So I went to the Lion's Club flea market in Malibu yesterday and the tiara I've been rendezvousing with for the last three years was gone. On the table where it had rested were a cocktail shaker, a candelabra, a silver comb, an empty perfume bottle and a scary-looking pair of red pumps, but no tiara. I hope it found a good home.
It's a strange thing, shopping at a flea market. Tiny fragments of all these lives, adrift and anonymous. Out of context it's all about the bargain. Twenty-five for the sky-blue Bauer bowl? See that scratch? Will you take twenty? And then you get it home and it looks good on the kitchen counter, looks great on the Thanksgiving table. Someone compliments your cooking, someone else admires the bowl and that's all it takes, the flea market bowl's got a new past. Your past. For a while, anyway.
A man selling snapshots added the Lion's Club sale to his circuit a few years ago. It's a small booth, just some aluminum tables under an awning. At the front are photos of celebrities, headshots and candids, often with autographs. Beneath the tables are vintage Playboy magazines. Talk about naive. At the back, in ratty boxes and used Von's shopping bags, in slippery piles that shift and dodge and seem to edge away from you are hundreds, no, thousands of family photos. Black-and-whites, Polaroids, Kodachromes.
Some still have those little black corners from where they were tacked into a photo album. Some are photo albums, whole family histories, mysteries without names or dates or narratives. Births and birthdays, proms and picnics, holidays, houses, war heroes.
I found a dozen letters written by Jim to his "Dear Folks" in California. Jim was off to the Korean war, hoping for lots of news from home. The matriarch of a black family from Inglewood took great care with her albums, writing in a careful hand the names and events in each photo. Dena 1953, Easter bonnets 1954, Our House 1955.
Ephemera, it's called. Traces of everyday life. Clues and hints and signals.