Take Me Home
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Saturday, July 25th
I work part time for an agency that supports families and at-risk youth. A few times a month, I’m saddled with an overnight supervision shift. The shift starts at 11:30 pm and goes until to 7:30 am. And, it almost always kills me. If you’re going to be alert for the eight hours that you’ve traditionally reserved for sleep, common sense would dictate that you should rest before a shift like this begins.
I can’t do that.
Zeke McCall would cry foul. After all, can’t should never be in a man’s vocabulary. But, I’m a very particular sleeper. I need a paper-thin pillow, some white noise (preferably a ceiling fan), and complete darkness. I can only sleep on my back – casket style. I need my feet poking out from the covers (which must be light). I need my family to be present in the house, but they can’t be anywhere near me. I need my space. This is a no canoodling zone.
So, every time I’m on nights, it’s a coffee-riddled war of attrition. There are many rules, but the first is that I can’t fall asleep. I need to be ready. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.  I know which hours I can spend reading and writing and which need to be spent pacing or cleaning. There’s a breaking point during each watch. Mine tends to happen around six. It’s then I start to question the life choices that brought me to this. I get very moody. Broody, even. You might be reading this and think “this is a touch dramatic, people work nights their entire lives,” and I would agree, adding that those people are a lot tougher than me.
 I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. Facts.
I checked my phone. It was just after six. My witching hour. Instead of getting into the mulch-mobile (which, by the way, now smells of banana, after I failed to locate a peel that I suspect Ellia and Bobby stowed between their car seats), I was researching ways to expand my Instagram following. None of the strategies seemed particularly enticing. One suggested that I add videos to my feed. I’ve never contributed much to social media, but I have consumed it at an embarrassing rate. Sounds easy enough, I thought, I’ll give that a go.
When a night shift ends, I drive home – windows down – music cranked – and proceed directly to the guest room in our basement to sleep for a handful of hours. This was my plan. As I started the Caravan, I wondered for a moment… what if I yard-saled for just a bit? Another cup of coffee – some detours on the way home – and maybe I could make a few bucks. I called my mother to share the news. Every time I work a night, she worries. I make a habit of calling her when I return from one, so she knows I’ve made it home safely. I tried explaining my plan to her, but I was a manic mess. My thoughts were bouncing around and I was sharing them as they popped in and out. I sounded like I had just taken speed. Not that I actually know what taking speed looks or sounds like. My experience with methamphetamines is limited to the episode of Fresh Prince where Carlton accidentally takes a bunch of it and overdoses. The scene where Will admits the pills came from his locker always gets me. Thinking back, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had a bunch of incredible, emotional moments.
Let’s take a five second pause to acknowledge the three most emotional scenes in FP history
3) Carlton overdoses on Will’s speed
2) Carlton buys a gun after Will takes a bullet for him at an atm
1) How come he don’t want me, man? (If you know, you know).
I realized that I was making no sense and that my mother was likely panicking at the thought of me driving around in a frenetic state. I promised that I’d only explore for an hour or so and that I’d call and check-in if the plans changed again. I hung up and opened my camera. Selfie-mode made me acutely aware of just how tired I looked. I tried a thirty second blurb – just a “good morning” and an explanation of my current state. I rambled. I stuttered. The words just wouldn’t cooperate with me. I watched a series of takes and noticed little things, like how frequently I touch my face when I’m recording. It felt forced, incoherent, and something my students would describe as “cringey”. I gave up trying after twelve takes.
I have an out, though. I hadn’t slept in twenty-six(ish) hours. I’ll give it a second chance sometime down the road. Consider me humbled for now.
The first (and only viable) sale I found had thousands of dollars’ worth of table saws, equipment, and tools lining both sides of the driveway. They were all maintained in nearly immaculate condition. The man overseeing the sale had friendly bespectacled eyes and a thick accent. I think it was German, though I’ve got no ear for that sort of thing. I asked him if he’d had many customers and he told me that I was the first – today. This is important for two reasons. First, I’m getting much better at talking to people at yard sales. Talking is imperative if you want to make real money. And, although I can’t seem to shut up as a teacher, coach, friend, parent, or spouse, yard sales have proven to be a bit of a curve ball for me. I spent most of last summer standing behind or beside my mother, preferring that she speak for both of us – kind of like a kid who gets his mum to order his chicken tenders and chocolate milk for him.
A very strange and unexpected benefit to writing a novel about our adventures is that I retroactively made peace (mostly) with my insecurities about chatting with strangers. I’m not one hundred percent “cured”, but my anxiety has lessened considerably.
And, second, the man said “today”, which I inferred meant that he had hosted a sale before. I probed to confirm my suspicion and he told me that he had a sale for the past two Saturdays AND, he had done this for thirteen years. I found this oddly specific. I often have trouble remembering how old I am.
Unofficial rule to profitable yard-saling: Avoid repeat offenders.
The idea that this guy would have valuable possessions sitting on his driveway for more than a decade was highly unlikely. I browsed anyway. We continued to chat long after I recognized that the sale was devoid of items to profit from. There were only two choices available to me. Leave, or ask if I could look inside. Exchanging pleasantries at a yard sale is one thing, asking for permission to browse through a person’s house is quite another. It’s probably the most critical strategy used by my father: gain access to places people haven’t been. Few people are willing to go that far. It’s not just the discomfort with socializing, it’s that the pressure shifts to the buyer. Without a price tag, I’m forced to evaluate people’s possessions – the ones they deemed too valuable to sell at a yard sale. The chances you can offend someone are very real. I don’t like that. I’m just not confident enough in my abilities at this point. And yet, I asked anyway. That’s how I found myself standing in the at-home bar of my host, while he explained the different beers he had on tap. That’s when I noticed the sign.
There’s a long history of racism in advertising. Some marketing campaigns are more overtly inappropriate than others. I don’t want to give a platform to the company, instead, I’ll just say that their slogan, name, and imagery were all deeply offensive. Sadly, this kind of item is often collectible. It didn’t matter, though. There was no way I was going to purchase and attempt to profit from blatant racism. I asked the man where he got the sign and if it was new. Like his tools, it was in immaculate condition – which made me suspicious of its origin. Signs are often reproduced and made to look old, however, I couldn’t fathom someone trying to sell this in a post Jim Crow North America. It has to be vintage, I thought.
Nope, it turns out that I could find the sign on Amazon – although it was out of stock (for how long, I can’t be sure). It always baffles me how people can own these kinds of things and not see anything wrong it.
I peaked in a few boxes stacked with tankards, old plaques, and picture frames. I found a tray of old dinky cars and trucks and told him I was interested. He asked me what I thought they were worth and I answered honestly.
“I don’t know.”
“What would you give me?” he asked.
I had zero interest in making an offer. Dinky Cars can be worth a lot of money, but like most things in this business, collectors are extremely picky. The right ones are worth hundreds. The wrong ones are worth less than ten. I had no clue which group these belonged in and I didn’t know how much money he had originally invested in them. I parried his inquiry with a question of my own.
“What would make you happy?”
It’s a bit of a nonsensical reply, but it forces him to name a price or awkwardly pass the ball back to me.
“How bout ten dollars?” It worked.
I nodded in silence. “I can do ten.”
My kids were camping with my inlaws, so I managed to bring the cars into my office in secret.
Nearly ten minutes after their arrival I heard Bobby screech "OH MY GOSH," followed by the fevered scamper of two sets of tiny limbs. "MOMMY! Daddy got us cars!" Condition is critical to maintaining value.
Pray for me.
Sunday, July 26th
A lot of people my age complain that hangovers linger for two, sometimes three days. I’ll go a step further. I get hangovers without a single drop of alcohol. It’s not that hard, really. Just drink five coffees, a coke zero, eat a sandwich, and sleep for three hours or less (and be thirty-six or so). You’ll have a hangover.  It was in this self-imposed state of blech that I journeyed to the Lakefield Flea Market. If I had to use one word to describe how I felt when I stepped out of the RAV it would be regret.
 Shout-out to the science nerds who are screaming “that’s because a hangover is basically dehydration”.
The scene felt very post-apocalyptic. No one was smiling. People were milling about in slow motion. They looked lost (and dehydrated). The heat was oppressive – the air thick enough to chew. Scorched grass crunched beneath my flip flops. Flies buzzed over the pending carcasses. I was still a distance away, but the tables looked to be smothered in garbage. I paused to scold myself. Quit being so cynical, I thought. Just then I heard a dealer say these exact words:
“Look at all these people. What are they? Seventy? EIGHTY? They all look like their legs are about to give way. If the body’s gone, then so’s the brain. I mean, what’s the f-n point, really? These are our f-n customers.”
I turned my head to look for the culprit of such a bleak sentiment. Our eyes met.
Mine said: Damn.
His said: Sorry, not sorry.
Welp. This man had cornered the market on cynicism. By comparison, I was a beacon of hope.
Just one booth over, I noticed an older gentleman had fallen asleep on a metal folding chair. He didn’t employ the classic dad/granddad move of crossing his arms and allowing his chin to sink to his chest. No, this was a sprawl. Mouth agape, arms contorted and fixed at odd angles. He looked like a kid pretending to be asleep. Though his state lacked a certain dignity, I almost admired his ability to just shut’er down in the middle of a boiling field. His breathing was shallow enough that a less discerning person might wonder if he was still alive.
Maybe Captain Bring Down’s assessment of the fray wasn’t that far off.
I studied a table of books and found this.
It was published in 1967, which meant I couldn’t use it as a reference guide per se. There have been many different boom and bust periods in the antique world over the past fifty years – with today’s market leaning far closer to bust. I wasn’t going to use it as a pricing guide, though. Prices in these kinds of books tend to be inflated – even from the most astute appraisers. But, for two dollars, I’m sure there was plenty to learn from it. Only seconds after I purchased it, I became instantly self-conscious. The optics weren’t ideal. There I was, walking around an antique flea market holding a book called KNOW YOUR ANTIQUES, a definitive declaration that I, in fact, did NOT know my antiques (which was closer to the truth than I care to admit).
I was wrong in my assessment. The market wasn’t filled with garbage. There were strange things, like a display case filled with pasta and rice-based Sidekicks (Garlic Alfredo Fettucine ftw), a rusted baby mobile with airplanes piloted by clowns (in case you wanted your child to start having nightmares before their first birthday), and a pencil case filled with odd lidless markers and paperclips. I found a table with a patch of masking tape labeled “TROPHIES”, which I thought was unnecessary, until I saw this. The inscription reads W.N.L. 85-86.
I don’t know if I want to know what the winner had to do to receive this.
The rest was, as my father would say, “just stuff.” Not bad. Not great. Just stuff. Everything was worth more than nothing, but priced in such a way that there wasn’t a hope of turning a profit.
Once I realized this, I knew the chances of me finding something were greatly reduced. I committed to eavesdropping, people-watching, and scratching my own collecting itches.
Only seconds after entering a barn, I was pinned behind a family trying to purchase an old carnival gambling wheel. Pandemic protocol frowns on gently easing through people’s bubbles, so I pretended to care about a display case filled with Hummel figurines while negotiations continued. It took some time, but eventually one of the group wrestled the wheel outside the barn and allowed me to pass. After they left, another dealer shouted over “Everything sells if you just wait long enough, eh pal!”
The man frowned, punching his hands into his pockets. “I should have never bought that.”
My guess is that he owned it for a while. And, he likely sold it for less than he paid. That seems to be happening a lot these days.
I browsed a minute longer before stopping to consider the music. I couldn’t figure out what I was listening to. I walked closer to the source, and realized why I was having so much trouble. Neighbouring booths were engaging in what I assume was some kind of passive aggressive music competition. One was playing a selection of easy-listening from the fifties. The other was playing stadium country. Both men sat in chairs and stared straight at different stretches of bare wall, refusing to acknowledge customers. Their radios were merging to create something you’d expect to be played during an interrogation session at Guantanamo Bay. I toyed with asking one of them if the animosity was real – and if the easy-country torture chamber mash-up was worth it, but ultimately I chickened out. It was funny enough in my head.
The next two sections of the barn were filled with charming bits of nostalgia. There were comics, action figures, sports cards and memorabilia, video games, pins, and Lego. I have to be careful with places like this, or I’ll end up spending a bunch of money on things that I don’t need. I’m weird with possessions. There are stretches where I’ll collect different things and then one day I’ll wake up and I’ll be filled with a deep urgency to purge myself of that collection (and many other things). I like knick-knacks, but only until I don’t. I can’t explain it. I bought two pins for a total of five dollars, one for a friend and one for me. Someone behind the counter, perhaps the dealer’s partner, noticed I bought the pins. “Did he just buy something?” she whispered, struggling to suppress her surprise.
“Yep. Two pins.”
“Good for you,” she said. They both smiled. It was kinda sweet.
Just then, a woman approached a dealer beside me and offered to sell him some of her art.
“People around here, I mean, there’s not really a market for art. At least, not for art that might cost hundreds of dollars. If you know what I’m saying.”
He was searching for a polite way to say I’ll buy your art, but I can’t pay you good money for it.
“Oh, that’s totally fine,” she said.
I guess it worked.
“I’ve got so much art. I have oil paintings, Inuit carvings, and keychains.”
I came across a booth with a least a hundred cds. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, Seal’s self-titled 1994 album had served as an incredible good luck charm for my mother and I. We enjoyed almost a full summer’s worth of fortune to his house-flavoured pop ballads. The right thing to do was retire him as the first ballot hall-of-famer that he was. I decided that today was the day I found nominations for his replacement. The rules are simple and absurd. Once an album has been greenlit as a potential good luck charm, my mother and I (or just me) listen to it while we search for antiques, on repeat, without the ability to skip songs. If we make a lot of money or we have a lot of fun, it follows that the record was THE reason why. It’s obviously lucky, and so, we continue to re-listen until it stops working. My rules for nominating records are equally nonsensical. I can’t own any albums from that artist, nor can my parents. It should be someone popular, but not someone that I’m a particular fan of or know much about (at least, not yet – Seal had managed to win me over in a BIG way).
I scanned every single name, hopeful one would speak to me like Seal once did. No such luck. The aisle past me was narrow and I was acutely aware of how uncomfortable my browsing was making people forced to negotiate a path past me. I was careful to press myself closely against the table, offering as wide a berth as possible. I had idled long enough to draw the attention of the woman who managed the booth. She informed me that the albums were two for five dollars. I took a final pass, and ended grabbing two discs.
The official nominations for 2020’s yard-saling good luck charm are Celine Dion’s The Colour of My Love and Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required.
The first Saturday I went garage saling, I found The Colour of My Love, but balked at purchasing it (for reasons I’ll address shortly). From that point on, I’ve seen the album every single Saturday – multiple times – without fail. I suppose when you sell more than 1.5 million copies nationwide, evidence of such proliferation is easy to find. Celine has been the single constant of my summer. Gaze set afar – slightly frowning – bare legs crossed.
It feels meant to be. Except, I’m afraid she’ll prove lucky. At the risk of being accused of tampering with the vote, I’ll admit that I drove home listening to the first minute or so of every song on the album and I had a very physical reaction. I’m aware this sounds borderline anti-Canadian, but I don’t know if I can handle her voice. I know that, objectively speaking, she is mega-talented. The woman can sing. I know that. Please don’t hate me if you’re a super fan. But… *sighs* I just don’t know if I can do it. I mean, I will. If that’s what the people want. There’s just a slight chance I’ll lose my mind.
Then there’s Phil. I was raised by parents that made fun of Genesis (and, by extension, Phil Collins). I’m not entirely certain why he was the subject of mockery. My parents both have extremely rigid musical opinions. These opinions rarely address elements of the actual music, rather, they seem preoccupied with a binary assignment of artists as cool or uncool. What saves this type of thinking from being insufferable is that their definition of cool and uncool is very personal. It’s not about a band’s success, social clout, substance, or style. It’s also not a genre-based algorithm. My father champions The Psychedelic Furs, Van Halen, Neil Young, and Sade. Ask him about the pillars from his day, legends like Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones and he shrugs. My mother’s the same, but with a different cast of musicians. They shared a small plot of common ground on certain bands they derided as lame, and Genesis was one of them. Their opinions haven’t changed one bit.
I visited my parents after the flea market and my mother caught a glimpse of No Jacket Required and immediately said “I’m not listening to Phil Collins. No. Not doing it.” Personally, I have always enjoyed Phil Collins from afar. I don’t think I’ve ever put one of his songs on a mixtape, cd, or playlist, but I know the words to at least ten of his songs. That’s gotta mean something.
As for which charm we’ll experiment with first, I leave it in your capable hands. Comment on Instagram or on the blog in favour of Celine or Phil. The artist with the most votes will get their shot this Saturday. You know what needs to be done.