exquisite hat and drop it in a trash can.

I was absolutely stunned. I marched over to her and demanded an answer. “What did you do that for?!! You just spent a fortune on that hat!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” She scoffed. And then, unable to control her giddiness, she declared, “I didn’t want the hideous hat. I just adore round boxes!” As she looked with rapture at the now empty wooden container, she exclaimed, “It called out to me, and I just had to answer!!”

And I was the one being accused of being ridiculous.

But as unusual as that purchase was, it was quickly surpassed when, in an irrational moment that was impossible for me to comprehend, my wife, without any deliberation at all – and certainly without consulting me – impulsively spent good money for a 100-year-old wooden chicken coop covered with petrified chicken you know what. “That makes it authentic!”

It was authentic all right. Just try to guess which one of us got to clean it up.

The store owner had craftily stacked the chicken coops by the cash register because they are obviously an impulse buy.

It turned out that my bride wanted this delightful keepsake so she could showcase a ceramic chicken collection. (You can’t make this stuff up.) 

But what about my shopping habits, you ask. Good question. I am not ashamed to admit that I have, on occasion, been known to make a purchase or two while “antiquing” against my will. In fact, on one memorable trip not so long ago, I picked up three different, dare I say, breath-taking items.

My shopping spree started when I bought a genuine stuffed alligator head. Other than the missing eye and the fact that some kid had scrawled his name across it with a permanent marker (thanks Todd) it was a specimen that would make any taxidermist beam with pride.

I also couldn’t resist the hours of fun that I knew I would have by purchasing a large ceramic rattlesnake, that, at first glance, made you jump straight up and spew an uncontrolled stream of bad words. (If you’re going to pay up for something ceramic, a snake beats chickens and a moose any day of the week.)

And, finally, who among us could resist a full size, stunningly life-like plastic human skull which was actually a cool bank. Of course, once I got it home, I wanted to hide the fact that it was a bank, so, I cleverly covered the coin slot on the top of the skull with a large band-aid.

Obviously, you see the point I’m trying to make. I buy useful stuff that has a purpose. Stuff that is worth any price. Needless to say, I am a discriminating shopper who has a sharp eye for real value. But, on the other hand, my wife will buy just about anything……

However, it turns out that antique stores are not the only places where people are willing to pay for items of dubious value. Each spring our lives are turned upside down by the weekend call of the garage sale.

My wife’s side of the family has given her a well-deserved nickname. She is known with great affection as “The Scrounger”. She wears the name proudly as a badge of honor, and I must admit that it is appropriate and well deserved.

For example, my wife once dragged home a table that was missing a leg. This piece of…… furniture…… would not have made decent kindling for a fire. “But it was such a bargain, I couldn’t resist!”

And once she scrounges up something, my spouse transforms into a fierce negotiator. Take it from someone who has lost every discussion, debate, and disagreement we’ve ever had in our marriage. I’ve watched her haggle over $0.25 as if it was $1000.00.  

My wife is like a Pitbull. She is relentless when she’s on the attack, and she will not “release” until the seller coughs up the coveted quarter, and my wife savors the sweet taste of victory. That is why, according to her, what she paid for the three-legged table was a steal!

But as much as I dislike going to garage sales, there is one thing that is even worse……and that is having one.

Oh, Dear Lord, give me strength.

My wife’s excitement reaches a fever pitch at the very thought of throwing her own garage sale and showing everyone how it should be properly done. “The Smiths just piled their junk in the driveway. Can you believe that?! They didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and I bet they didn’t make diddley-squat!”

Obviously, to throw a garage sale, you first have to clean out the garage. However, that is not as easy as it sounds because that is where you’ve been storing all the crap you now want to sell. All the stuff that my wife once thought she couldn’t live without is the same stuff she can’t wait to get rid of. 

So, we spend weeks getting ready for something that will last for a few hours. I pull a muscle in my back dragging great-great-grandma Myrtle’s trunk into position and consequently walk crooked for days. But, finally, all of the “merchandise” (as my wife cheerfully calls it) is properly displayed.

Next comes the fun of watching my spouse agonize over pricing each individual item to make sure she rings every possible penny out of her inventory. “Hey, I’m not just giving this stuff away! If something is marked $0.35, I’m not taking $0.30!”

This goes on for hours, and it becomes obvious that if she sells everything in the garage, she’ll make $21.45 for three weeks work. However, I suspect I’ll be boxing up most of it at the end of the day, in a futile effort to be able to pull one of the cars into the garage.

Finally, my wife is convinced that she has priced everything in such a way that she will make a veritable fortune the next day.

Later that evening, my beloved spouse declares in a tone of voice that leaves no room for compromise, “We will open promptly at 6:00 am!”

I’m thinking, you’ve got to be kidding!? But she is as serious as a heart attack.

The next morning the alarm goes off at 5:00 am. I take a shower and start making some strong coffee that I will need to survive the impending debacle. As I’m standing in the kitchen, I suddenly hear my wife moving a table out in the garage, which is strange because I thought we had everything ready. I quickly take an aspirin for my still aching back and then step through the door to join her. 

What I encounter is beyond belief. I stand in stunned silence because it is so horrifying that the dictionary has no words to describe it.

My wife, the mother of our child, my soulmate for life has set up one more table and right in the middle of it I see my stuffed alligator head, ceramic rattlesnake and human skull bank FOR SALE!!

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