December, 2010 – No Shop, No Haggle, No Cry


As I Was SayingAlan Williamson


No Shop, No Haggle, No Cry


By Alan Williamson


        The holiday shopping season is here, and the search for mind-blowing gifts at budget-babying prices can take you to places you normally wouldn’t go near. For me, something about flea markets triggers strong, negative feelings.

          To really enjoy the flea market scene, you have to have an abiding faith in the existence of a great and glorious bargain. What’s more, you have to believe that such a bargain will reveal itself only to those who renounce the comfort and order of civilization and wander nomadically through a vast wilderness of castaway merchandise. Call me a cynic, but I’m not buying it. And while I’m at it, I’m also not buying the following.

  • The $5 Power Tool Accessory Kit with 49 screwdriver and drill bits made from recycled paper clips.
  • The $12 Three-CD Boxed Set of The Skyliners Greatest Hits, a late 50s group who had one big hit, Since I Don’t Have You, which leaves 2.9 CD’s of filler.
  • The $20 luggage that looks like Samsonite, feels like Styrofoam, and wheels like a portable hot dog steamer.
  • The $25 running shoes with the brand name logo on the outside and the paper-towel cushioning and dead raccoon aroma on the inside.
  • The $10 Lucky Bamboo Plant whose mystical powers seem unable to bring you the minimal good luck necessary to get a decent cup of coffee at the flea market or prevent the pinhead in the Expedition from expe-dinging your car door in the parking lot.

          If, like me, you equate a trip to a flea market with walking through the gates of hell, let me offer you some field-tested advice for surviving the torture.

          Once you’re there, the best thing to do is to think of something unique to pick up that you can keep as a symbol of your triumph over adversity. Maybe it’s that Greek Fisherman’s Cap you tried on, the one with the sound chip in the brim that makes seagull noises when you shake your head. Or maybe it’s the plastic ice cubes that light up when you clink them, turning the simple consumption of an iced beverage into an electrifying collision of liquid, light, and color.

          If, as is more than likely the case, you’re at a flea market with someone who’s dragged you there against your will, do not make the fatal mistake of offering to split up and meet at a designated time and place. For the person who wants to be there (my wife, for example), the time will fly by unnoticed and the predetermined hour of reunion will come and go unconsummated. For the person who doesn’t want to be there (me, for example), time will move with a velocity similar to linguine being rolled uphill.

          I think the thing that bothers me the most about flea markets is the knowledge that the best buys go to those who know how to wheel and deal. My brother-in-law Dennis, for instance, is a natural born bargainer and it bugs me to no end that I’m not.

          A Dennis deal that has become legend happened one New Year’s Eve. I was at a mega flea market in Michigan looking at gas log fireplace sets with Dennis, my wife, and their parents.  When my in-laws zeroed in on a set they liked, it was time for Dennis to spring into action.

          “We’re interested in this Crackling Rosie vented log set,” Dennis alerted the sales guy.

          “Good choice,” he commended. “That’s a 60,000 btu manual control system with outstanding flame realism. It’s normally $550 but it’s on sale this week for $495.” 

          Dennis said nothing, letting the sales pitch hang in the air like a piñata without a prayer. Sherry and I glanced anxiously at each other, sensing the artistry to come.

          “Would you knock $50 off it?” Dennis inquired with his patented deadpan delivery.

          “Can’t do it on that model,” the sales guy protested. “We’ve already cut the price to the bone.”

          Again, Dennis took his time, saying nothing. I softly nudged Sherry, knowing we were about to learn something.

          “What time do you close?” Dennis asked.

          “Seven,” the guy said, as we all looked at the clock on the wall. It was ten minutes to seven, New Year’s Eve.

          “Well, it will probably be your last sale of the year,” Dennis pointed out. “Take $50 off and we’re done.”

          “Let me talk to my manager,” the guy muttered. We all stood there awaiting the verdict, wearing our matching poker faces. But there was no suspense. The bargain hit man had struck again.

          Where my brother-in-law Dennis can sense a deal for the taking and smoothly maneuver things to his advantage, I’m the guy who walks in, opens his wallet, and says “how much do I owe you?” The answer is almost always: “A lot more than Dennis. And don’t even think of asking us to throw in a lucky bamboo plant.”


Alan Williamson is an award-winning writer with 27 years in the field of true fiction (advertising). A practical man who knows that writing for a living is risky going, he has taken steps to pursue a second, more stable career as a leggy super model. Alan can be reached at  © 2010 Alan Williamson.