Summer is coming to a close. For many of us, it's already over. But before the curtain closes on the season, one objective was imperative to make my summer complete - a flea market excursion.
New York City is a flea market wasteland. If you know me, I'm always whining about this like a big baby. You'd think the Big Apple would be an oasis of age old treasures, but let me tell you, it's worthless. There's nothing. The few fleas that do exist are hipster mutations where a $5 iced coffee is the best deal to be found. Note: it's not a flea market when lobster rolls are the snack of choice. That's why I make the point to escape the pretentiousness and venture to the Columbus Flea Market in the farmlands of New Jersey. This massive lot of vendors is the real deal. Real people. Real junk. No lobster rolls. The trip has become a summer tradition for me and my Mom. Jess, my fiancé, tagged along this year too. We filled a thermos of coffee for the long drive and made the 2 hour trek to the beautiful, down-to-Earth flea market in quest for beautiful junk.
This year, we arrived early and the sun was already preparing for a hot day. We were greeted by the normal chaos of the market. The morning rituals were in full effect. Vendors shouting, hoards of shoppers & me...smothering myself with a coat of sunblock. Everything is weird at the flea market, it's only natural to join the absurdity.
The flea market can be an overwhelming experience. You're immediately tossed into the anarchy of used goods. However, a gentle soul greeted us at the first table we approached. A sweet old lady softly listed her cheap prices as we rummaged through the items on her table. The surrounding noise from the other extremely vocal vendors didn't phase her the slightest. She calmly sat in her own world, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun.
My mom quickly found an antique plate within minutes. This prompted me to dig deeper within the collection of junk this kind old woman had to offer. In a pile of old toy cars I spotted something familiar. Although the kind lady referred to it as a Matchbox car, I knew what it really was - a TMNT Mini-Mutants Micro Cycle. Based on size alone, this was like finding a needle in a haystack. Even though I already have one of these in The Sewer Den, the price of a dollar was too good to turn away. Now I have an extra! If anyone wants it, send me a message and I'll hook you up. Spread the flea market finds, spread the love.
In the same heap of junk I found a vintage toy tea set. The metal saucers were beat to hell, but that rusting texture appeals to me for some strange reason. Maybe I'm attracted to flaws? What does that say about me?! The design itself featured some harmless fun, cartoonish characters getting married - fitting for a guy who's engaged. For a buck, I scooped these dopey metal dishes up. Any excuse to bring home more toys, I'll take it!
The old lady's table was proving to be a goldmine of fun clutter. Something silly and spooky caught my eye next. Still in its decades-old box, I found a goofy Halloween ghost decoration. Since I was a kid, we had one of these wacky, battery operated ornaments hung in our home every October. It filled the house with pesky sound effects every time someone walked by. It was really annoying, and really awesome. I asked the woman if hers still worked. She was unsure. Did I care? No. I added it to the haul we'd soon be carting away from her table. We handed the sweet old lady a few bills and went on our merry way.
The rest of the flea market! I almost forgot about it after digging up so many immediate discoveries. Down a few more rows, we came across a vendor blasting Slayer from his car stereo. The curious mix of metal & the summer heat called me like a siren song. The vendor manned his table from the comfort of his car hood. He lay across it like a mermaid washed ashore on the beach. But, he was no beauty. Bald, bearded, and wearing a uniform of forgotten 80s trends. His table had items that fit his style - records, concert posters & an old guitar. But it was a vintage promotional sign that caught my eye. Measuring 3 feet long and 1 foot high, a New York City World's Fair postcard advertisement.
I'm a sucker for narrow, horizontal art. Maybe it's the CinemaScope widescreen-like presentation? Whatever it is, the passion won. My negotiation skills were fairly successful. The print, and it's flimsy cheap frame, were now mine. We tossed the oversized discovery in the car to keep our hands free to rummage for more goodies! Note: The print and its frame are now hanging in my home. This photo makes it look a lot smaller than it is.
The immediate success spoiled us. The next hour was spent foraging through junk with no luck. I came across a few TMNT items, but their condition was embarrassing. Who would pay money for THIS?! Ray Fillet, a classic 90s TMNT figure for sure. But, he's much cooler with limbs and without a thick layer of filth. Toys like this belong in a free pile or a trash bin. Don't try selling us your forgotten childhood garbage, dude. Yet, I see these at every flea market. A sad purchase, but it's a great visual - a true symbol of the junk people sell.
Cowabunga. I eventually landed at a spot bursting with Turtle Power. The table itself was dressed in a TMNT bed sheet - always an encouraging sign and a trap for suckers like me. Even if I didn't find anything for myself in the heap of toys, just seeing so much TMNT in one spot is always awesome. Piles of 90s plastic give me joy. Why? I don't know. Maybe a therapist would.
The vendor's prices were steep. Everything was too expensive for hot plastic laying in the blistering sun. We went back and forth over a sweet sewer lid-firing vehicle, but he wouldn't budge. The guy acted like he had the Mona Lisa, not a toy from the 2000s that was missing pieces. Me, the master of the sewer, couldn't get the sewer vehicle. My skills are slipping.
The clock ticked, the temperature rose. My next purchase was going to be a boring bottle of water if something didn't catch my eye shortly. From the comforts of a rocking chair, an elderly woman gave me a friendly greeting as I meandered passed her table. Sure, her friendly hello was welcome, but it was her wooden rocking chair digging itself into the dirt that really lured me over. Who brings a rocking chair to a flea market? For some strange reason, I wanted to see that sight close up. Curiosity doesn't kill, it gets you Ghostbuster toys. Deep in a box of junk, I found 3 Universal Monster-inspired Ghostbusters figures. They weren't in great shape, but not embarrassingly ruined either. The woman and I negotiated. She continued to rock in her chair during the entire exchange, lulling herself deeper into the Earth. Father Time made his mark on this lady, but her mind was sharp as sword. She knew that the figures were from Ghostbusters, which deeply satisfied me in a weird way. We settled on five bucks for all three figures. Bustin' makes me feel good, but good deals make me feel even better.
With 3 hours on the books and the heat at its height, my Mom & Jess were ready to call it a day. We had a pretty successful haul, so why not end on a high note? Of course, I never want to stop. I'd run myself into the ground for the sake of a good flea market. There were a couple more unexplored rows. I broke away from the group - determined to fly through the last of the market quickly, leaving no stone unturned.
My dedication paid off. I found a few people my age selling their old toys. In a laundry basket full of big toys, I found one of my TMNT holy grails - an 11" Krang Android Body! I picked up the toy in disbelief. Did I really find this dude in the wild?! Am I dreaming?! His antennae and stomach hutch were intact too - the key pieces that are easily, and are usually, broken. Pulling myself out of a trance, I mumbled something to the vendor. Luckily, they could translate my idiotic babbling to "how much?"
"Fifty cents," was the modest reply. Yup, that's right. They were willing to let my holy grail go for a measly half buck. As I picked my jaw off the ground, I removed a crumpled George Washington from my wallet and eagerly forked it over. The young woman searched her pockets for change. I told her not to even worry about it, in fear the mistake of selling this prized procession so incredibly cheap would hit her. I gave her a final "thank you" and scurried along in a euphoric stupor.
I already have an 11" Krang Android Body. It's in much better condition, has a box & was a very special birthday gift. I didn't really need another one. But for a buck, how could I resist? At one time, this was the top of my TMNT holy grail list. Discovering it in the wild, for a dollar, was a (sad) fantasy I always hoped would become a reality. Now, it has. The Sewer Den has Krang twins!
The great flea market excursion of summer 2016 was an unprecedented success. Krang, with the help of a few Ghostbusters & a handful of random junk, raised the bar pretty high. I'm still in disbelief over these discoveries! When do I wake up? Years from now, I'll fondly look back at this legendary trip. I already miss navigating through the dust-covered collections, cutting through the sweltering heat of summer 2016.
It was a moment in time. It was unreal. It was the perfect summer flea market.