Yard sales to flea-markets.

I don’t know many people that can pass up a yard sale or a flea market. There is always a deal out there. Last weekend the village had profound collections all over the place and it included a wild assortment from dump-bound debris to treasures. I found the best sales tactic was to make much of it free and just move on with my life—time to clean up and purge the one-time important items. I didn’t get rid of my slightly bent racing bike due to its 45 years and no provenance due to my less than heroic history of racing. Looks cool and would nicely decorate a bar with all those Campanella parts—but no.

Still it felt good and all grinning participants had fun and met with friends to jabber and find out what life was like post covid.

For reasons still not clear, I along with three others didn’t quite have enough action with the local yard sailing/yard-sale-ing. We were forced to attend a ‘real’ flea market in Baraboo where the Wisconsin Steam and Gas hold the spring blowout market for individuals who need things made of iron, not modern steel but old iron, sometimes referred to as rusty junk. Such profusion of magnetos, worn-out farm implements left-overs from the dust  bowl, colorful painted metal signs festooned with thinly clad, and exaggerated ladies from the forties, complete tractors worn-out from plowing some rock-strewn sand lot in Adams county right next to Ed Gein’s old place, and wild assortment single-cylinder gas and diesel engines used for grinding depression era corn with the hopes of making it through another winter—or I suppose making corn meal mash for a backwood’s stills.

We were easily entertained by the flea-market auction where gawking individuals (and I will add most were persons of the male persuasion) bid on assorted relics from the last iron age. But, we never really took part using seldom-exercised judgment as our guide knowing we all arrived there in Priuses (Priuri). These autos, in their modern charm, were not particularly suitable for hauling much of anything. A nice three horse Fuller-Johnson weighing in at 640 pounds was simply out of the question even if it was suspected of having run at least once in the last 50 years. All four of us marveled at the good price (except Martin who thought we were all nuts right from the get-go), still we smiled and dreamed of another home-bound project.

This flea market is always the mother of sales for all old-stuff made of iron (Martin again noted that much of the collections were like brother Jeff and I—old and in the way)  but we prevailed and drifted through the rows and rows of things we found to be of so little value they would not even have been melted down during the most horrible of foreign wars.

Early on, we, Jeff, son Ian, and I had been attracted to a hodgepodge of metal piled on a flatbed truck. We had examined it, fondled the International M, 1.5 horse single-cylinder construct of rust that had obviously spent the better part of last century buried in mud. It had an inspirational draw, a calling if you will, asking us to bring it back to life even though it may have been better suited for an anchor for a steamship. We chatted up the owner from Iowa but initially made no indication we were actually willing to put out folding money for such a piece of Great Plains rubble. I suspect he could see the inner lusting.

We wandered off but on our swing back to our cars dropped by the flatbed from Iowa. It seemed I had brought down from my home two old water pumps from my collection and had intended on just leaving them with someone for their entertainment. It was then I realized I might be able to trade those two extremely valuable items for a reduced position on the International M. After some discourse, mostly intellectual, the owner said he could let the M go for the two pumps and $50. Martin mumbled something to the effect of, “For the love of God, man.” The rest of us, in a muted sense, felt redeemed, if not satisfied, to have instantly justified the time spent looking at incredible deals being offered up in this backyard of America—and it was only 350 pounds! What a day yard-sailing. No wonder everybody loves these outings. Sale on, or is it sail on?

“Plowing time again”

“Plowing time again.”

I was listening to Neil Young belt out “In the field of opportunity it’s plowing time again” and realized it was that time. Yah, winter was over and while there still was a remnant of snow in the parking lot pile, it was that time. It was then Tom Waits came on singing ‘Ya gotta get behind the mule in the mornin’ and plow”.

Okay, Okay I know that in this our modern times, these songs of my past life are metaphors not suggestions that I really have to get out in the fields behind some belligerent mule and prepare the land for crops. But, they are encouragements of a sort to do something, after all, life has opportunities and some drudgery—like being pushed and pulled by a stinking draft animal—or could it just be ‘the system’ that we all have to face.

So, I pondered the situation while reclining in my “self-upholstered chair’, the wing back if I recall, wanting to know just what to do with my life. Youthful spring was reaching out her warm hand calling. How would I respond?

At first light around 10:45 on an early April morn, work boots on hand, gloves fitted, worn and tucked in my pockets, I, the noble and well-meaning farmer embraced the advice to get behind the iron mule, the waiting roto-tiller.  I knew it had been well fed, so on the first pull of the ether-stimulated engine, life sprang anew and with the motion of a younger man, I stepped behind the rig and with the simple motion of the right hand nudged the whip to the beast. There was a hesitation, a hiccup, a snort of defiance as the gas-fueled, not oat-fueled, power plant spitted and chugged, then quit. After additional flogging, along with some colorful mule-skinner terminology most of it decorated with various words involving excrement and acts both socially unacceptable and physically impossible, the initiation of getting behind the plow came to a halt.

The iron monster just stood there, motionless, seeming to look back at me in disdain. Stepping back, my mind raced, or at least walked, maybe crawled, working through the pattern of behavior of this technological, but somewhat antiquated, tiller of the soil, this metal mule. Spark? Yes (it was metaphorically alive) because I could see the cute little flame come off the plug. Fuel? Seemed okay and the ether did give it a nice burst but the gasoline, the elixir of all life American, had been in the tank since last year where it could have rotted like good hay.

There was a flash of light, which is like a flash of insight, when it became apparent that a little food enhancement might be in order. I went inside next to a warm stove and poured a late morning tea to build my resolve and think like a mule. Sea Foam? Ya man, Sea Foam. It says right on the bottle that it will improve any fuel, making any engine come to life with minimal kicking and screaming. I took a huge gulp (just kidding) by essentially dumping a fine portion into the old stinking, water-filled gasoline.  

Turns out, you have to have good hay to get a mule to move. One pull on the harness and off we went looking for opportunities in our vast field of some twenty-five hundred square feet. It was plowing time again and I was behind the mule.

But, like all fields of opportunity (other than Bitcoin), that mule would take some additional handling to achieve a harvest of plenty. For the next hour or so the hooves of that jackass kicked up soil, last year’s buried chicken, remnants of sunflowers and squash vines and most interestingly some Virginia Creeper vines that managed to get entangles in the legs of the iron monster. This required some more of the aforementioned farmer talk, spiked with sailor terminology, which I learned some years ago while serving before the mast with Captain Ahab—don’t call me Ishmael.

Making agriculture life even more interesting, a few days later I developed a nasty rash. It now appears that among the Creeper vines was the vegetative remains of what is called, in the forester trade, poison ivy. The damn mule kicked it all over the place making sure some of the oil, the plague of woodland farmer, scattered ever so delicately on my person, and that would be, in the end, on places we do not want to mention in polite company.

Still, “You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.” because “In the field of opportunity it’s plowing time again. That garden better be damn good.