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  • Aaron Carruth

Fake Silver and a Real Diner

Updated: Aug 19

“You can sit anywhere you like.”


Anywhere we like.


I see.


The table to our left was plastic, its top scorched and sprinkled with black bits, betraying an early career as one of those containers that catch the drippings from a barbeque. A terribly unkempt barbeque. Perhaps mine.


To our right, a glass top table turned crime scene. I took a deep pull from a fake cigar, tilting my head to examine the evidence. From what I could tell, two raccoons had some kind of altercation over a meat lover’s pizza. Tempers flared, saliva-stained meat was flung. One made a dash for the nearest tree, its claws slashing through the yellowed cushions covering the metal chairs. The other stayed to finish most of the meal. He left a small swirl of excrement and three quarters of a cigarette at the foot of the table, before vanishing into a nearby park.


I took a step back and turned to Bronwyn.


“We don’t have to eat here.”


“It’ll be fine,” she said.


It was anything but.


The extra scraps remained at our table through the menu delivery and drink order stage. My father would’ve made some joke here. “Something to eat while we wait.” It was a joke he often used when I had food on my face or clothing, which happens more than I’d care to admit.


Our waitress set our coffees down. I moved mine from a small blob of tomato sauce (I hope) and dabbed it with a sugar packet.


“Do you think I could have a cloth to wipe this table down?”


Bronwyn’s tone was warm and apologetic. The waitress didn’t roll her eyes, but I swear I could sense a thin layer of resentment.


She returned with a J-cloth.


Have you ever used a J-cloth past it’s best before date? I have.


They start life blue, clear as the sky and full of promise. Lithe and agile. With every wipe, squeeze, and shake, they lose a bit of their colour. Stray crumbs embed themselves in the fabric with every failed rinse. They linger, heavily scented and blotched, resting in a pile of their own filth. More white than blue, now. Unrecognizable.


This was such a J-cloth.


I bit my lip so’s not to scream.


Our waitress swirled the germs and meaty bits around the table. She employed the wipe and flick. Smearing the rotten rag over two-thirds of the table before violently hurling the scraps over the edge. Bronwyn proved tougher than me. She barely flinched as unruly specks flew past her hair. Before leaving, our waitress shared a look (with tilted hips) that could only be understood as: HAPPY NOW?


I looked at Bronwyn, then down at a rather large morsel of bacon crumble resting directly in front her, and burst out laughing. She stood up and relocated to the opposite side of the table in silence.


If this entry is being read posthumously, it was because of this next moment.


I was deep in thought, trying to convince myself that the sludge I was drinking could be mistaken for coffee. I let my guard down. Just once. That was all it took.


Our waitress returned with two forks and knives, no napkins. No buffer. The clang of my cutlery, bare on the oily glass skin of the table, startled me. No. God, no. Not like this.


She had placed my fork and knife, the tools meant for my mouth, against the streaked film of a table soiled by a virus-soaked cloth. My time had come. Death was nigh.


Bronwyn, ever-smarter than me (with better reflexes, too), extended her hands, intercepting her fork and knife before either could be contaminated. Her eyes locked with mine and smirked.


It’s hard to believe that just hours before, we were smiling and singing the chorus to “Take Me Home”, eyes intermittently closing.


------------------------------


I eased the RAV up to the edge of the driveway.


“How does this work?”


“What do you mean?” I asked.


“Do we just look at the stuff from here?”


“What? From the car? Have you ever been to a yard sale before?” [1]


[1] Or read my blog? My book?


“I don’t know. COVID.”


“That’s fair. No, we get out of the car and look around, masks on. Social distancing,” I said, gesturing with a wave of my hand that meant yada, yada, yada.


A woman in a light green sweater warned us that she wasn’t fully unpacked. Then she took a stab at being a first ballot inductee into the yard sale hall of fame.


“This… is the first chair ever made.”


I raised my head slightly and said “Oh,” nodding gently afterwards, to imply that’s nice, but there’s no way I believe that. Not at all.


Bronwyn was sweeter. “It’s incredible,” she said, gently touching the armrest.


It was an early example of a hydraulic chair, though it was unlikely that it was the first of its kind. It certainly wasn’t the first chair. As hardworking as they must’ve been, I’m guessing the ancient Egyptians sat down occasionally. I could be wrong, but I think I remember them building more complicated things than the chair, too. I’m sure they sorted that one out.

“Everything here is an antique,” our host declared (to no one in particular). “I’m only asking exactly what I paid for everything. They’re all great deals.”


How many lies are we meant to hear today?


Unofficial rule to profitable yard saling: You can’t worry about what someone has paid for an item. At the risk of sounding unduly harsh, that’s their problem. Some markets rise and some crash. If someone paid a lot for their collectibles, that doesn’t mean they’re worth that much. It simply means you might have difficulty buying something from them.


I tugged at Bronwyn’s red sun-dress and pointed at the base of a ceramic figurine. She furrowed her brow, squinting at the manufacturer’s date: 1985.


Uh oh.


Someone I know was born in 1985.


And she wouldn’t describe herself as an antique.


Our host was treading on wafer-thin ice.


The first few tables were covered with items priced above anything I might consider paying. These kinds of yard sales have become increasingly common. Someone dives head first into the shallow end of the antique pool, without someone like my father to tease them into something resembling competence, and they drown. This sale was the first attempt to recoup a series of losses.


“Aaron! Come over here!”


I giggled to myself and slowly made my way to Bronwyn’s side.


“Hey,” I whispered, “you don’t have to yell. Quit using your teacher voice.”


Unofficial rule to profitable yard saling: If you’re working with a partner and one of you finds something great, don’t use your teacher voice to call for their attention. You’ll only alert the entire sale and risk having your find poached. You’d think that fellow yard-salers would be more scrupulous than this, but yard-saling is a war. All’s fair. I’ve seen things “get real” on the driveways of Ontario.


Bronwyn was examining a set of cutlery. If it was sterling silver, it was worth more than its forty-dollar price tag. At the risk of sounding too much like my father, it didn’t feel like sterling silver. It didn’t have the look, either. It was most likely silver plate. Assessing the value of silver plate is more personal than anything. If the set holds any kind of sentimental value, great, you should keep it. If you want to make money, though, avoid it. It’s not worth anything.


Google machines (cell phones) have made identifying silver much easier. Flip a fork over, look at the hallmarks (symbols), and type them into a search engine. You’ll quickly learn if something is sterling, silver plate, or something in between. If you don’t own a phone or want to seem more professional, remember the following:


The Good


1) Think: The “A Team”. Animals (lions) and anchors. If you see one of the members of the A Team, you could be looking at sterling silver.

2) Sometimes they make it easy and put the word STERLING on every piece. One word of caution, literally: INLAID. If the piece says STERLING INLAID, it’s silver plate. The scumbags who made STERLING INLAID wanted you to believe you were using sterling silver. They never saw this blog coming.

3) The number 925. 925 is code for sterling silver. It’s a commentary on the item’s silver purity (92.5%). That’s what we’re looking for.

4) COIN. The word “COIN” is used for silver that is 80% pure. It's most commonly found in - wait for it - coins. Old coins like silver dollars.


The Bad


1) Nickel Silver or EPNS (Electro Plated Nickel Silver). Imagine a particular alloy (nickel, zinc, and copper) put on a skin-tight suit made of silver and then called themselves silver. That’s EPNS.

2) Avoid silver that is paired with the name of a place: YUKON, VENETIAN, GERMAN, MEXICAN (and so on). It’s something called white metal and it contains NO SILVER. Once again, false advertising FTW.

3) Anything with the word PLATE in it. Treble plate, silver plate, sterling plate, (insert random hotel name) plate. Nice and easy. Also, worthless.

4) Silver Soldered. Imagine you joined pieces of silver plate together, like Voltron, and then you thought Hmmm, if we say soldered instead of plate, maybe people will think our stuff is better than it really is.


------------------------------


The flatware we were looking at was marked “IS” and “1847”. I didn’t know what either meant. I wondered if 1847 was the year it was manufactured. It seemed early, but who knows.


Bronwyn hovered over the set, staring into space, her mask covering what I imagined to be pursed lips, searching the files of her brain for something. She broke the silence with an impressive memory flex. “It’s International Silver! They were the company that bought Rogers Bros. 1847 is the year they started making sets. It’s not real silver.”


What the…


How?


Bronwyn clarified her Beautiful Mind moment later that day.


“I helped your dad sort through some silver one time. He told me a story about the Rogers Bros.”


Wait.


All told, I’ve lived with my parents for more than twenty-five years. [2] I’ve helped my father sort a billion pieces of silver and heard a kazillion stories. Bronwyn listened to one story, remembered it, and then used it to avoid an ill-fated purchase? Eeeeeeeasy, Slumdog Millionaire. While Bronwyn performed a mental gymnastics routine, I stood beside her, mouth-breathing, pretending to think, while I contemplated switching my coffee for hers (I knew she had only had like three sips and mine was nearly empty). Not my finest hour.


[2] Don’t do the math. It doesn’t check out. Or maybe it does, depending on your opinion of me.


------------------------------


We searched the sale a bit longer, I flipped through some artwork. There were numbered prints, hand-signed in pencil. The subject matter wasn’t anything especially noteworthy. I didn’t recognize the artist, which was saying just north of nothing. All the prints were priced uncomfortably high for me. They weren’t unfair numbers per se, most hovered around fifty dollars, but nothing that made for an easy buy.


Our host did little to hide her disappointment when I emerged from the garage empty handed. “You couldn’t find anything?”


She turned to the only other customer at the sale, someone I’d heard mention they ran an antique shop out of a mall, and asked what he thought of her prices.


“Optimistic,” he said.


He had found the kindest, most succinct way of saying: Your prices are inflated and I doubt you’ll sell a thing.


His word only served to frustrate her further.


“Well,” she said, squaring her shoulders to me, “I’ve almost got the one dollar table ready. Maybe you’ll find something more to your tastes there.”


Burn. Third degree.


The joke’s on you, madame, I LOVE one dollar tables. But, I don’t like your attitude. Bronwyn, we are leaving, I thought, in my loudest teacher voice.


------------------------------


We had enjoyed three full rotations of No Jacket Required without a hint of success. “It’s okay,” I said, “Phil’s a late bloomer. The luck takes time to percolate.”


Bronwyn nodded along with a look that said: Sounds good. I mean, that’s total nonsense. But, sounds good.


“MOM! I just made a dollar!” A young boy wearing a bike helmet raced towards his mother with a loonie clenched in his fist.


“That’s great,” she said, smiling. “Keep saving and you’ll have that new bike in no time.”


The boy grinned wide and leaped in the air. The jump was, to borrow a phrase from Bronwyn, cuteness overload.


From stray pieces of conversation, I learned that most of the items for sale were once owned by this family’s grandmother, who had recently passed away. It explained why such a young family had this much old stuff. It also meant that I wasn’t going to haggle. The notion that I could try and gouge a family who had recently lost someone and was trying to manage their estate, was not something I was comfortable doing.


We bought a chair, part of a tea set, some pyrex dishes, and a painting.

The only item I wasn’t in love with was the chair, but Bronwyn insisted it was fantastic. Bronwyn is the kind of person who exclusively speaks in superlatives. She is impossibly positive, too. A friend’s dress is never nice. It’s life-changing. Mind-blowing. Earth-shattering.


“These are the best pancakes I’ve ever had.” – Bronwyn, after every pancake she’s ever eaten.


“I’ll never forget that” – Bronwyn, once when I made the bed without being asked.


When trouble stirs, she’s got equally strong opinions.


“This is the worst.” – Bronwyn, when anything goes wrong.


Her parents suffer from a similar affliction. It’s very endearing and always makes me smile. It’s the perfect contrast to the throat-slitting sarcasm of the Carruth household.


“Fine, we can buy the fantastic chair but you have to take credit for it,” I said.


“Deal!” she said, squeezing my shoulder, her eyes smiling fiercely.


------------------------------


We sang and drove and sang some more. During our fifth playthrough, Bronwyn broke.


“I’m not listening to this song anymore. He just keeps saying the same thing again and again.”


“It’s alright.”


“It’s the worst.”


The song in question, “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore?”, was immediately skipped. The irony of the name and the moment were not lost on me.


“Do we need to score big… like really big, to get something to eat?” she asked.


“No, no,” I insisted, we eat whenever we want. [3]


[3] It’s why I never make as much money as my father. That, and the lack of any real expertise part. That hurts, too.


------------------------------


Our waitress returned with our meals.


I asked for my bacon to be overcooked. Burnt, even. Somewhere in my idiot brain, I thought that if they roasted my food, fewer parasites might survive. I considered the three flimsy strips laying in front of me. One bite and I was certain to hear a squeal.


Bronwyn’s club sandwich looked passable. I noticed a streak near the edge of her plate. A smattering of nuclear orange… something. A flash of artisanal inspiration? Perhaps a puree smear. One can dream.


Bronwyn studied her sandwich with concern. She peeled two slices of processed cheese from either piece of Wonder Bread. “Why did they cut this into rectangles?”


“Pardon?”


“My sandwich is cut into rectangles,” she repeated. “I’ve never seen that before.”


I chuckled (internally). Okay, Lady Windermere.


“You’ll need a mask if you want to come into the restaurant.”


I looked up at our waitress and nodded.


A mask? Judging from the state of the patio, I’d need a fucking hazmat suit.


I pushed through the door, instinctively holding my breath, eyes blurred, like I was fumbling my way into the Upside Down.


Remember the raccoons? The ones that quarrelled over a meat-lover’s pizza? They didn’t escape to a nearby park. They didn’t even escape to the dumpster out back.


No.


This was their base.


This was home.


The smell burrowed through my mask in nanoseconds, a perverse mixture of grease and rodent. The counter was decorated with a splatter of ketchup. Apparently, the raccoons were Jackson Pollock fans.


I caught a glimpse of the chef. A joyless man, sweating through his shirt and apron, mask resting under his chin. Welcome to my bubble, I thought. It’s a real party in here.


I looked down at the debit machine.


I had a mind to contact every news outlet in the country. To write a scathing Facebook post. To leave the most damning Yelp review. To blog every inch of detail. To tweet like no one else had tweeted.

But, I’m not a monster.


Twenty percent.


It’s the least I could do.

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