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From Antiques Roadshow to Auction Hunters: The Sad Evolution of Garage Sale Porn [California Seething]

In more prosperous times, we watched Antiques Roadshow.

We sighed an involuntary “awwww” as a dear, sweet old woman from Peoria with pink cheeks and hair like a fluffy white cloud of cotton candy, showed off the sturdy wooden chair that had been in her family for generations with pride and satisfaction like a well-fed grandchild freshly stuffed with warm blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream.

Our hearts went pitter pat as we saw not one but BOTH Keno twins standing tall and erect in their matching black suits gleefully eyeballing the chair, barely able to contain their enthusiasm like a pair of gay cartoon crows at the gym in West Hollywood or inappropriately chipper undertakers with a super-fun celebrity corpse (like that contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race who just dropped dead- what was his name- Savannah something?  Come on, I can’t watch EVERY bad TV show. I DO have a life, you know).

The suspense grew intolerable as the Kenos enthusiastically described every single aspect of the chair when all we wanted them to tell us was how much the damn thing was worth (“look at these terrific glue blocks on the underside of the seat. These are white ash which was not commonly used in Philadelphia between 1763-1790, but was more typical of Baltimore chair makers from 1750- 1780. We know it’s a Philadelphia chair, though, because of the mahogany scrollwork on the cabriole legs, which was typical of Philadelphia makers in the late 1780’s.”)

I DON’T CARE. I DON’T CARE. I DON’T CARE. I DON’T CARE. JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH THE FUCKING CHAIR IS WORTH!

Then, when they had said every single possible thing that a human being could conceivably say about a chair (“Notice that one of the threads used for the upholstery of the seat is dyed with indigo. There were only three chair makers in Philadelphia in the 1780’s who would have had access to indigo”) AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHH JUST TELL ME WHAT IT’S FUCKING FUCKING FUCKING WORTH!!!!!! HOW MUCH? HOW MUCH? HOW MUCH? HOW MUCH? HOW MUCH? TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hyperventilate. Pass out. They finally reveal the value.

Leigh Keno: So, you probably want to know what it’s worth? (YES!!!!!!!!!) Well. At auction. On a good day. With the right bidders. (OH. MY GOD. YOU’RE KILLING ME!!!) This chair could go for Two to Three Hundred Thousand Dollars.

I’m sorry.

What was that?

Did he just say Two to Three Hundred THOUSAND Dollars????

Ho. Lee. Shit.

Ka. Ching.

The dear, sweet old woman is stunned. She is overcome with emotion. Then he asks:

Leigh Keno: Now, would you ever consider selling this chair?

And her voice says: Oh no, it’s a family heirloom. I could never part with it. I’m just going to take it home so that my grandchildren can enjoy it for years to come.

But her eyes say: I’M RICH, BITCH!

And in that moment we know that she’s gonna take her precious little grandchild of a chair down to Sotheby’s and put his fat white ash glue blocks on the auction block so she can get the hell out of Peoria, buy the McMansion of her dreams right outside of Vegas and spend her remaining years hooked up to a slot machine and an oxygen tank. You know, the American dream.

Flash forward a few years. The world has fallen to shit and we’re now watching Pawn Stars.

The dear, sweet old woman from Peoria, Illinois is now a bitter old hag from Parump, Nevada. She traded in her sturdy wooden chair, exquisitely crafted in the Philadelphia style (or was it Baltimore? I seriously wasn’t paying attention) in 1789 for the down payment on a flimsy new house, slapped together in 1998 in the style of an Olive Garden entree, vaguely Italian, tasteless and huge. And, much like an Olive Garden entrée, shortly after it’s consumed the value of the house goes right in the toilet.

So there she is, stuck with this giant mound of cheesy cold pasta for a house that’s worth less than the half eaten chicken marsala leftovers at the back of her Sub-Zero fridge (why is this old woman’s misery making me so hungry? #schadenfreudemunchies)

In need of some quick cash, she comes to the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, home of Pawn Stars whose motto is We Never Close, to sell off another family heirloom – in this case, her father’s portable Remington typewriter from the 20s. Now, I like Vegas as much as the next high functioning alcoholic but any town that can support a 24 hour pawn shop has got to be a little bit evil.

Anyhow, the years have not been kind to her. Her cotton candy cloud of white fluffy hair has been hacked down with a machete and chemically modified into platinum blond straw by an effeminate anorexic Chihuahua in a tight black ribbed t-shirt and skinny jeans who dreams of a world with Diet Oxycontin so he can enjoy his painkiller addiction guilt-free (like my grandmother always said: “a moment of drugged bliss, a lifetime on the hips!” My grandmother was Kate Moss.)  Her sweet voice has been coarsened by the secondhand smoke which she sucks down with her complimentary white Russians while playing the penny slots at Circus Circus.

She stands outside the pawn shop, squinting dead-eyed into the camera under the unblinking Vegas sun and shares her ambitions for the day:

“I came down to the Pawn Shop today to sell my dad’s old portable typewriter. He used to use it back in the 20s and he left it to me when he died. The reason I want to sell it is I don’t really use it anymore and I could use the money to pay some bills. I’d like to get $1000 but the lowest I’ll take is $800.”

Inside the pawn shop, she jacks up the sides of her mouth into a smile and talks about her father’s typewriter with all the enthusiasm she can muster. The men in the store, though, aren’t the Keno twins, they’re the Harrison family: America’s beloved brood of bloated balding blood suckers in black Polos.

She tells her story to jovial, cherubic store owner Rick Harrison who proceeds to bore her to death with everything that HE knows about Remington portable typewriters (which is less than the Keno twins know about chairs, THANK FUCKING GOD) and chortle hoarsely at his own corny jokes. Rick’s son Big Hoss (aka Corey) stands hulking beside Rick like a tattooed monument to smug dissatisfaction. Every inch of Corey’s distended skin is covered in ink except for his face which is plastered with a the kind of pawnbroker’s unimpressed smirk that says:  ”In Philadelphia – it’s worth fifty bucks.” (Oh, 80s comedy references- surely you’re appropriate for every situation. “I am appropriate, and don’t call me Shirley.” – 80’s comedy.) Eventually, Rick runs out of stuff to say and asks:

Rick: So, what are you trying to do today, pawn it or sell it?

Old Woman: I was hoping to sell it.

Rick: Okay, how much were you hoping to get?

Old Woman: One thousand?

Rick: Dollars or Pesos??? (chortle, chortle, chortle)

Old Woman (slightly deflated): Yes

Rick: Yeah. I was thinking more like $50

Old Woman: $50? No…it’s got to be worth more than that. How about $900?

Rick: In perfect condition, one of these goes for about $300. And this one is far from perfect. I’ve got to clean it up, get it framed (frame a typewriter?), pay a guy to sell it and then it’s going to sit for a long time.

Old Woman: How about $800

Rick: I mean, I’ll go $75 and that’s the most I’ll go.

Old Woman: $750? It’s over 80 years old.

Corey: I’ve got rocks in my driveway that are a million years old and I pay a guy to get rid of them.

Rick: I’ll give you $100 and that’s my final offer.

(Pause. Suspenseful music)

Old Woman (fully deflated): OK, $100. I’ll take it.(happy, upbeat, “hurray! we screwed that bitch!” music)

Rick: Great! Corey, write her up.

We rejoin the Old Woman outside the store.

Old Woman: I was hoping to get a lot more out of the typewriter, but I’m walking away with $100 and, I guess that’s okay.

There you have it. 20-fucking-12 in a nutshell. “I guess that’s okay” is the new “I’m rich, bitch!” and the “new normal” is the old “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Eight dollars an hour and no benefits? I’ll never be desperate enough to take a job like that.” In the old days, prisoners were sent to Forced Labor Camps for punishment. Now, the Gulags are inundated with resumes from recent graduates whose MFA in Acting can’t even get them hired at the Siberian Wal*Mart let alone the salt mines. (The Siberian Wal*Mart, BTW, is in Wasilla, AK. PALIN TRIED TO WARN US.)

While this period of unprecedented financial yuckiness has not been kind to most sectors of the economy, it has been a bonanza for the sector of Basic Cable Garage Sale Porn. For those of you that only watch Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead or don’t watch TV at all (aka fucking liars) Basic Cable Garage Sale Porn deals with the buying and selling of really cool stuff which often ends up being insanely valuable by a wacky gang of real life characters, kind of a combination of the Weird Workplace Reality genre and Vicarious Treasure Hunting genre – the unholy love child of Antiques Roadshow and Ice Road Truckers.

Every Basic Cable channel now has their own variation on Garage Sale Porn – the History Channel (which features absolutely no programing with Historical significance) has Pawn Stars, Cajun Pawn Stars and American Pickers, the Arts & Entertainment Network (which features neither programming with Artistic merit nor programming that is particularly Entertaining) has Storage Wars and Storage Wars Texas, and SyFy  (which had to change its name from SciFi because it had so little “Science Fiction” content – much in the way that “E-Z Cheez” has to be spelled with a Z because it has so little real cheese and is surprisingly difficult to operate) has Hollywood Treasure, Haunted Collector and Collection Intervention and Spike TV (which is a channel for guys who like to think they have a Spike between their legs even if it’s just a little twig) has Auction Hunters. There might be a bunch more, but I need to save some room on my DVR for Murder, She WroteQuincy and Dallas. I DO have a life, you know!

So how to explain the appeal of Garage Sale Porn? Well, that’s a tough one. I guess, for me, it combines two of the great Weekend activities: going to Garage Sales and Sitting on My Ass Doing Nothing into one entertainment package.

I mean, let’s keep it real, I could go to a real yard sale anytime I want to. My broke ass neighbors in the Steady Employment Adjacent neighborhood of Palms that I live in have at least one yard sale a week (and by “yard sale” I mean a “Drag Some Shit to the Curb in Front of My Unit and Sell It There Without Even Fucking Asking Like We Live in Some Goddamn Third World Country Sale”) but rifling through their picked-over collection of busted appliances, chipped dishes and torn storybooks isn’t that much fun. It’s more like reviewing the evidence in a domestic abuse trial than searching for hidden treasure. I mean, when you buy your clothes at a thrift store in the first place they don’t exactly maintain their value for the second trip around the Karmic wheel of resale.

I guess that, for a guy like me, whose oldest possessions are a torn purple t-shirt that I got free at a conference 12 years ago and a bottle of cooking sherry that I’ve now moved to five different apartments, it’s fascinating to think that people have such cool, valuable, historically significant stuff crammed into their basements and attics.

Hell, I live in a one bedroom house – I’m just fascinated by the idea that anyone has a basement or an attic in the first place. Plus, the pickers, pawn brokers and other assorted bottom feeders that populate the world of Garage Sale Porn are just too darn loveable to resist. I just want to pinch little Rick Harrison’s chubby little cheeks and wish him all the best as he rips off cat food eating old ladies to pad his pockets (Okay, that’s really more of an Old Man thing. I love that sour old coot! He’s like a Clint Eastwood who cheats at Solitaire instead of publically berating liberal furniture.)

Anyhow, let’s flash forward a few more years. The Old Woman is now dead. Yeah, I know, it’s sad. But, hey, on the bright side, she had a storage unit that she never paid for and now it’s being sold off on Auction Hunters - so that’s awesome! Her sad, tragic, lonesome death and the forgotten remnants she left behind are our potential entertainment bonanza!

The auction hunters: Skinny, excitable antiques dealer Allen Haff and tattooed, gun loving behemoth Ton Jones drive into Henderson, Nevada like Han Solo and Chewbacca in a beat up old bread truck.

Allen: We’ve come to Henderson, which is an upscale suburb just outside Vegas. This town is money, money, money.

Ton (Wookie sound): Gggggggaaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrr

Allen: When people think about Vegas, they usually just think of the Strip, but this place looks more like Beverly Hills.

Ton: Gggggggaaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrr

Allen: With all these fancy homes this close to Vegas, we could find anything today from high end antiques to vintage gaming collectibles.

Ton (nodding excitedly): Gggggggaaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrr

Allen: Vegas, baby!! (Allen high fives Ton. Ton eats a baby)

They arrive at the storage facility. The parking lot is full of unsavory characters with nicknames like “fat Joe” and “Stumpy” – the kind of names an 80 year old man with grey stubble on his chin and food on his undershirt would give to his penis. The young ones are decked out in baseball caps, goatees and sunglasses, the official uniform of the Douchebag Militia. The old timers have the sophisticated good looks of D-Level prospectors on a moonshine bender between gold rushes, complete with scraggly beards the color of pee-soaked concrete and googly Cookie Monster eyes that can look off in two directions at once – so they can screw ya’ comin’ and goin’.

The auctioneer, who is a cross between a used car salesman and a strip-club DJ gets on the mic and reads the rules which are exactly the same as every other set of rules in every other storage container auction ever held since Caveman Zog died suddenly while trying to combine the two great inventions of his era, the Wheel and Fire, into a super-cool entertainment device for kids and there was no one to claim the priceless collection of mastodon bones which he kept stashed in a cave (his children would have gotten it but they burned to death.)

Auctioneer: The sale today is cash only, no cards, no checks, no calls to your mother. Units will be sold as-is. When I open up the unit you’ll have 5 minutes to look – absolutely no touching. Let’s make some money!

He opens up the first unit, the one belonging to the Old Woman. It’s sparse, there’s a mattress and box spring, cheap plywood dresser, some boxes of Christmas lights, an old metal walker with tennis balls on the feet. Allen and Ton walk by shining an enormous flashlight inside.

Allen: Cheap furniture, a couple of boxes. I say we pass.

Auctioneer: Alright- I’m gonna start the bidding at five dollars fivedollarsfivedollarsfivedollarsfivedollarsfivedollarsfivedollarfivedollars

The bidders stand in awkward silence, refusing to make eye contact with the auctioneer lest it be mistaken for interest as though he were a homeless Vietnam vet on the subway loudly asking for money to buy a bus ticket to Philadelphia. Finally, Stumpy bids.

Stumpy: Five dollars

Auctioneer: Five dollars going once. Going twice. Sold for five dollars

Allen: Wow. I don’t know what he saw in that one.

Ton (nodding in agreement): Gggggggaaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrrrrrr  (Ton eats a baby)

The metal shutters come down on the Old Woman’s life as Stumpy puts on his lock. Of course, the joke is on Allen and Ton because her top dresser drawer contains an antique Tiffany broach which is actually worth $15,000. Then again, the joke is really on the Old Woman because if she had known the broach was worth that much she might not have lost all her will to live.

Regardless, Allen and Ton have a pretty good day in Henderson. They spend $350 on two units and find two Confederate swords, a Revolutionary War musket, remote control jet, a collection of 18th Century Spanish Gold Dubloons, Remington portable typewriter, full size MMA training cage, 80s luxury yacht, the apple that hit Isaac Newton in the head (signed, of course) and a particularly good 1789 Baltimore style chair (or was it Philadelphia?) for a total profit of $12,459,283 – you know, just a typical day on the storage locker auction circuit. So, the joke is on all of us who believe there’s any connection at all between “reality TV” and “reality”. Good one, Ha!

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