I never forget a pair of legs. And these looked awfully familiar.
They were a pair and a half of legs, actually, three legs that were holding up a table at Upscale Resale, a furniture consignment store in Falls Church. The tabletop was shaped like the letter D. The table was brown, slightly scratched. It was wobbly.
I was looking for an armoire, but there was something about the table that caught my eye.
"Wow," I said to myself. "That looks like the table I sold at my yard sale. I wonder how much they want for it."
They wanted $189.99 for what the tag rather grandly described as a "walnut William & Mary-style demi-lune console table."
Not only was it just like the table I had sold at my yard sale, but as I examined it more closely I realized it was the table. The exact same table. The same wobble. The same scratches on the top.
I can't remember where we got it, but we never really liked it. Even if it hadn't wobbled, it wasn't really our style. When you're young, you take furniture from anywhere, you buy cheap and you accessorize with posters. As My Lovely Wife and I grew older, we decided that we deserved better furniture. The table went in the basement.
At the end of the summer, as we were getting ready to move, we had a yard sale.
I like hosting a yard sale every decade or so. It lets me pretend that I'm a merchant. Though we were hoping to make a little bit of money, that wasn't our main aim. We just wanted to get rid of stuff so we wouldn't have to cart it to Salvation Army or move it to our new house. The Oriental rug we'd paid $700 for? Sold for $50. Men's suits? Two bucks each. Carpet squares, perfect for protecting the back of the car from muddy dog feet? A dollar.
And the wobbly table?
It obviously had been "picked." Pickers are at the bottom of the collectibles food chain. (I don't mean that as an insult.) They have a discerning eye and ready cash, and they swarm yard sales and flea markets. They may have their own collections they're hoping to augment, but they also have relationships with antique stores and consignment stores.
"A picker looks for something that they know is resellable," said John Atkins, who runs two consignment stores in the District, the Connecticut Avenue Collection and the Wisconsin Avenue Collection, and has used pickers. They know what's hot at any particular moment: Art Deco and mission style are desirable now, for example, John said.
I was pretty sure I'd recognized one picker at our yard sale. Early in the day, a white-bearded man drove up in a rusty car that looked like it was held together with baling wire. He walked up to me and delivered a monologue he had obviously recited countless times before. It went something like this:
"Do you have any LioneltrainspocketknivesDepressionglassfishingreelsfishingluresfountainpenschinadollsConfederatememorabiliaWorldWarIImemorabiliastockcertificatesmechanical bankswristwatchesorstamps?"
When I said I didn't, he hopped back into his car and was off with a puff of smoke from the tailpipe.
"They are there for the big kill," said John Atkins. Of course, with "Antiques Roadshow" and eBay, a lot of us think we know what things are worth. Before our sale began, my wife had priced a mohair Steiff boar that she'd had since childhood at $2. I removed it to the safety of our basement, certain it was worth more. (And when I looked on the Web later, I saw that they'd gone for as much as $115, thank you very much.)
I can't even remember who bought the table. I do know I sold it for less than five dollars.
"Oh, John! You didn't!" John Atkins said when I told him what I'd let it go for.
Who knew? Who even knew that the table was a "demi-lune," as opposed to a table shaped like the letter D?
"Demi-lunes are hot," John said. "Everyone's looking for one."
I tell you, though, even seeing it marked up to $189.99, I didn't like that table any more than when I owned it. I hope its new owner is someone who appreciates a fine demi-lune.
Many Happy Returns
One person's trash is another person's treasure. And one person's treasure sometimes goes missing.
My friend Val recently bought a copy of Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go" at Borders.
When she got home, she found that inside the book was an envelope marked "Emily." Inside the envelope was a card. "Dear Emily, my darling recent graduate," the typewritten note began. "I have been waiting four years to be able to give you this book." The card was signed "Mom."
Val thinks that this is what happened: The aforementioned Emily got more than one copy of "Oh the Places You'll Go" when she graduated from high school last summer. She returned all but one to Borders. Among those she returned was the one from her mother.
Could be. Or maybe Emily said, "Thanks, Mom, but I'd rather have 'The DaVinci Code.' "
Whatever happened, it's probably not on Emily's mind right now. I imagine she's finishing up her first semester at college.
The card and the mysterious Emily reminded me of when I came across a copy of Bill Cosby's "Fatherhood" at a thrift shop. Inside in a shaky hand was the inscription "To Daddy."
I couldn't think of any reason for that book to have ended up there that wasn't kind of sad.
If you're Emily, I have your card. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.