Monday, August 10, 2009

Swine dining and the flea market tradition: an appreciation of sorts.

I am more partial to swine dining than I am to fine dining. And what I mean by swine dining goes beyond the obvious love of pig to encompass a whole way of eating: out of a trough in a mud poke. In a manner of speaking, philosophically. Fine dining requires getting gussied up in your Sunday best. In contrast, swine dining doesn't even necessarily demand pants. Swine dining is a way of life. I first came to discover my love of swine dining many years ago in the dusty corridors of the old Sedgefield Flea Market where vendors hawked corn dogs and gravy fries, root beers and cherry colas, or "colers" as it was pronounced, amidst stalls of bric-a-brac and farm equipment. To me swine dining equates with easy living. Easy living is something I sorely miss these days.

The Sedgefield Flea Market was out High Point Road on the way to Jamestown. It consisted of a single hangar like ramshackle concrete building which housed permanent vendor's stalls and a snack bar surrounded by weedy gravel parking lots where on the weekends cars and trucks amassed in lanes of concentric circles to showcase their wares. During the week when the market was closed and the gravel lots were empty and the solitary structure sat weathered white, solemn, silent; the property seemed vaguely menacing, if not downright haunted. But when the flea market was in session the grounds became carnival like with eager crowds of redneck folk shuffling to and fro sifting through a profundity of junk and cast off shit: the dust stirring above their magpie babble; a million wobbly transistor radios playing Charlie Daniels Band; the sputters and roars of revving lawn mower engines and power tools; the sundry hawkers celebrating their potions and tinctures; buskers picking at old guitars and bangoes; and permeating everything, the scent of crap food being fried to living hell in the greasy pit of the snack bar.

I loved coming to the flea market with my dad on Sunday mornings. He would hand me some money and we would go off in different directions, he in search of the plates, cups, and saucers that to this day still obsess him and I would go off to plunder from stacks of old comic books and records. In those days I was also constantly on the lookout for skin mags or any printed journal in which I might cadge a glimpse of tit or snatch. As my mother knelt in church across town praying for the damned soul of her only prized son, I was browsing through copies of True Detective or old worn issues of Easy Rider soaking up grainy images of kidnapped co-eds and skanky topless biker chicks. Satan, oh my sweet Satan.

The snack bar which operated in the front portion of the old hangar was the kind of place that my mother would pray to God to destroy. It was a filthy place. Even from my young eyes it was obvious that the proprietors held little regard for silly matters like sanitation standards and other such bourgeois nonsense. The kitchen itself was enclosed in a greasy shell of corrugated tin, dry wall, and rusted chicken wire. There was a couple of fryers and a grill and not much else. Refrigeration was frowned upon. The counter, little more than a shelf crowded with jars of relish, bright yellow mustard, and ketchup, was constructed of scrap plywood. A heavy jowled bad tempered man sat at the small window by the cash register and begrudgingly took orders. The menu was scrawled on pieces of torn cardboard taped to the grease splattered glass above his head I was partial to the corn dogs. The corn dog is a marvelous creation. It supplies us with the prehistoric satisfaction of eating our food from a stick. Why don't people put slices of hot dogs in corn bread? Because you can't eat a wedge of cornbread on a stick. After I got my corn dog and my root beer I would visit the fixins counter and slather yellow mustard generously up and down my dog.

Armed with sustenance I would embark into the labyrinth of stalls that were owned and operated by the more serious professional collector of crap...what they nowadays call antiques. A lot of these sellers had been in the building for years. The cars and campers outside of itinerant huskers presenting their goods on blankets spread over the coarse ground came and went, but the folks who rented space in the weather beaten building had built up fantastic cluttered idiosyncratic nests in which they had roosted every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for years. The stalls were really little more than chain link pens but most of them were carpeted and outfitted with all of the comforts of home. You might just as easily come upon a family watching television and having lunch as you would a display case of estate jewelry. I remember that lighting in general in the building was poor, but for the single row of bare bulbs that cast a feeble glow down the center aisles each vendor was left to fend for himself. Most of the stalls were illuminated by desk lamps or crooked floor lamps that could also simultaneously be had for a price (which would sometimes without warning plunge the intrepid shopper into darkness) . A few stalls were always cloaked in darkness, their stall gates always padlocked, their merchandise mere hollow shapes lost in the shadows. As I meditatively consumed my corn dog I would stroll along the aisles from one oasis of light and knickknackery to another, passing the shuttered shops in funerary silence. There were entire stalls devoted to soda bottles and bottle caps; old farm equipment and railroad souvenirs; there were stalls that dealt exclusively in coca-cola memorabilia; there were stalls that sold only dolls and depression era toys; only chinaware; only silver and gold; there were stalls that were lined with shelves like libraries and offered every poorly penned science fiction novel or western or harlequin romance ever published; there were stalls crammed with figurines and curios and garish commemorative plates from the Franklin Mint; there was a stall for every imaginable object that man had ever created, coveted, and cast aside. But that was the secret joy of the flea market and a resolute reaffirmation of the fundamental laws of physics: once it had been created, the object was borne into existence to stay. It might be cast off by one, but another would eventually come along and pick it up.

Sadly enough the old Sedgefield flea Market is no longer in operation, but there are other places that still carry on the noble business of circulating humankind's detritus from one hand to another, from one generation to the next. It is odd to think of our belongings outlasting us, but a good portion of them are sure to still be laying around long after you've been laid in your box and most probably someone either familiar or foreign will get their hands on them. And perhaps they will say something like, "If only he hadn't eaten so many corn dogs he might still be around to enjoy all of these trinkets."

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