Tag Archives: stories

flea market stories: The First Amendment, UFOs, and Poetry Recitals

I’m in my shop the other day talking about UFOs and reincarnation with one
of my customers. He’s telling me how aliens are kidnapping humans and–

First, let me back up….

It seems the latest issue of my newsletter, Koogmo #5, has created some
controversy at the flea market. I’m summoned to the leasing office first
thing Saturday. Inside, Mario is sitting on the couch, along with his
pregnant teenage daughter who is sitting behind the desk. We are joined
shortly by Mario’s wife, Lucinda.

I glance around, “Uh-oh. Am I in trouble?”

Their daughter, in an authoritative tone, hands me a copy of Koogmo #5.
“You want to explain this?” I see sections of it highlighted in yellow.

“What do you mean?” I say.

She wanted to know why I was writing about people in the flea market
and why I was portraying Vikon Village in a negative light. She tells me
I can’t do that.

“Those are just stories I’m telling.”

“Well, you can’t be writing about other people without their permission.”

“I changed the names.”

“But we know who you’re talking about, and why didn’t you change the
name of Vikon Flea Market?”

I say to her: “When’s the last time you read a book?”

“I don’t have time to read,” she says. And I believe it, as disappointed
as I am whenever I hear that sort of statement. She is quite obviously
pregnant. With her protruding belly, I always see her pushing a stroller
through the flea market with her two other children, an infant and
a toddler. She can’t be more than eighteen or nineteen. Still a baby
herself.

“Or a magazine? Or a newspaper?”

“I don’t have time to read,” she says.

“Have you ever heard of the First Amendment?”

She shakes her head.

“Or the Freedom of Speech?”

She shakes her head. “Look, you can’t be doing this. Why did you use the
flea market’s real name? Why did you change everyone else’s name except
the flea market? Don’t you realize that makes us look bad?”

“These are just stories I write. I’m going to write whatever I feel I
need to write.”

“Well, you’ve been writing about people, and they don’t like it.”

“Who?”

“I’m not going to tell you who. But let me just say this: We can’t
guarantee your safety if you continue writing about the people here.”

“Guarantee my safety?” I’m sitting there looking at a very pregnant
teenaged mother with two kids who doesn’t have time to read. “Thanks,
but I don’t think I need your protection.”

Her mother chimes in. “Why do you write about the crazy man and the man
with the gun?”

“It was an interesting story, one that I thought was worth telling. Also,
I was there when it happened.”

“What if the man with the gun comes back to shoot you?”

I shrug. “There’s not much I can do about that, is there?”

“But you can’t talk about the crazy man. It’s not your business.”

“Sure I can. These things happened in public, in a public setting,
right in front of me. It’s not like I was peeking into the man’s house
or breaking into the hospital and publishing his medical records.”

The mother and daughter are exasperated. They’re firing words back and
forth in Spanish. Meanwhile, Mario is sitting on the couch. He’s looking
at me and smiling as wide as a sombrero. Finally, the mother says they’re
done with me and says we’ll talk again next week. She waves me out the door.

I’m beginning to think they’re going to ask me to close up my shop and
leave the flea market. I’m also beginning to think maybe they’re right. I
probably shouldn’t be writing about people in the flea market and then
leaving copies in my store for everyone to read. In future issues, I
resolve to change Vikon Flea Market to Viking Flea Market. I had intended
to call it something else, but I just plain forgot. And quite honestly,
I didn’t think anyone would give a shit.

I’m trying to remember what I wrote. I mean, I remember the overall gist
of each issue, but I don’t always recall the exact words or stories. By
the time I’ve written the stuff, printed it out and published it, it’s
gone from my mind. Purged. Like a snake crawling out of its own dead
skin. I’ve already moved onto my next writing project.

Later back at my store, I’m sitting there with Jack, the old guy who used
to buy records but never had anything for sale. He only buys. He’d leave
little Post-It Notes all over his store informing customers that nothing
was for sale — he only BUYS records. He says he’s got a second house
filled with about a million albums he’s collected over the years. He
still comes around to hang out. In fact, I’ve taken up the spot where
his old place used to be. In his opinion, Koogmo #5 is a classic.

“I’m going to have to go back and re-read it,” I tell him. “I don’t
remember saying anything that was too insulting.”

“You said Suzy’s kid always smells like shit. You said Greg talks too
much and never shuts up. You said the place is a ghost town and customers
are idiots,” says Jack, “The one about the kid smelling like shit, that
one cracked me up. I was sitting in bed at 11 o’clock at night reading
it and I just started busting out laughing.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“Oh, of course.”

“I was just writing whatever came to mind and trying to be as honest as
possible about it.”

“You’re like that final episode of ‘Seinfeld.’ You can’t understand why
everyone hates you. Did you see that episode?”

“Yeah.”

“It was hilarious.”

But Koogmo #5 is not without its supporters. A few vendors came up to
me and said they liked my style of writing. The old antiques dealer and
practitioner of the black arts says to me, “I like your way with words,
baby boy.” He asked me to write his biography, wants me to tell his story
about the days he spent working on a stud farm in the 50s and 60s,
where he and a handful of other men serviced lonely Dallas socialites.

The woman next door said she and her daughter were cracking up in their
shop reading what I’d written. They partnered up with another older
woman who overhears what we’re talking about. She picks up a copy of
Koogmo #5 out of curiosity.

She’s flipping through the pages and as she’s reading along, she pops
her head into my shop: “Oh, this stuff is funny!”

Five minutes later: “This should be a movie. Do you know anyone
in show business?”

Two minutes after that: “You know, if you ever hope to get this published
you need to tone down all the cussing and swearing.”

She comes around again: “You know, this should be published in book
form, so it looks more professional.” She’s standing there, dangling my
newsletter by the stapled corner.

“That’s by design,” I tell her. “I try to keep things as simple as
possible. It’s made to be rolled up and stuffed in back pockets or
stashed in backpacks. It can even be used as emergency toilet paper!”

“And if you can make the font just a little bit bigger. It’s too hard to
read.”

It is all just so much crap, anyway. Nothing more annoying than a wannabe
writer more concerned about the format of his precious words than the
actual words themselves. Look at all the self-published “books” that
are out there now. Just by the usual shitty cover alone, you can judge
a self-published book a mile away — they always have that generically
vanilla look to them. You always know when their owners have given up on
making the bestseller list because you’ll see stacks of his self-published
tripe piled high in the book sections of Goodwill stores and other thrift
shops. I doubt the stuff will sell even there. It would have been more
efficient and time-consuming if they had just tossed them straight into
the dumpsters out back.

The woman comes by a few minutes later, smiling wryly. “You know, I have
also been known to dabble in the written word.”

Aww, shit….here it comes.

“I write poetry,” she says.

Fuck. I knew it. Yet another gifted soul, touched by an angel.

She takes out her cell phone and shows me a photo of what appears to be
a Thomas Kinkade painting. “I wrote a poem about this and it took second
place in a contest. Maybe I’ll bring some of my poems by.”

“Sure,” I say. “We’ll have a poetry reading right here in my store. We’ll
serve alcohol and play jazz records.”

What does it matter? The leasing office will probably be kicking me out
since I’ve been accused of writing disparaging comments about the flea
market and its people.

I debated whether to open the shop the next day, or ever again.

“Why even go there if people hate you now?” says the wife. “You’re not
even making any money. You’re just wasting your time.”

But I decide against such rational logic and open my store promptly at
noon the next day. Business is business and if that place has turned
into my own personal ass-kicking machine, then so be it. Might as well
take my lumps now and get it over with.

I spend most of the day waiting to be attacked and instead end up talking
to an old white-haired Hispanic guy whose low guttural growl I first mistook
as a Russian accent. He bought the toilet trophy my wife won at a benefit
tournament at a pool hall a few years back. Beneath the small bronze
toilet, a little plaque reads “PLAYED LIKE S**T.” Sold it to him for
three bucks.

“What goes into the bowl?” he asks, inspecting the trophy from various
angles.

“I dunno. My wife used it for an ashtray.”

“I’ll put a little doll in there or something.”

The woman next door pops her head into my shop. She’s holding a large
binder against her chest. I wave and smile to her. Seeing me with a
customer, she smiles and ducks back into her store.

The old man asks about the Buddhist chant CDs I have stacked near the
music CDs. He wants to give them a listen before buying one, but I don’t
have a CD player.

“I only like the woman voice,” he says, “I don’t like the man voice.”

“I don’t know. But they’re a dollar each. Are you Buddhist?”

“No, but I like to listen to women chanting in the background.”

So we start talking about religion and reincarnation and God. He believes
everything, and so do I. As we’re talking, he’s looking through all my
occult books — “Crystal Power,” “Pyramid Healing,” etc.

From the corner of my eye I see the woman next door peeking into my shop.
She’s still clutching that binder to her chest.

Then the old man starts telling me about UFOs, and I tell him about my
experiences. His eyes widen, “You’ve seen those things?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, man. You are so lucky.”

He tells me that aliens are living amongst us and some even occupy high
levels of government.

“I believe it!” I say.

He leans toward me. “And do you know, they’ve been kidnapping people. Not
just thousands. Not just tens of thousands. That’s what the reports
tell us, but the reality is….these aliens have kidnapped up to a
million people.”

“Holy shit.”

I see the woman with her binder again, hovering near the entrance of
my shop.

“You know what they’re doing? They’re kidnapping us and grinding us into
powder so they can eat us.”

“But why?”

He shrugs. “They need nutrients or something.”

“That makes sense,” I tell him. “After all, we are made of the same
components that make the stars and planets in this universe — carbon,
nitrogen, hydrogen, whatever. So instead of collecting it from around
the universe, they just collect it from us.”

“Yes! And did you know–”

The woman barges into the shop. She can’t wait any longer. “Excuse me,
just real quick,” she says, holding a finger up to the man. She turns
to me, “I just wanted to read you this poem.”

The man looks at her then looks at me, puzzled.

“It’s about books.” She begins reading from her binder: “Books should
be cherished. Books bring us joy, laughter, and even adventure. Books
can be held and loved. Indeed, they are as our children. Each one…”

And on and on….

When she’s finished, I tell her that we were just discussing UFOs and
reincarnation.

“Oh, none of that stuff is true!” She turns to the man and asks him,
“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

“Listen, lady,” he says, “do you believe we human beings are the only ones
in the universe?”

The woman holds up her finger. “Do you accept the Bible as the word of
God?”

The old man waves her off. “Oh, please! The Bible was written by men!”

I leave them to their discussion and head down to the Mexican cafe to
order some tacos. I glance at my phone. It’s already 3 o’clock. I’ve
been talking to this guy for nearly three hours. When I return with my
food a few minutes later, my shop is empty and quiet. I take my seat
behind the glass counter and eat my tacos.

And I wait. I wait to be attacked by angry flea market vendors, women
with binders full of poetry, or aliens from other dimensions.

The sanest guy at the flea market

The sanest person at the flea market is the old guy who practices black magic. I’ll call him Jim, and he’ll tell you he sells antiques, but his real business is casting spells and reversing curses for people who know where to find him. He also makes mojo bags. In the 50s and 60s he said he worked at a stud farm servicing wealthy Dallas socialites whose husbands left them unsatisfied. I believe it. He looks like a 78-year-old Cajun/black/Native American version of Sean Connery — tall, dark and handsome. Although the years have hunched him over a bit, he still stands at a formidable six-foot-two in cowboy boots and blue jeans. He’s been operating a booth here at the flea market off and on since 1978.

Today we’re sitting and shootin’ the shit in his hole-in-the-wall shop. I pay him a visit every once in a while to see if he’s got any occult books he wants to sell me. I seem to always interrupt him while he’s reading the newspaper, but he’ll set it down and wave me in with a “Come on in, young man!”

One of the other vendors stops by, a frumpy middle-aged woman. Her hair is dyed red, but she appears to be letting the gray-haired roots grow out.

“Wow, I haven’t been by this way in six months,” she says. “Just walking around and saying my good-byes.”

“You leaving?” says Jim.

“Yep. I haven’t made my booth fees in the six months I’ve been here. I can’t go on like this. It’s horrible.” She peeks her head into his shop. “You want to buy any of my paintings?”

Jim looks around at all the unsold paintings and the horned demon skull hanging on the wall. He shakes his head. “Nah, I haven’t sold anything since December.”

The woman shakes her head. “I tell ya, this place could be so much better. These people don’t know how to run the place. If I had won the lotto, I would take my three hundred million, buy this place and really fix it up. Management don’t know what they’re doing.”

The old man nods sympathetically. When she leaves, he looks at me. “Good riddance to that dumb bitch.”

“Lemme tell you something, young man,” he says beckoning me closer. “People like that — they’re the reason business is bad around here. They go around spreading their negative energies. That’s bad for business. They go talking to other vendors and customers, bad-mouthing this or that. Next thing you know, everyone’s leaving. We don’t need shit like that around here.”

That woman was all about bad energy. I wandered into her store once and all she talked about was how horrible the flea market had become and how she hasn’t been making any money. “Look at all this,” she said, motioning to her magnificent shelves of crap. “This stuff would go fast at any of the other flea markets. Look, it’s all collectible — most of it is family heirlooms I got from my grandmother when she passed away.” And here she was trying to sell it at the flea market, five and ten dollars at a time.

To make her feel a little better, I bought a $2 McDonald’s ‘Batman the Movie’ glass mug from her. “Are you sure that’s two dollars?” she said, putting on her reading glasses. “Lemme take another look at that. I thought I wrote $5 on it.”

This is why I like talking to guys like Jim. He doesn’t seem to care much if he makes a hundred dollars or if he makes nothing. He has an understanding of the universe that it all kind of evens out in the end, and he doesn’t spend much time fretting about it. He tells me his main reason for being at the flea market is so he can hang out and chat with people his own age.

I take that as a sign he wants to get back to reading his newspaper. “I better head back to my store,” I say. “People might be shoplifting stuff as we speak.”

“Yeah, you better hurry. You might sell something.”

We both laugh.