I have always dabbled in dealing. Back in high school I bought and sold old clothes, and much later learned to convert my store of gorgeous oddball housewares to petty cash. But I'm not cut out to be a real dealer. I'm bereft of the requisite ruthlessness, the drive to hunt down items for collectors and chew the arms off competitors. In spite of eBay, there will always be a subculture of hardcore live flea marketeers. Sunday is the day for dealing, and eccentrics the world over rise before dawn to rush out to their holy sites. They surround novice sellers, tear open promising packages, grab and haggle. Sellers buy from each other; buyers in the know resell to specialists in this frenzy of inflationary enterprise.
Eccentric is not a word I throw around. Any flea market or antiquities bazaar attracts an exceedingly quirky batch of so-and-so's. These are the only places I've ever found in my life where I fit it. In Mexico City, for instance, from Monday to Saturday my sophisticated homemade dress style merits non-stop jeers from the bumpkins who inhabit that huge small town.
But on Sunday, at the so-called thieves' market, I am identified as a "catrina" (feminine for dandy) and discover that a dealer has been secretly photographing me for years. I can't afford to buy anything there any more (big U.S. dollar prices). I just go to study.
So I miss Mexico City. I'm here in Toronto. I need money. I book a table at the Sunday Market. I must be crazy! Toronto is a place to buy, not to sell. People are so cheap! If it's two bucks they offer a quarter. Back in Mexico, $25 U.S. seems to be he minimum for any rusty piece of junk. "But it's broken." "Of course it is. Otherwise, it'd be $50."
And besides, I'm a dilettante. I don't know anything. If something looks good, that's about it. When they ask, "Is it signed?" I reply, "Could be. Got a pen?" When they tell me the Burberry purse I'm selling is a fake, I argue, "What do you mean? It's a real purse." When they inquire à la Antiques Roadshow, "What do you know about this piece?" my sidekick shoots back, "I know it's six bucks."
The dealer next to us has just sold a set of dishes for $1,200. She paid $40. I've made deals like that -- on a smaller scale, of course: 40 cents turned into 12 dollars. "Who are we trying to fool?" moans my partner in low-grade enterpreneurialism as he rearranges the feng shui of the table for the 10th time. We have a big mess of everything. Real dealers have elegant arrangements of select items. When we accidentally smash a big glass thing, we're just glad to get rid of it.
My boot and hat departments attract no interest -- excepting the hat I spent 250 hours beading myself. Everyone wants it. Very flattering. Of course, I don't say I did it. Ruins the mystique. Everyone wants it, but $85 is way more than one would pay for similar work done by a slave girl in India.
A dealer makes a common request that I've never understood. Holding one of my prize pieces in his hand, he asks, "Could you go less so I can make something on it?" I do. He buys it, prices it back up and puts it up for sale over at his table. Later he tells me he did a test on it. (They're forever testing things with acids and checking hallmarks under microscopes.) "It says "sterling,' but the test was inconclusive." What am I supposed to say? Rush it off to a lab and get back to me with the results?
My pal and I pass the 11 hours watching the parade of characters and wondering where on earth they spend the other six days of the week. Pale, frail women who may well have starred in silent films float by in long cloaks and peculiar hats. A guy who wears dark glasses and a raccoon-tailed cowboy hat also carries a hockey stick.
There's the gentleman turned out in beret, black-framed spectacles and spotted silk who carries himself as though he were the only one. I would like to see all those garbed similarly bump into each other in a shocking multiple mirror image.
Then there's the cult of the tiny dog, little pedigreed pocket pets wearing teensy bows and jackets. They must live in condos. I'm not sure if they can walk at all.
Worst is getting spotted by someone I know. They feel obligated to buy something, and I feel obligated to give them a good deal. They invariably pick an item some sucker would pay full price for. Or they decide to tell a 20-minute story, ignoring all blunt suggestions to "Quit blocking the merch!" Then they find out that I consider the gift they gave me last birthday to be worth only $7 -- will take $5.
As an element of performance is involved in selling, I always wear a costume. Then along comes a collector who simply has to have my post-second-world-war satin shirt/jacket embroidered with a dragon, volcanoes and a detailed map of Japan.
"I'll give you a hundred bucks right now."
"But I'm wearing it. I like it it's mine."
The day wears on. My teeth hurt. I need more root canals. Root canals are very expensive. I unbutton my shirt. Luckily, I always wear at least three layers. Smelling desperation, the collector drops his bid to $80. I squeeze five 20s out of him. Word goes around. Real dealers ask me if I've sold the shirt off my back. I try to look cavalier. But they know. I'm just another little guppy who'll never make it in the shark pool.
When they ask, "Is it signed?" I reply, "Could be. Got a pen?"