Monday, October 17, 2016

Queen Bee, I Love You: Lessons from an Estate Sale

Today we have a GUEST POST from my good friend Kevin Roberts! Kevin's writing always  has me laughing out loud and THINKING, something that few authors have the ability to make me do. Today's writing was a bit of a departure from Kevin's usual subjects, as he is an expert in ADHD and cyber addiction. You can find his two books HERE and HERE , and be on the lookout for his newest title: "Schindler's Gift: How One Man Harnessed ADHD to Change the World," coming out soon! Also, if you're so inclined, please join Kevin and I over at his Facebook Group: "Navigating Life and Laughter With Your Unique Learner," where parents of different learners come together to share tips, encouragement and learn about navigating life's ups and downs from Kevin, with humor. I'm happy that Kevin wanted to stop by How Bourgeois, and I hope you are too! 

Queen Bee, I Love You: Lessons from an Estate Sale.

I love estate sales. I used to love them even more than I do now, but television shows like American Pickers have, I think, contributed to estate sale companies feeling license to charge excessive, nigh exorbitant, prices.  Every item is portrayed as precious. Any item, estate sale agents maintain, is a potential objet d’art from some obscure artist, or from a “limited” collection.  
“Why is this Chinese terracotta statue seven-hundred dollars?” I asked the sale worker whose nametag said Marge. “Oh that’s an antique straight from China,” she replied. She did not know that I had purchased the exact same 26-inch statue at an estate sale the week before for $25. It had been priced at $100, but I made my purchase at 3:56PM, four minutes before the sale ended, and so the 75% markdown was in effect.  

I asked Marge how she knew it was a valuable and rare antique. She said she didn’t know and shunted me over to the woman who was presumably in charge. “That statue comes from north of Beijing,” the estate sale Queen Bee, who did not wear a name tag, told me. “Such large statues are quite rare. Do you notice the dusty patina on the base?” She used the word “patina,” so she must know what she’s talking about, right? I am sure most people do not vocally confront such absurd lies, but I hate fraud. I hate it so much that when I get calls from scam artists telling me I need to pay a $200 processing fee so I can get my $8600 rebate from the U.S. Grant Department, I keep the fraudster on the phone as long as possible, operating under the belief that by talking to me they are not talking to someone who might actually believe the scam. I see myself as a fraud interrupter. I see it as my civic duty and if I were independently wealthy I would form a vigilante brigade to track down these miserable human beings. Since such scams [LINK to this news story:] lately are making victims call another number for verification, I go so far as to post those numbers on Facebook, inviting my friends to call and tie up the lines.  I do what I can. 
So, standing in the middle of a busy estate sale, I was not going to let the Queen Bee get away with such an egregious lie. I informed her that I had the week before purchased the exact same statue for $25. “I’m sure it was not of the same period and quality.” I showed her the picture on my phone. Unable to deny the apparent exactitude between the two statues, she tried to spin away the situation: “I’m sure that yours is a good replica, but our statue is the real thing.” I responded to this baseless assertion with a question: “How do you know? What research leads you to that conclusion?” She replied, “Experience, experience, experience.” I followed up, “What does it mean that it is the real thing?
The slight grimace on her face betrayed her growing anger, though she kept up a forced smile the whole time. Customers milling around had begun to listen in. “I know what it is,” she insisted, “because I have been in this business for twenty years, and I know a fake from the real thing.”  Undeterred by her bereft-of-evidence declaration, I inquired further: “What exact features of this statue leads you to believe it is a valuable antique worth seven-hundred dollars?”
She reacted to this question with an anticipatory smugness, a slightly evil smile that to me suggested she thought she was about to win the debate. “Do you see the patina on the base?” she rhetorically asked. “That’s clearly the mark of an older item.”
“Mine has that too,” I replied. “Let me blow up the picture here so you can see.” Exasperated, she turned away, refused to look at the picture, and simply maintained her expertise: “I am a professional and you are not. If you want to spend money on forgeries, that’s your problem. The price is seven-hundred dollars.” She said nothing more, but I noticed that most of the other customers had lost their appetite for buying. The whiff in the air of fraud understandably scared them away.
I felt dirty as I stood there, however. I knew I was not guilty of fraud, but I was a part of that whole scene, and I, like perhaps most of the customers who had decided to stop by, made the scene possible. We were all looking for a bargain for an item that could help make our homes unique, distinctive, or more interesting. Most estate sale mavens also delight in the quest of it all. As I look deep inside myself, I believe that I go to estate sales because I have this treasure hunter instinct. My friend Lauren Stein and I talk frequently about this impulse. Lauren, for example, loves to explore with her metal detector. She likes to probe through her yard and discover traces of the past. She gets excited if she finds an old button or even some ancient trash heap. “What people threw away,” Lauren is fond of saying, “tells you a lot about how they lived.” I guess that Lauren and I are, at our core, adventurers.  Metal detecting and estate sale-ing give us an outlet for the impulse to adventure. I did, incidentally, buy Lauren a present from that sale, a pair of elevated Japanese, wooden flip-flops, called Geta [News story about how to wear them correctly:].  

These flip flops [insert Wikipedia Link:] originate from the idea of elevating shoes to avoid the mud and debris of busy streets. Lauren loved them! So, I made a “consumer kill” that day, but the whole incident just sent me into reflection.  I asked myself if I really enjoyed going to estate sales anymore and what I was actually getting out of it. The incident with the Queen Bee elevated my self-inquiry, like the Geta elevate the wearer from the dirt of the street, and caused me to call into question my motivation.  
In the first place, all indications were that this particular estate sale was from someone who had passed away, or at least been unable to live independently. The menagerie of Asian items was, after all, complemented by numerous home healthcare items, like a shower chair and a walker. As I stood in the place, after my confrontation with the Queen Bee, I started to think about my excitement at the Asian items. Clearly, the people who had lived there had similar tastes to my own, and it is likely that they experienced a thrill when they originally purchased these items. As I sat with that idea, my mind wandered forward to a time when someone in my family might hire an estate sale agent after my own passing, or perhaps my move several decades from now into a senior center. New customers, some of whom at this writing might still be in school, will attend that sale and they will fill their homes with items that used to fill mine. This recycling of “stuff” sort of troubles me. I just have the sense that I am playing in some superficial game that isn’t really leading to greater peace or happiness for anyone. I get a little jolt of satisfaction when I find “just the right” object, but I fear that all I’m really doing is filling up my home with items I don’t really need, and that certainly do not make me happy. I am, I fear, just making my life more complicated.
Maybe I’m just having a Zen moment with all of this, but I feel I am tiring of my consumer orientation. As much as I like to eschew ties to our consumer culture, though, I readily admit that I am not that different than the Queen Bee. After all, I go to estate sales because I want a deal. I am less and less interested in such sales because objects that I am interested in are tending to edge closer to “full price.” So, from that perspective, I am greedy, maybe just as greedy as the Queen Bee. So as I look into myself for the deeper lessons, yes, I am cheap and even somewhat greedy, and I suppose those are traits I am not particularly proud of. So maybe the Queen Bee is a mirror for me, one who is nudging me to look more fully at myself.  It is so enticing to think of myself as the bargain-hunting anti-fraud superhero, but maybe I am just human, learning new things about myself, often as the result of looking outward and being triggered by something or someone I claim to dislike. Can I love and accept the Queen Bee? I am going to try, because maybe if I can do that I can also step more fully into authentically loving myself.

The estate sale is truly a mirror for my own life. I enjoy finding fault in others, but the driving force of that is often that I do not fully embrace certain parts of myself.  I think it is like Carl Jung said; we all have a dark side comprised of aspects of ourselves we repress, hide and deny. Jung called this the shadow and he maintained that we can regain a great deal of psychic energy if we probe into and integrate those spun-off parts of ourselves.  Dear Queen Bee, thank you for helping me see where my mind is trapped. I am ready to move on.  :)

No comments: