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Easy Money at the Travelling Antique Show


Ken Bushnell

Tyler waited anxiously with his mother, Evelyn, for the appraiser to come by their table and interview them for the Traveling Antique Show. Cameras and lights were three tables down focusing on a slight, frail women with a lamp. He could hear the appraiser ask, "And what do you think it's worth?" Tyler's mind raced with the prospects. Their old stagecoach trunk was one of a kind. He was already spending the money he knew his mother and he would spend together on things they needed. They weren't frivolous.

Tyler thought back to the trouble they had loading it in the car.  Benny, a neighbor, came over to help. "Try getting in the back seat," he said. This required Tyler to get into an awkward position, hunched over, one foot on the floor and the other knee on the back seat. After several attempts, tearing the headliner, and scratching the door, they discovered it wouldn't fit. The only alternative was to put it in the trunk of the car. That wasn't much better, driving with the car's trunk lid open, mother backed into a post at the auditorium. "Probably six hundred dollars damage," she said inspecting the bent fender, bumper and broken tail light.

All that was forgotten now, as they waited anxiously for their turn in front of the cameras. The longer they waited the more nervous they became. Tyler hoped he would be able to function when his turn came to be on the show.

He was brought out of his trance when he heard the appraiser say "Fourteen thousand dollars," to the lady who owned the lamp. She almost collapsed when she heard it. 

"Wow. I didn't know it was worth that much." She fought desperately to hold back her enthusiasm.

Evelyn raised her voice so she could be heard over the din. "How much longer do you think it will be?" she yelled to a lady standing behind the cameras holding a clipboard.

The lady with the clipboard snarled and came over. "What do you need?" she asked with no pretence of compassion.

"My hip. Do you have a chair?" Evelyn's hip had bothered her off and on for several years. It was painful standing this long. She had been limping all day.

The lady with the clipboard motioned to a boy who came over. "Can you get her a chair?" She instructed. With that she returned to her position behind the camera. The boy brought the chair and Evelyn sat down.

"Are you OK?" Tyler was always an attentive son.

"I'm fine," Evelyn said. "I just wish they'd move a little faster."

"It will be worth it, Mother. You can buy that new couch or maybe a television set." Tyler was already plying a well worn routine to get his way. Not that he wanted anything for himself, mind you. He only wanted what was best for himself and  his mother.

Evelyn's spirits were picking up. "I thought I'd get a new china set. I'm always so embarrassed to pull out those old broken cracked dishes whenever company comes over." There were only a couple of cracks and chips here and there, hardly noticeable. Evelyn and Tyler ran a tidy household, that's all. Nothing was ever left undone, uncleaned or unmended.

Evelyn's mind drifted to the time she and her husband, Harold, bought the trunk. She didn't want to buy it but he insisted. They took a drive in the mountains upstate to see the flowers and stopped at an antique store they had driven by a dozen times before. The road side attraction that caught their attention was an old wagon with a giant stuffed alligator propped up in the seat holding the reins. There were a lot of other knick knacks in front of the store; some old tables, saws, pottery and the like. It was closer to being a junk store than an antique store, but "that's where the deals were to be found," Harold had said.

Harold talked the elderly proprietor down to a hundred dollars. The proprietor said he couldn't help load it because of an old war injury.  Evelyn had to help and tore her dress. On the trip home they had trouble driving because the car's trunk lid was blocking the rear view mirror.  Every time Harold had to switch lanes or make a right hand turn he told Evelyn to put her head out the window and make sure it was clear. They fought the whole way home.

At the table next to theirs a lady was showing a doll. "It's unusual to see a doll from this maker in such good condition. What can you tell me about it?" A different appraiser was examining it; one who specialized in dolls. The same film crew was there. The lady with the clipboard kept glaring at Evelyn to make sure she wasn't going to cause any more trouble.

The tables for the show were in a roped off area. Two attendants kept people from wandering in and disturbing the scene. Earlier, as Tyler and Evelyn wrestled their trunk into the auditorium one of the show's people came over and told them an appraiser had picked out their trunk and wanted to take a closer look to see if it could be used on the show. 

They knew it was destined to be on TV when they phoned for the tickets.  When they arrived and saw the throngs of people who had brought their antiques they became discouraged. The few tables and chairs set out were filled long before Tyler and Evelyn arrived. "The smart ones were the ones who brought something they could carry," Evelyn said more than once.  She had to sit on the trunk, something she was not happy doing.

The show's people came over an hour later. A young women who looked like the director introduced everyone: "Hello, I'm Marci. This is Harry Wentworth, an expert on nineteenth century furniture. He wants to take a look at your piece."

Harry looked the trunk over without saying a word to Evelyn or Tyler.  As Evelyn got up to shake hands with Marci, Harry opened the trunk lid, took a quick look inside and slammed it shut. "Good," he said to Marci.  "Put it down as number four." Then he was off to inspect another piece of furniture, still without acknowledging Tyler's or Evelyn's presence.

Marci took over. "Wonderful," she said. "Mr. Wentworth wants to interview you about your, what is it?"

"Trunk," Tyler said.

"It's an old stage coach trunk," Evelyn cut in with renewed optimism.  "My husband and I got it at an antique store about twenty five, no thirty years ago, upstate by... I forget the name of the town."

"That won't matter." Marci quickly and politely cut her off. "What we need to do is get you set up at one of our tables." She pointed to the back of the auditorium and the roped off area. "I've got a couple of boys who will watch your trunk while we to brief you for the interview. It will be both of you for the interview, won't it?"

"You mean to be on television?" Tyler asked.

"Yes," Marci said. "We've set up the show's trailers out in the parking lot and we'll have to go over a briefing so we can get you on camera."

All of a sudden Evelyn was sceptical. "Well, I don't know..." she said hesitantly.

"All of our pieces that go on air get a chance to be put up for bid.  They get the highest prices in the country when they're shown on our program." This was a stock comment Marci used whenever an owner was hesitant and she was always able to add a personal note of interest.

"Where do we go?" Evelyn's eagerness had returned.

"Billy here will help you to the table and then show you to the trailers. Some of the finest people in the business will be able to meet with you and talk to you about the show. And don't worry, Carl and Ted will watch your piece." With that Marci was off to the next inductee.

"Let me get a cart." Billy went to the roped off area and retrieved a cart reserved for the show staff. While he was away Tyler and Evelyn grabbed each other and gave a little up and down hopping motion with a low shriek of happiness: "Yes," they both seemed to say

Billy returned with the cart. "Can you help me get it on the cart?" he asked Tyler. Tyler obliged and they took it over to the table where they unloaded it. "Those two guys over there will keep an eye on it for you," Billy reassured them. "This way to the trailer."

Evelyn and Tyler followed Billy out a side door and then over to what looked like a very expensive, top of the line RV. He knocked on the door and a fairly big, rough looking blond women, dressed in tight jeans and a loose purple T-shirt peered out as the door opened. 

"I've got the trunk people here," Billy said.

"Good," she said in a loud, boisterous, jovial voice and then, "Hello" to Tyler and Evelyn a little softer. "It's so nice that you get to be on the show. Are you nervous?"

Evelyn and Tyler looked at one another not quite knowing what to do. "Come in," the women said. "Would you like some coffee, Pepsi, or something else to drink? We've got anything you need in here."

Tyler helped his mother up the steps.

"Sit down." The blond women pulled out a chair next to a small folding table covered with make-up supplies. "My name's Cheryl," she said.  "How about an orange soda?"

Evelyn sat down and Tyler sat down in a chair on the other side of the table. He didn't see the big huge tall guy duck out of the little RV hallway behind him who had purple spiked hair, wore a black T-shirt with a lightning streak on the front, nose, ear, eyebrow rings and tattoos on every visible part of his arms. Evelyn turned flush. Tyler saw her reaction and turned in the direction of her gaze. 

"Sheese," he mumbled involuntarily. Instinctively he looked for an escape route.

"This is Quinton," Cheryl said introducing the tall guy. It didn't sink in right away and Tyler and Evelyn caught themselves staring, mouths agape.

"Hello," Quinton said in a overly effeminate voice. "I hear you people get to be on the show?" Their was an excited lilt added to the end of his sentence.

"What color blush do you use?" Cheryl bent down in front of Evelyn's face as she said it.

"Huh," was all Evelyn could say.

"Blush, dear. What color blush do you use?"

Evelyn looked from side to side a couple of times before any of what was being said sunk in. "Blush?" She questioned.

"Yes dear, blush." You want to look your best for the cameras, don't you? We're going to make you a star." Cheryl giggled as she said it. 

"I just thought you'd want to look your best. Did you bring any of your make-up?" Cheryl put a mirror in front of Evelyn.

"I think I'm fine." Evelyn had finally come back to her senses.

"That's good, dear," Cheryl said, tactfully taking another approach. 

"You have the most marvelous hair for a women of your age," she continued and then patted Evelyn's collar to straighten it. "What are you forty-seven?"

Evelyn was sixty-one, but she fell right into the compliment. "I'm fifty-seven," she said.

"Oh, that's fantastic," Cheryl said. "What do you do to keep your hair so beautiful? "You know, I'm a professional. I've done Leslie Charleton's hair, Barbara Stanzick, and the Ponce Girls once, all really famous people and I've never seen anyone with hair as beautiful as yours for a women of even forty. You know what would look really good with that?" Cheryl waited just a second for Evelyn's response and then proceeded. "A little papayalux rouge." Cheryl handed Evelyn a little container of the makeup and then slid a towel around her front to protect her dress. "Let me try some on you," Cheryl went on, taking the container back.

In the meantime Quinton squatted down next to Tyler and peered as close as he could to his face and then said: "have you ever tried eye shadow?"

The rest of their stay in the RV was just as uncomfortable for Tyler but Evelyn was starting to enjoy it. After about twenty minutes Billy returned with another woman and Cheryl and Quinton wrapped up their session with Tyler and Evelyn, unceremoniously rushing them out the trailer with a quick "good luck."

Billy led them back to their table. "If you want to wait here they'll be by to interview you in a few minutes," he said and then left. 

That was two hours ago.

Tyler stared at the trunk and remembered the time he snuck into the attic room and looked in it without his father's permission. His father spent a lot of time in his attic room and Tyler wasn't supposed to go up there without asking first. He was fourteen. His father was at work.  Father had kept some risqué books in the trunk and Tyler couldn't resist the temptation to take a peek. He was pretty sure he had put everything back the way he found it, but he thought his father knew somehow. He could feel his father glaring at him all through supper.

His attention was brought back to the auditorium when he saw out of the corner of his eye, the lady next to them, with the doll, give a big broad smile when the appraiser said, "somewhere between eight and ten thousand dollars." She could barely hold her jubilance. "I would never have guessed," she said, desperately trying to appear modest and unaffected.

Just then Harry, the appraiser who had selected their trunk, came by and stood between Evelyn and Tyler. "This is a marvelous piece," he said in a hushed voice so he wouldn't bother the filming at the next table. 

Harry was all smiles now. "I bet you're feeling good about this." He stroked the side of the trunk as he said it. "Let's move around to the front of the table. Which one of you is showing the piece?" He looked back and forth at both of them.

"We both are," Tyler said. "It's Mother's but we're together."

The lights went off at the table next to them and they could see the woman jump up with glee and shout a silent "yes," with a hand pull in the air, as she was free to express her exultation over the newfound treasure. Harry was able to raise his voice a little and asked Evelyn, "How'd you acquire the piece?"

"We bought it at an antique store up state," she recited to the appraiser. 

"Do you remember how much you paid for it?" he asked with sincerity.

"Not exactly," Evelyn said. "I think it was a hundred dollars.  Money we didn't want to spend at the time," she went on.

"We have to keep the answers short for the cameras," Harry said. 

"Just say a hundred dollars when I ask you later and everything will be just fine."

"OK." Evelyn was nervous.

"And how about you?" Harry turned to Tyler. "Were you with your mother when she bought it?"

"Well no," Tyler said.

"How about if you stand over here and I'll talk to your mother about it, OK?" Harry gently pushed Tyler on the shoulder guiding him to the side, out of camera range.

"Well Mrs. Martins. You have a fine piece of furniture here. I think you can be very proud of it. What do you say we get started?" 

With that the lights came on and someone held up a clapper board to get the cameras started.

"Hello. Mrs. Evelyn Martins. Is that Right?" Harry was even warmer and friendlier than before.

"Yes." Evelyn was quite nervous in front of the cameras.

"I understand you discovered this wonderful piece in a small antique store up state? Do you care to tell us how you came to find it?"

"Well, my husband and I were on a short trip to the mountains and we decided to stop at an antique store we passed many times before."

"That's always a thrill to find a collectable in one of those out of the way places off the beaten path. Can you tell us anything about the trunk?"

"Well, uh, it's a stage coach trunk. It says Topeka, Kansas on the side. I think it was used on a stage coach." Evelyn was more nervous than before.

"What you have here, Mrs. Martins, is a fine replica of early eighteen hundreds trunk used on the first stage coach lines. It was made by the Bernjouleous Wood Works in the late twenties to meet a brief market for replicas of that time period. You can see their name stamped on the inside." Harry opened the lid delicately. "White oak and hand carved joints. They even put in some scratches just like you might have seen on an original trunk used on a early to mid eighteen hundreds stage coach line."

Tyler's and Evelyn's hopes started to fade.

"But there was a resurgence in their popularity and they're quite valuable," Harry went on.

Their spirits lifted again.

"What do you think it's worth?" He asked Evelyn.

"I don't know." Evelyn was even more unsure of herself than before.

"Don't even venture a guess," Harry said. "I'd say one in this good of condition is worth a hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars. How much did you pay for it?"

Evelyn struggled to hide her disappointment. "We, we, we," she was more nervous than ever and started to stutter. She was at her wits end.  It had been a long day, she'd wrecked the car, her hip hurt and she was tired. She fought desperately to hold on to her remaining dignity.

There was only one way out, a complete reversal. She could feel the rage build up inside her. She crooked a lip to one side, squinted her eyes and then took aim at the appraiser.

 "We found it," she blurted.  "My husband and I were upstate and there it was behind some junk store and the guy said he wanted to get rid of it, so we took it. Does that make you happy?" Evelyn was just getting started. "We didn't pay one thin dime for it. What is it with you people?" The rampage was in full swing. 

"You bring us down here and treat us like we were nothing and what do we get. Nothing. Not a thing. A hundred and fifty bucks. Is that all?  Look at her." She honed in on the lady with the doll hugging her friend with glee. "She gets eight thousand dollars. And for what? A doll. A stupid crummy doll." 

She walks over to the doll and grabs for it but the lady is quicker. The lady snatches it out of the way and retreats to a huddle in the corner. Then Evelyn walked up to the camera, pointing. 

"And you people. You wouldn't believe what they make you do here. They bring us down here and we're supposed to feel lucky. Then they drag us out back, put us in a dump truck with some big fairy. What do you want me to think? A hundred and fifty bucks." She started to shake her head.  "For what?"

Tyler had never seen his mother like this. He walked over and put an arm around her. He had come down here trying to protect her from all the maddening crowd, excitement, and activity, and here she was about to let loose on anyone who came within range. She didn't need protecting.  Nobody was fooling Evelyn any more today.

Evelyn shrugged off Tyler's arm. "You!" She barked at Billy. "Get me a cart, now! I want that thing in my car in five minutes or I'm going to call the better business bureau, the S P C A, the C P A or whatever P and A it takes to get your butt in gear. Now!" 

Billy showed real signs of fear and ran over and grabbed a cart. He wheeled it up to the table and single-handedly put the trunk on the cart.

"You! Captain Midnight." Her attention was now turned to the lady with the clip board. "I want a little more respect. If someone asks you for something, and they've come down here to your stupid show, I think the least you can do is show a little respect. You ever turn your nose up and walk away on me again, I'm, I'm going to make you wish you were a candy striper."

The lady with the clipboard didn't budge and was still sneering. 

Evelyn took a hop towards her. "I think I'll shove you in this trunk right now. That'd be worth more than a hundred and fifty dollars." The clipboard lady finally broke. She moved to cower behind one of the cameramen. 

"You're not so tough," Evelyn said as she walked away.  Evelyn was starting to reach the end of her ranting. "Tyler," she commanded, "come on. We're leaving." With that she marched out of the auditorium, perfect cadence, with Tyler and Billy following. Her limp was nowhere in sight.

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