March 23, 2009

Der Mann and I have been watching The Avengers on netflix with Great Relish.  We just saw the one where Mrs Peel goes on a fox hunt with the aristocratic baddies, and either she or Steed repeats that jab about fox hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”  It sounded like Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw to me; I looked it up: Wilde.  I had already been thinking about class, and hearing a good aphorism tends to get me thinking in aphorisms.  After a weekend spent in antique and junk stores, this one came to me:

The difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich aren’t ashamed of their ignorance.

You heard it first here.

Through a series of college jobs I had a lot of experience with very rich people–enough for several lifetimes–but not so much in antique stores.  The last time I went around to antique and junk stores on a regular basis was in my early teens with my grandmother.  Since then I’ve been mostly either too busy or too bitter to enjoy them the same way.  I loved getting a feel for what people thought was beautiful at different times–what sort of teapot they might have saved up to buy at the corner drugstore in 1939, what colors they liked in 1880.  I didn’t have the collector mentality and still don’t; anything well-designed made my little heart go pitterpat regardless of value.  Though I did learn a special weakness for the workmanlike: pegs, hand-sawn dovetails joints, little asymmetries, the expert quickness of a hand-painted line.  I fantasized about owning primitive chairs at an age when other girls fantasize about having a boyfriend.  I bought chipped Czech pottery instead of make-up.  The first summer I was made to work on my dad’s farm for more than a couple weeks (money made a horrible trade for freedom!), I spent my entire earnings on an antique English cherry wardrobe.  I was fourteen, I think.  At the time I just loved the wardrobe; now I suspect an unconscious element of protest.  Of course what I really wanted wasn’t just the wardrobe, but to be grown up and living far away from my parents, surrounded by my own things.

The wardrobe is sitting across the room from me.  I’m still very fond of it, thought it’s been kind of an albatross through all the moves.  I’ve never seen another like.

Wow, I should stop to be thankful for adulthood more often.  It’s great living far away from my parents, with my own stuff!

Now that I have the space to buy some non-throwaway furniture, I can’t find anything I want to buy.  Twenty years ago, as long as a person didn’t mind some serious patina (I don’t) or need things to match (no thank-you!), there were all kinds of pretty, sturdy, ideosyncratic late 19th and early 20th century furnishings to be had for not much money.  Now everything is a lot uglier and more broken-down.  Have certain types of antiques simply stopped circulating, enthroned for eternity in someone’s twee-ly restored “Craftsman” bungalow like grave goods in an Egyptian tomb?  Has anyone else noticed this?  It would make sense.  The middle class keeps growing, boomers are living longer, and there is a limited supply.  I’m positing a cut-off point of about 85 years ago, because waterfall veneer bedroom sets are just this side of the cut-off.  (If you like waterfall veneer, now’s the time to get it.  As soon as it’s all been left out in the rain and dumped because the veneer is peeling, it’s going to get wildly popular!)

Aside from being in bad shape, most of what I saw in Portland and Aurora (with the exception of one store in each, which had much higher prices) was very alike.  Dime-a-dozen Empire side-tables.  Wobbly walnut-stained chairs.  Pressback chairs.  Pine wash stands.  Imitation Queen Anne footstools.  Waterfall vanities and warped Deco wardrobes.

And that’s just the actual old stuff.  A lot of it wasn’t even old.  More than ever antique dealers are making up for the lack of merchandise by mixing it with country crap: new cupboards and stools from China and India made to look like old stuff from Somewhere Vaguely European, or The American Heartland.  Candles.  Silk Flowers.  Bath salts.  I guess people are buying it or they wouldn’t be selling it.  But why aren’t they just buying it at the mall?

The apogee of this trend is Shabby Shite I mean Chic.  Come on!  This is SO DONE now.  Or, I thought it was until I started looking on Craigslist for a cupboard.  Shabby Chic, for the blessedly uninitiated, is the process whereby dealers take perfectly functional (if pedestrian) 1920’s, 30’s, or 40’s cupboards, tables, dressers, chairs, and beds; slather them with pink, white or black latex paint; distress the edges (not too hard to do when you paint latex paint directly atop oil-based varnish, as the edges basically distress themselves as soon as you look at them); drape them with doilies and 1950’s hats; and violá!  Add $300 to the price tag.

Slathering paint on antiques used to be something people did at home.  I have no objection to painting antiques.  I just think it ought to be purposeful.  And done behind closed doors.  With a mask on so God can’t see your face.

Seriously, I don’t object to paint.

So, I was people-watching in the antique stores.  Like grocery stores, antique stores are levelers.  I wasn’t going to the high end ones, and the low and mid range and upper-mid range ones attract everyone.  There’s always the possibility of a hidden treasure in the junky places, and the really rich love getting a bargain as much as anyone else.  And as long as the atmosphere isn’t too intimidating, Normal Joe will go into stores where he couldn’t hope to afford anything, just to look around.  Someplace like Aurora, the expensive stores look just like the cheap ones from the outside.  There’s a strange dynamic, and the overheard conversations can be really interesting.  What one learns from these conversations is that nobody–rich or poor–knows Shabby Shite about the past.  And nobody really cares about it, except insofar as they don’t want to look stupid.  But Normal Josephine cares a little more, because she can remember how her mom really treasured her pyrex storage dishes when she finally got them.  And then Josephine will buy some herself for sentiment’s sake, even though she prefers plastic.

So, my aphorism could have been something about how rich people are less worried about whether or not they appear stupid than poor people are.  Which also makes sense.


Social Class Brain Twister

Social Class Brain Twister


7 Responses to “Junque”

  1. Cally Says:

    what’s the pink stuff? am I betraying my class origins just by asking? or is it a transatlantic thing?

  2. trapunto Says:

    Der Mann and I call it dipping sauce. It’s a large dollop of full-fat yoghurt, a small spoonful of mayonnaise, and a generous squirt of ketchup. I sort of invented it, though they used to give out something similar (without the yoghurt) in little cups at old-fashioned hamburger stands. We use it for Fred Meyer brand Tater Bites frozen tater tots. Pairs very well with a pinot noir.

  3. My first antique store acquistion, when I was in college, was an old, leather-covered suitcases from an age when initials were embossed on, and people dressed up for travel. And yes, I still have it, just as you do your albatross. But, with the recent need to clear things for weaving, it may go before year end.

    The faux-country stuff we’re supposed to be nostalgic for has always turned me off (and yes, I’ve always thought it funny that most of it is made in China!), but then I lived for a time in Pennsylvania Dutch country and saw the real thing. As for shabby chic, I’ve never understood that one — right up there next to paying extra for new jeans that already have holes, cutoffs, and worn patches…

    I think upbringing and education are factors in how confident a person is in trying something new and deciding on a personal taste, but you cannot get away from the plain old fact that it’s easier for the rich to make awful fashion/decorating choices, because they know they can afford to throw it away.

  4. Trapunto Says:

    You put it in a nice nutshell in that last paragraph, Spinninglizzy!

    And what an excellent first antique. I love old luggage, especially the special fittings inside steamer trunks. Nothing else whisks me back into the past so quickly; it sort of distills everything that used to be and isn’t–like the traveling wardrobe. Mens hats do the same thing in a smaller way. Did you ever use it for a trip? I hate to think it’s going to get jettisoned. No possibility of converting it to yarn storage..?

  5. Suzan Says:

    Are those tater tots?! I love old sewing machines and always manage to find old sewing tools at the shops around here. And pictures of sheep.

  6. Jane Says:

    Oh, I needed a good chuckle today — and knew exactly where to find one! Have missed you, T.

    Tater tots, bar sauce (that’s what we used to call it in WY — it was a mixture of mayo, ketchup, and a shot of tobasco — mixed up in bars that served french fries)and pino. Good choice on the pinot. I’m fond of pairing Cheeze Whiz with Ripple. 😉

    I see you went for the top loading washer. Very wise choice. Had I the opportunity to do it all again, I would have done the same knowing what I know about my front loader. Like the women who came before you, I am a laundry control freak and really miss being able to fine tune what I am doing without fear of a giant wave of water pouring from the front of my washer.

    Your new digs are missing the carport salon *sigh* — so we’ll just have to make do with the eggyrock yard. Tea?


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