Took me a while to get my arms around this, until I rethought the premise and then learned about toogles. Sorry if I re-set this to a flea market. It's where I lost my innocence. (994 words)
Million Dollar Flea Market Find
Aristedes Globus called himself a round-tripper. Every Saturday, he would take his daughter-in-law to the flea market in Englishtown, New Jersey, driving up from New Egypt out in the Pine Barrens. There, he would drop Elisa off at 6 a.m. so she could open her tee shirt and sweat shirt business. Elisa would unload her boxes of shirts and the decal press so she could imprint custom sayings, and he would unfold the three tables and tarp, lay out the ready-made shirts she had ironed and make sure she had change for the customers who came from as far away as Manhattan and Brooklyn in search of treasures, or perhaps just some bottles of cosmetics and laundry detergents, or a hat or picture frame.
Ari was a walker, a boardwalk walker, a country road walker, a city street walker. Sometimes he’d go all the way to Philadelphia just so he would walk up Race Street and down Market before getting in his car and driving back on Route 70. He told his son and daughter-in-law it was the reason he was fit and good looking at age 65. They looked askance and told him to be careful.
Ari enjoyed Saturdays, not because he was close to Elisa or because it gave him a purpose living out his retirement as a widower. His sense of destiny lay in taking half an hour to file quickly up and down the dozens of lanes between the tables, the walks named after states. He was looking for what dealers called “smalls.” Little items that moved quickly off the tables. He had a practiced eye that could spot a three-inch-tall Meissen figurine and know it really was Japanese, or a Murano cigarette tin worth twice the asking price now that smoking was socially hazardous.
Once or twice—perhaps as often as three times—he would stop and say, “What're you asking?” and hold up an item. He was a buyer, not a pain-in-the-ass phony negotiator. If the item was two bucks, he paid two bucks. He held the urban hagglers in contempt, the city folk who came down to feel proud they had knocked fifty cents off the locals.
The woman with two folding tables and no sun tent on Connecticut Avenue was the place he stopped most often because she usually had the most interesting finds. Her name, he knew from a business card, was Maureen O’Dowd and she had a shop in Belmar at the shore. Maureen looked to be in her 50s, and even during the heat of the afternoon when he returned to pick up Elisa and drive her back, she smiled if he happened to see her and wave. Her hair was done up in a colorful bandanna, as though it were some African style she affected. Her teeth were a perfect set of small, evenly set ivories and she smiled every time she saw him.
“How much you asking?” He held up an angled piece of wire with a glass jewel at one end.
She shrugged. “A buck. Don’t know what it is, but you can have it for a buck”
“It’s a toogle. Thought you’d know that, since your mother or someone probably had one.”
She blinked and laughed. “Toogle?”
“It’s for a woman to use, to hook onto the table and then hang her purse on it when she sat down in a restaurant. Kept your purse off the floor and out of sight.”
“I didn’t know that. A toogle. You’re not kidding me?”
He shook his head and smiled back. Smiles could be infectious, just like yawns and sneezes. Smiles were cathartic, too. “I have maybe two dozen at home.”
“Jeez, you collect them?”
“Well, not collect exactly. It’s just part of the past that’s disappearing. Like those little four-inch-long pencils or plastic pieces with a ball on the end, little thingies that women used to dial the telephone so they didn't break their fingernails. Guess I have about twenty or thirty. They all have advertising for banks and hardware stores. It was advertising art before refrigerator magnets came into style and celluloid mirrors went out of style.”
“Doesn’t your wife or whatever get kind of crazy with all this stuff?”
“You’re a dealer,” he said. “It’s not about collecting. It’s about something else. Connecting with the world some way.”
“I know. Hey, I see you all the time. My name’s Maureen.” She reached out a hand, something that hadn’t happened to Ari before. A personal connection was taking place, not just a transaction.
“Maureen, I know. I picked up your card once. I’m Ari, and no, there’s no wife.”
“Don’t be,” he said.
“I just said that ’cause I know the feeling. There’s no Mr. O’Dowd either.”
“I drop off my daughter-in-law at her shirt concession and just scout the place every Saturday.”
“Me too. I mean, I’m here because I like all the people. What a parade! It beats sitting behind a counter in my shop.”
“Never know,” Ari said, “I might find that million-dollar item, like the guy who found a Declaration of Independence behind a bad oil painting inside a frame. He wanted the frame, tossed out the picture, and lo and behold....”
“I heard that. Million-dollar treasure in a flea market. Happens all the time.”
“I’ll take the toogle, Maureen.” He reached for his billfold.
She waved her hand. “Take it, Ari.”
She nodded and the smile lit up her face again. “Come see me sometime. I’m in Belmar. Might have some more toogles or pencil dialers tucked away.”
“I might do that. I could do that on Monday. Whattya say about Monday?”
“Monday sounds great. Hey, if I find something there worth a million, I’ll split it with you.”
“You never know what you’re gonna find. You never know in life.”
Ari walked down Connecticut Avenue with a feeling lodged somewhere in the back of his mind that he just might already have found a million dollar treasure.