Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lost in the Junkhouse: Our Excursion to Cook's Flea Market

For whom is this flea market fun?  Not for lovers, as my female companion and I discovered.  For us it is a place of fear and confusion... Having only spent about 45-minutes at Cook's Flea Market (CFM), I couldn't imagine a more depression inducing place and I will never go back.

Last Saturday, before entering the 155,000 square foot building that houses some 500 booths, I couldn't help but compare it to a state fair.  There were wagons selling all sorts of carnival-esque foods along the grounds.  The building itself, which has seen better days, seems to be an old warehouse.  It seems that this is a "new" location for CFM since across the street there is an abandoned building that still has "Flea Market" above its front doors (we actually thought that this was CFM and that it had went out of business) so can only assume that CFM is actually expanding, though I can't imagine why.  Parked in the main lot were a bunch of motorcycles and some bizarre looking automobiles painted in bright colors with strange logos on them that made me think their drivers either had a sense of humor I didn't get or else were insane.  One car that stuck out was driven by an early twenty something black kid with gold plated teeth that matched the gold rims of the car itself which was painted purple and had on its hood and on its side a picture of Dino from The Flinstones.  It was surreal.  

Once indoors, it is hard not to notice all the neon lights in the front center of market.  Its dissonance reminds one more of a strip club more than say Vegas because of how out of place they seem there, drawing your attention to outdated electronics in a warehouse filled with more things that are outdated.  It seems sad.

The people inside were a curious bunch indeed.  For starters, CFM has to be the wife-beater wearing capital of the world.  Per-capita I am confident there has never been such a high ratio of A-shirts vs. sleeves as inside those doors.  It was close to 1:1.  While there I was unfortunate enough to get stopped by carney-like-vendors twice, I guess I look like an easy mark.  The first person to approach me was a young girl who kept asking me if I was a musician and what band I was in.  She was apparently a rapper and wanted me to buy her CD for $10 which I honestly didn't have, not that I would have bought it if I had, and was under the impression that this... flattery?... would get me in the right mind to throw away money on a genre of music I explained I don't particularly enjoy.  When this didn't work, she informed me that "us musicians have to look out for each other."  Ah, I see.  So after explaining, once again, that I was not in a band or whatever, she kept insisting I was a musician because I, she could tell, appreciated art.  I guess she had a point, but the only music I was interested in making was that of my shoes squeaking as I hightailed it out of the area.  I ended up avoiding the isle she was in for the rest of the excursion.

I wish I could say that the second time I was stopped went more smoothly and made me feel less like an asshole but it did not.  The incident I am about to relate started when we entered a booth selling old video games that were greatly overpriced on systems that are notoriously unreliable.  Immediately upon entry, the kid behind the counter stared at me to the point of it being uncomfortable.  I had learned my lesson before and was avoiding making eye-contact.  The booth was crowded and I hoped that this and my refusal to look up would spare me.  But no, the staring continued, I was doomed.  When I finally looked up, the kid instantly started in like I knew everything about him and had background on the subject he decided to go into detail about.  Never did he mention video games, mind you, his chosen topic was some sort of dirt track racing, telling me things like he did $1000 worth of damage to his car which he bought for only $500 all because he was so used to racing bikes and took the turns like he was on a dirt-bike.  He went on and on about it like I cared about what he was saying and wasn't practically pushing my female companion out of the shop.  What does one do when someone begins a conversation like this? which starts right in the middle of a contextless story that he not only doesn't understand might make others uncomfortable and make him appear self-absorbed but also wants you to respond and show that you care about this and by extension him.  What does one do?  I opted for a "wow, that really is something," before leaving the booth and then CFM.

That encounter really freaked me out.  Part of it was the unprompted conversation.  Part of it was the kids creepy appearance: he was a country boy with really bad teeth (both yellow and crooked) and a tongue-ring gauged down to the size of a AA battery.  But there was something else that I didn't see until I talked to Sara about it and she made me see it differently in a way that ties into the whole CFM.  What she said was "the kid is probably very lonely... and you know he gets made fun of a lot."  Once again, in her infinite wisdom, the old female companion has made me a better person by forcing me to empathize.  With the help of her words, I realized CFM is a place for all that is unwanted.  I am not just talking about the crap that is being sold either, which includes dogs in sad little cages, no, unfortunately the aura pervades among the people selling their trinkets or whatever in the booths of the colossal structure that reeks of rejection and hopelessness.

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