Buoyed by the success of last summer’s Project Table, I’ve been looking around for another little occupational therapy task for this summer. I check the classifieds daily for just the right diamond in the rough. I’m looking for something old, neglected and without lots of pain-in-the-ass scrollwork or other detail that will drive me crazy when I’m trying to strip/stain/varnish it. If it’s something I can use when it’s all done, so much the better, but something to sell would be OK, too. It has to be cheap. It has to have a certain nay-say-quaw, as those Frenchies say.
In other words, I’m looking for a low, wide bookcase, unless I’m not. I’ll know it when I see it.
One of the great tragedies of the impending death of the American newspaper is the loss of yet another source of accidental stories. All the effort goes into Page One, but the rest of the paper is full of nuggety goodness, too, with the added attraction of not being all laid out and packaged for you; you get the thrill of connecting the dots yourself. Yesterday the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press made Romenesko for speaking aloud this heresy: Readers buy papers for the ads, too. Well, duh.
For this reason, I’ve always loved the classifieds. Classifieds are super-short stories told in 10 words or less: Wedding dress, size 16, never worn. Make offer. Or: Moving out of state, must sell misc. furniture. Bedroom, living room, kitchen. Traveling light, all must go. When I was stuck for column ideas, I’d turn to the classifieds to get the juices flowing. Sometimes I’d be close to tears. I’d keep thinking about that size-16 wedding dress, NWT.
Now the classifieds are online, on Craigslist. People selling something inexpensive don’t want to spend much on the ad for it. Twice a day I check the furniture-for-sale listings. I have to check it twice because it’s so active, and if you fall behind you’ll miss something. You’ll be relieved to know that even without the self-imposed brevity that goes with paying by the word, the free Craigslist classifieds are as rich with narrative drama as the ink-on-paper kind. Everyone’s moving out of state, it seems. Everyone’s downsizing. Everyone’s liquidating a business, divorcing or otherwise re-ordering their lives. And there’s still stunning waste in the corporate world. Two Le Corbusier black leather chairs for sale, with this note: They were used for one day (one day!!) on stage at an executive conference for one of the car companies. We’re not using them again, so….here they are.
Other cultural notes to be gleaned: If you have an armoire-style entertainment center you’re ready to part with, take it out in the back yard and bust it up for firewood, because you’re not going to get a dime for it in this market. The new entertainment center is long, low and buffet-style, the better to show off your plasma-screen, my dear, and everyone’s trying to get rid of the old one. My father (who sold furniture) always said you should spend your money on wood, not upholstery, because the latter declined in value faster; I think of him whenever I see some poor shlub expecting to get six bills for a double-reclining La-Z-Boy sofa (“from a pet-free, non-smoking home”). Also, this: Whoever came up with the idea of the bed with bookcase headboard, recessed lighting and Luuuuvv Mirror is awaiting a place in the levels of hell reserved for the tacky. Finally, correct spelling is the trigonometry of modern life — no one can do it anymore. I’ve looked at ads for “intertainment centers,” “armwars” and my personal favorite, a pair of “Chip and Dale chairs.”
Haven’t found my bookcase/table/whatever yet. But it’s out there, I just know it. The other day someone was selling two ’40s-style office chairs, in oak, with the added backstory that they were from one of the old Ford factory offices and were given to Dad upon his retirement. See, that’s something you wouldn’t see in a newspaper classified, not when you pay by the word. Just thinking about all the gabardined behinds that sat in those chairs, and the work those people did — designing the Edsel, maybe — is almost impossibly romantic to me. Which is why I always pay too much for stuff like that.
(On the other hand, my sister credits my occasional rewrites of her eBay listings with bringing higher prices. I turned a description of a Heisy glass cocktail shaker with an etched fly-fishing scene into an evocation of the lost era of Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. It sold for nearly $400. [Blows smoke from pistol barrel.])
You will get me on the Grand Canyon Skywalk when you pry my cold, dead fingers from the closest upright land-rooted structure, then quiet the shrieking of my ghost as my corpse is carried onto it. I mean, for someone nervous at heights, this is nightmare material. Good luck with that tourism, Hualapai tribe.
American Idol observation: If LaKisha wanted to cover a James Bond theme sung by another black woman with a big voice like hers — and I can think of no other motivation for choosing Shirley Bassey’s little corner of the British Invasion — why on earth didn’t she pick “Goldfinger”? Yet again, Ken Levine is the go-to funny guy for this:
Interesting that not one contestant chose a Herman’s Hermits song. I just picture Hannibal Phil Stacey singing “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and Mrs. Brown being so terrified she gets a restraining order. …Sanjaya is now just humiliating himself every week. This is like when people dress up their dogs. William Hung was cringing. Please vote him off before Tony Bennett week. I beg of you.
OK, so let’s sign off with an eternal truth: When all else fails, a pretty girl can still move mountains with the right outfit. Particularly if it lacks foundation garments: