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Flake Painted Robes
A person can spend hours looking for something of value in piles of junk. Kobey’s swap meet—San Diego’s pool of stuff—is a great place to search for those gems. Under Valley View Casino Center’s shadow, once-treasured items topped tables-upon-tables and surrounded Chevy Astros.
On Saturday August 28, Ely, Austin, Seth and I were looking for something to make our on-campus apartment feel a bit homier. We were students at Point Loma Nazarene University, which had been in session for just a week, and lived in the on-campus apartments, a resident’s hall called Flex. The title is for the “flexible living situation,” so upper-class men and women get to experience a more out-of-college living situation but reside on campus grounds. At the start of the week, our apartment had a big flat screen TV and full kitchen, but the white walls and hard couches didn’t really make the two-bedroom, five-person apartment home. Even though we kind of had an ocean view, the place was still missing something—a coffee table or that conversational piece.
I paid the one-dollar cover fee at the white trailer. I only had a crisp five, so the money handler gave me four crumpled bills back. Stuffing the dollars into my wallet, I walked to the entrance—gates covered with a red and white canopy—and gave the ticket taker my blue, square stub. With a metal hole-puncher, the attendant took my ticket.
Click. I was in.
After placing the ticket in my jean pocket, I turned left at the first row of tables. Like most San Diego summer days of 2010, the sun wasn’t out. The fleeting season still fought to be noticed in each of our hearts and apparently with the conversations of real San Diego residents. I would have not known about the conditions, I spent most of the summer at a pool, lifeguarding for a camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But these dark clouds promised rain, and the occasional sprinkles created nervous vendors, who were getting out plastic tarps from underneath tables and out of vans.
At a small booth covered by a canopy, I flipped through an old milk crate of records. After about two minutes, I came across a copy of Led Zeppelin IV…Zoso…or whatever the hell you call that band’s fourth album, containing awesome songs like “Black Dog,” “Battle of Evermore” and “Stairway to Heaven.” I took the record out of its sleeve, held the black vinyl up and looked intently at the surface. In high school, my music diet was classic rock, and this album would be a great addition to my record collection.
“Ah, that doesn’t look so good,” I said. “What do you think Austin?”
“What’s up Stew?” said Austin.
I moved the disk, so it could pick up some light coming through the clouds.
“What do you think? It doesn’t look so great,” he said.
After an hour and a half, the four of us had nothing. At a booth near the center of the market, I came across an early edition of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which appeared to be a gift. On the inside cover, there was a note written in black ink that said “Ex Lirbis,” which is Latin for “From the books of,” a person named “Joseph Rosenberg” and “1941.” I felt my heart beat faster when I saw the date. The book was released around that time and copies of first edition Hemingway books have to be worth a lot of money, even though it was missing a dust jacket. The vendor only wanted three dollars for the book, so I got it.
At a booth near the back by Phil’s BBQ and filled with used electronic equipment, a record player caught Seth’s eye. The vendor, sitting in the back seat of a black van, wanted thirty bucks for the record player, which didn't look like it had stylus. After the vendor refused to let Seth test the machine, we walked away.
“I am not buying this,” said Seth.
“Yeah, let’s go,” I said.
We walked away from the booth.
“He wanted twenty bucks for something that didn’t even work,” said Ely.
We turned a left down the middle aisle of booths and made our way towards the entrance. The weather started to get bleak with cloud cover and rumors, from vendors, speaking of rain to come.
“Hey, we haven’t walked down this row,” said Ely.
“I don’t think we have,” said Austin.
“I think I’ve seen that video game stand before,” I said.
Looking at some picture frames, I heard a rumbling coming from the guys. Seth, Ely and Austin looked down towards the ground at a very interesting rendition of a very familiar painting. The piece was a twenty-by-eight framed picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
“That’s awesome,” Seth said. “We got to have this. Just look at the colors.”
However, this “Last Supper” was no ordinary print of da Vinci’s masterpiece. The artwork—if you can say artwork--- looked like someone left it in the garage when Nixon was still a big deal. The only original looking part—the part resembling De Vinci’s brush strokes—was the Jesus’s flesh, his followers and the landscape seen outside the windows. The long wooden table, food, clothing and walls were colored in a metallic finish—think old carnival rides. The combination was so bad, it was good. As Seth held the artwork up, the sun broke through the cloud cover and made the Jesus’s robe just sparkle. Seth passed the piece to Ely.
“Look at the color of those apples,” said Seth. “It’s awesome.”
Trying to get a peek at the piece, three other patrons swarmed around Ely. In his hands, the Jesus Christ Super Star “Last Supper” was a hot commodity.
“Alright, we need a price,” said Ely. “Who is going to give us a price?
“Hey. Do you need a price?” said a vendor, walking from another booth.
The guy in charge was wearing a faded Chargers hat and looked like he controlled many tables. Another guy followed him, as if this guy was leading him to the sale.
“How about fifteen dollars?”
“That’s only a couple bucks between all of us,” said Seth, holding the find up in the light.
As Seth reaffirmed with a head nod, Ely surrendered a twenty. The vendor reached into his dirty black apron to pull out a wad of bills wrapped with a rubber band.
“15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, there you go,” the vendor said as he placed five one-dollar bills in Ely’s hand.
“You have a nice day,” Austin interjected. “Now here’s that conversational piece, all we need is a coffee table.”