Question of the Day: “What can one learn at a flea market?”

Flea markets are the gathering ground of so many castaways. Tables strewn with box-less Barbies in various stages of dress; old cuckoo clocks propped against framed prints; boxes of rusty tools and devices that look more suited for torture than building; empty photo albums sitting splayed open in the sun while stacks of photos sit with people in common poses suited for pictures. It is exhilarating and interesting, and it is always a learning experience. But what can you really take away from immersing yourself in a seemingly endless sea of used (and sometimes new) items?

This morning my BF and I woke up around 6 am to go to a flea market near our home. We love going to markets like this to wade through the aisles. Tables butted up next to parked cars and vans, creating a maze that slinks around and around. It is easy to get lost here. No price is real. Things are not always what they seem, and everyone is always trying to get your attention.

“Here, sweetheart,” a man calls to me when I pause in front of his table of books. I look at him, slightly annoyed at being called “sweetheart” but knowing it sometimes gets me the better deal. “Everything there is ten dollars dollars, but these books over here are five.” I look where he is pointing, but I am not clear on where the divide is. They are all hardcover books and they are also newer titles.

“Okay, thanks,” I answer as I pick the one I had been eyeing. I am pretty sure this is in the ten dollar pile, but I flip open the cover and turn the book around. I am his “sweetheart” after all. “How about this one? Would you take five for this one?”

He eyes me for a second and then shakes his head. “Nah,” he answers as he turns to say something to another customer who just asked him if he had a paperback bin. I put the book down. Sometimes, I’ve learned, if you walk away, they offer you a better price. If it’s the end of the day, this tactic works almost all of the time. They look at your purchase as a way of packing up one fewer thing. I start to walk away. “I’ll do seven,” he says without looking at me. I stop and smile and pick the book back up as I fish in my wallet for the exact amount. I never barter with solid bills. No need to insult someone you just talked down in price by making them make you change.

“Oh, thank you so much, Sir,” I say in return. He nods, but is off in another direction, ready to serve another customer.

Getting bargain books is not my only mission when I am wandering through a flea market. I like to find photographs and objects that I feel held a certain level of sentiment. I can feel the items pull me when I look down at the table and ground. I “feel” through their story with no viable way to know if it is true. Pictures documenting WWII and plates stacked in such a way that I just “know” they were a part of someone’s collection. It is in these moments that I know with no level of uncertainty, that items hold our vibes.

I know! It’s crazy to think, right? It’s like some Stephen King, Needful Things, stuff, but it’s true. Just like people, objects can hang on to your love and devotion to them. They tell me a story of sorts. Nothing concrete, but there is a feeling of sentiment, of love.

I pass by a table with Norman Rockwell plates. They are strewn about the table, but as soon as I pick one up, I can feel the connection. I know there are more. I sift through until I feel complete. There are five total. Someone loved these. Someone collected these. In my mind, I see a shelf with the plates. I see a man boxing them up. I don’t see the person who loved them. I only see what feels like the person who didn’t.

I stack the plates carefully as my BF walks over.

“Find something good?” he asks. I nod and explain about the plates. He looks at me as he always tries to understand my feelings. “Sounds good.”

“I’ll do fifty on the plates,” the woman behind the table says when she sees me gathering them. I look at the plates in my hand. “That’s ten dollars a piece,” she continues when I look up at her.

“Oh,” I answer. “Were they yours?” I know the answer before she even speaks.

“No,” she says. “I get my plates from the main guy who runs this.” I feel her lie, but I am not sure what she is lying about. Either way, it doesn’t sit right. Part of me wants to buy the plates to “save” them from this table, and part of me does not want to give this woman anything for these plates.

“Would you do forty?” I ask. My heart isn’t in it, but as I hold the plates, I feel some connection to a woman. She collected more than just Norman Rockwell ones. She loved these and I am starting to feel through her connection. She collected many, many plates, and they were in her home on the shelves and walls.

“No,” she answers sharply. “Fifty.”

“Where are the others?” I ask. She eyes me suspicioulsy.

“I sold two of those earlier,” she answers. “The Norman Rockwell ones. They are really collectible.” I nod again and feel sad that her collection is broken. I look down at the plate that is on top. A man sits in a dark blue chair and he is about to light a cigar. A small boy sits on the floor, looking up at him, expectantly. An old dog lies next to them. The viewer gets the impression that important knowledge is being divulged. The artist’s ability to convey movement even after the piece of art became a plate is impressive. But at fifty dollars, I am not sure I want to continue. I am not a collector of plates.

In the end, I decide not to buy the plates. I know they were special to someone. I can feel their vibe, but these plates mean little to me. When I googled their value, I found that they were worth less than three dollars a plate. The one I was staring at was known as “The Tycoon.” Though putting the plates down caused me to feel as if I were betraying the collector, I had to put them down anyway.

As we continued to walk through the vast aisle, I continued to questions our collective need to acquire so much stuff. I marveled at the drive inherent in so many to buy and save items. Tables and tables lined with castaway items which may have been so precious to someone now sat waiting for a new owner. A new owner who would apply their own level of love and appreciation, changing the vibe of the piece forever.

As an Empath, I have to remind myself that this buying and selling has little to do with me. Despite our intentions, love is love, and it seems as if our attachment to items can be extremely strong, but it is not my job to save them. It is folly to believe I help anyone by participating in consumerism. This common sense approach still does not stop the guilt I feel even now as I write this. I wonder about the collector and where she may be now. Did she give these up willingly or was there a sale and transaction that collected these plates after she was gone.

I will never know, and for now, I will only wonder.

Love and Light, my fellow consumers!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on