Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ten Cents on the Dollar

Hurricane Ike’s winds swirled up dust, floated crumpled papers through the near empty parking lot. Saturday’s flea market was about shut down, tables covered with tarps, people throwing junk they couldn’t sell into the dumpster, other treasures reloaded into the trunks of sway-backed cars.

I was standing at camo-man’s table. We were discussing bicycle parts, what they were worth, is there going to be a market for them. Gasoline being five dollars a gallon.

An old man, hunched over with his arms wrapped around a ‘squirrel cage’ fan unit shuffled up to the table. He eased the unit down, put his hand on top of it.

“See you got yourself one of them.” pointed at the older unit that camo-man was using to keep himself and his wife cool in the sweltering heat.

“Yep, lot better than some box fan. What you want for it?”

“Like to get $25 dollars, it cost a lot more…brand new…lookit them wires, ain’t never been hooked up.”

Camo-man is looking the unit over. It’s as clean as the day it came off the factory line. “What voltage is it?”

“She’s 220, that’s why I can’t use her. Cost too much to put 220 in the house. Man wants $150 just to hook it up.”

Camo-man nodded, “Yep, mine’s 110, use it anywhere. Don’t really need it, but I might be able to use it for my wood-burning stove. You take ten for it?”

The old man shook his head, he was anxious. The unit probably cost at least $150 dollars new. I’ve had to work on more than one of them myself. The old man looks at me, “You interested?”

I shook my head, “We’ve got about eight of them on a shelf down in the barn.”

His eyes were full of doubt, “Yeah…?”

“My old man remodels houses, keeps everything. I’ve got rid of all the old heating units, took ‘em to the scrap yard in the past year, kept the fans. Almost always they’re still good. Never know when you might need one.” He nods, knowing that I’m out of the game.

Turning to camo-man, “You think you can go twenty on her?”

Camo-man looks over at his wife, she’s not committing or commenting, poker face. This is her man’s deal, she can berate him in private. He shakes his head, “I’ll give you ten for it, know it’s worth more, but I’ve got to be able to turn around and sell it if I can’t use it.”

The old man looks down, shakes his head, “How about a TV, got a nice one, over in the car. Take $45 for it and throw in this here fan.”

“Naw, we’ve just about stopped watching TV. Nothing to see on it.”

The old man looks over at me.

I lean up against a metal support pole, shaking my head, “Stopped watching TV four years ago, gave my set away to a neighbor about three months ago.”

The clouds are closing up, blocking the light, shadows meld into a gray pall over the market.

Camo-man looks the old man in the eye, “I’ll tell you what, give you fifteen for it, but that’s all I can go.”

The old man looks defeated. He knows he’s dealing with his last chance. It might be the only money he makes today. He studies the table, then looks up, “OK, I’ll take it.”

Camo-man pulls out his book of a wallet, drawing out the tattered bills. He hands them across the table to the old man. Camo-man’s wife, behind him, looks with disgust at his back.

I clap Camo-man on the shoulder, “Catch you later, need to get back to the farm.”

He nods, “See you next week?”

“Yeah, tomorrow’s gonna be nothing but rain. I’ll get those bike parts together for you. Take it easy.”

I trudge over to my beat-up old truck. Slide behind the wheel.

Ten cents on the dollar. Is that all things are worth?

It could be worse.

We could all be using hand fans again.

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