I Smell Leather, and Baskets, and That Guy’s Ketchup-stained Slipknot Shirt Almost Matches His Grease Ponytail. Yeah, I’m at a Flea Market.

I’m a really positive person. I only hate a couple things in this life. I hate crinkling potato chip bags. I hate Pea coats. I hate people who pop the collars on their pea coats. I hate the way people on reality shows always look sweaty even when they’re inside. I hate dogs that stare weird. I hate it when people stare like dogs. I hate it when people stare like dogs that stare weird. I hate…alright, I’m not that positive; I hate a few things. But there’s one thing I hate more than anything. Indoor flea markets.

You say, whah?! Flea markets? They’re only the cheapest, quaintest, most indie thing you could do next to thrift stores. You can basically people watch all day. You’re right. You can. Every time I go to a flea market I see so many “people”.

“Come on, dude, I need to go to the flea market.”

That’s Steve. He’s gonna be that buzzkill level-headed friend character to this story.

“No you don’t.”

“Just come with me. I can’t go there alone. J-Market’s only open until ten and I need to go.”

Please, nobody “needs” to go to a flea market. What, I gotta go to an old renovated barn to buy my toothpaste and Yankee candles? I could get all that shit at Wal-mart. Wal-mart smells better anyway and the people are just as hilarious.

“You said J-Market closes at ten?”

“Yeah. I need to get my girlfriend something for our one year anniversary.”

“You want to go to a flea market for your girlfriend’s one year anniversary? Is your girlfriend a gypsy?”

“No. Don’t be a douche, man. She likes weird jewelry. J-market has good weird jewelry.”

That’s the other thing. The outdoor flea markets I’m fine with. They have simple and vague yet effective names like “Green Dragon” and “Good’s” and “Farmer’s Lane”. Not the indoor ones.

The indoor ones, you know exactly what type of person owns that flea market. Names like “Ziggy’s Warehouse” and “Jenko’s” and “Kane’s Trash and Treasure Mart”. Immediately when I walk in that structure, just by the nomenclature, I know the man who owns this place used to run a junkyard or operate a chain of underground fight club brothels. I know he probably eats frozen dinners five nights a week and his idea of romance is a woman who enjoys large dogs and puts up with farts which smell like diesel fuel. I also know this man probably drinks out of the same cup he uses for an ashtray, and he only partially rinses in between.

“Look man, I know I sound weird and eccentric in a sad way, but you know how I get about flea markets.”

“Yeah, but I went with you to that spoken word poetry reading with the lady who silently mime-danced her mother’s eulogy. I lost a piece of my soul that night. You owe me.”

Uh oh. He’s right.

“Uh oh. You’re right.”

“Alright, I’ll drive,” says Steve. “Just promise me one thing?”

“Alright, what?”

“Don’t do that pretentious sarcasm thing you always do around people you think you’re better than. It’s annoying.”

Whatever, I’m not sarcastic. He’s driving and paying for food anyway, sucker. Win-win for me.  Who knows? Maybe I won’t have a miserable time. Maybe I won’t be bombarded with the smell of curry and half price dog bones. Maybe I won’t be better than everyone there. We shall see.

Boom. There it is. J-Market. I can already smell the lower middle class. Just think of all the holidays people waste in this place. I bet you people come here on Christmas Eve, on President’s Day, on Valentine’s Day. Definitely Valentine’s Day. Bored couples probably come in here so they can buy chocolate for each other that expired in 2005.

“Doesn’t that make you sick?”

“Doesn’t what make me sick?”

“That people probably waste their Fourth of July’s browsing here.”

“What’s wrong with that? Everyone knows flea markets have the best fireworks.”

Whatever, I bet they used to keep horses in this decrepit old barn warehouse. Probably goats and feral pigs, too, with their nasty feral pig tusks. Bet they even had chickens. Bet all those animals shit everywhere and now people sit down in the little flea market booths and eat their funnel cakes where the chickens used to shit. Makes me sick. It’s his fault if I breathe in E.Coli tonight.

The entrance beckons us. I stride forth through the parking lot of oncoming doom and like the man that I am, I will face this atrocious marketplace of townie showmanship with a level head and calm spirits.

Besides, sarcasm? I’m not sarcastic. I feel empathy all the time. I’m perfectly accepting of people.

“You go in first,” I say. “If there’s homeless people on the floor I don’t want to step on them first.”

I’m in. See, this isn’t so bad. I hear the steady hum of amiable conversation. The kielbasa’s smell great. People are out with their families having a good time, just being united, happy and free. I don’t know why I thought…Oh My God.

“Oh! Big surprise,” I say, “definitely wasn’t any chance of the first store I see in here being a wallet store. Because everybody needs a wallet all the time. They must sell so many wallets. And belts!” I let a leather monstrosity with a Harley symbol on the clasp drift through my fingers. “I come here all the time for my belts. They have such good belts.”

“Please keep walking, dude.” My buddy puts his head down. “You said you wouldn’t do this.”

“Oh, and a basket store! They definitely need a basket store next to the wallet store, so I can go grocery shopping this weekend and get my basket, my wallet, and some Avon products with all the brand names in Chinese lettering.”

“Just walk. Walk towards the jewelry place. You walk and you walk fast.”

I want so badly to be a good friend but I can’t control the inner demons. It’s already been set into motion. The only thing I can do now is ride out the storm.

“Oh, and look, of course there’s a candle store which also sells buckets of beef jerky sticks. And of course, there’s the samurai sword guy right next to the camouflage store. Now I know where to look when I want to befriend a guy with murder fantasies and a fetish for anime marathons.”

Those swords do look pretty cool, though. I want to pick one up.

“Sir! Sir! Please don’t touch the art.”

Oh, look at the samurai guy. He’s even got a ponytail. Of course samurai guy has a ponytail.

“Oh, Mr. Samurai man! Everyone wave to the samurai man with his samurai ponytail! Was your Ramen noodle bowl good for lunch? Did your mom make it just how you like it?”

“Please keep walking, man. I should have never brought you here.”

“Oh, I’ve been looking for these for weeks! Diecast Nascar trucks! I knew I was missing something in my life. Steven, if you could just come here and buy me a Nascar zippo, a Nascar flag and these buckskin moccasin chaps to wear over my jeans. Only then will my world be complete.”

“You’re a terrible person.”

“Here’s something original. Shirts with howling wolves on them. Look, and this one’s got a picture of a Native American beating a drum. That’s funny, because all these white people in here who aren’t Native American can buy these nice novelty shirts and remind themselves who they raped and brutally slaughtered two hundred years ago.”

“I don’t know, man. My grandpop wears one of those nature shirts and I think it’s just because he likes nature. It’s not about politics.”

“Oh, and beads! How would I live without beads? I can bring my seven year old daughter here to get her beads in the same store as the weed pipes, right underneath the Slipknot t-shirts. We could ask every English-speaking person in here who their favorite band is and nine out of ten times it’s gonna be Insane Clown Posse. That one out of ten is probably a Brantley Gilbert fan. Or Gordon Lightfoot.”

“You know what? Screw my girlfriend’s jewelry. I’ll go to the mall. I just need to get some food and we can leave.”

“Oh! You want to get some food and then leave? That’s funny, because of course flea markets have so much food. The only thing blocking me from a nice, sweaty sauerkraut sausage is the lady with the snake tattoo on her neck pushing a stroller that smells like a diaper dipped in vinegar.”

“Just sit down and we’ll eat.”

So I do. I sit. I’m out of breath, anyway. You can only be pretentiously over-sarcastic for so long before it starts to take its toll on the physical elements. I’m just lucky I have the endurance of a pack mule and the passion of a jungle impala.

“Let’s see, let’s see.” I browse the menu at our little stall/booth mere yards away from a steady flow of mixed ethnic traffic. “Of course they’ve got nachos and cheese fries.”

“Every place has nachos and cheese fries, man. You could get cheese fries at Olive Garden if you wanted.”

“I know for a fact Olive Garden does not serve cheese fries.”

“Just get the chili cheese fries. They’re amazing.”

“Alright, Steven. But if I find pubes and ground up glass in my fries I might think about not eating here again.”

So we get our food. I stare at it a while, but I am a hungry man. Analyzing the human race is exhausting. Or the animal race…whatever these people are. I take the first bite.

Waves of blissful nostalgia wash over me like a warm breeze. I remember my mother holding my hand at age five, dragging me through the flea market, letting me pick handfuls of candy out of the candy guy’s bins. I remember my first sparkler purchase, five boxes of sparklers and some poppers for a dollar. I remember…God, this is delicious.

We eat for a while. We talk for a while. I begin to feel like I’m in a diner, one of the most comfortable places on earth. Streams of people flow by and they’re all worth looking at. I order a funnel cake, because that seems like something you should do at a flea market. I wonder how many people in here have Dale Earnhardt tattoos, or are convicted felons, but I’m fine with it all, because I lied to you. Flea markets are delicious.

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