Artist Date 41: Finding Mine Where it Seemed There Was Nothing

I’ve always wanted to go into Carlos and Sarah’s Surplus of Options.  Ever since a couple of months ago when I saw a wooden crate sitting out front.  The kind my friend Dina suggested I find and put in my bathroom – on its end – to hold “interesting things to look at.”  And toilet paper.

2013-09-26 16.38.09I saw one of these crates at another thrift store but the owner wanted too much for it (in my opinion) and wasn’t willing to budge.  Not even after I purchased her overpriced turquoise vinyl bench from the 1950s.

But I kept forgetting to go.  Or perhaps I was just busy filling my days with other things.

A couple of days ago I saw a sign that Carlos and Sarah’s was closing.  And I saw it as a sign – my destination for Artist Date 41.

I mention to Carlos that I had been wanting to come in for a long time.  He says many people have told him this.

I want to turn around.  It is so sad inside.  There is so little left.  A couple of tables with “sold” signs on them.  A painted chest.  Some books.  Cards.  Photos.  Boxes of records.

Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66.  Jose Feliciano.  Paul Anka’s 21 Golden Hits.

They remind me of so many trips to Amoeba Records in Berkeley, with my ex.  A huge, warehouse-size store lined with rows of albums.  Actual records.  LPs.  We would spend hours there.  Him, looking for obscure recordings to play at our dinner parties.  Me, giddy ogling at cover art.

I once bought an album by the artist Poon Sow Tang.  A photograph of a beautiful Chinese woman wearing gloves, wedged between borders of orange and pink.  It was from the early 60s.  Awful.  I felt like I should be eating really bad egg foo young at a restaurant with fuzzy red and gold wallpaper.  The art was genius.

But usually, I didn’t buy the record.  I would just carry it around the store for a while, enjoying it.  Like the one of Barry White standing next to a curvy swimming pool in Los Angeles.  He is wearing a white jumpsuit and is “less heavy.”  My ex asked me if I wanted it.  It was a buck, I think.  “Nah,” I replied.  I had my experience with it.

I want to take photos of the albums but I wonder if Carlos will think I am strange.  If he will think I am doing something wrong.  If he will kick we out.  Rather than ask him if he minds if I take a few photos, I wait until he goes into the back room and shoot a couple on my phone.  Among them, “Concert for Lovers” and “For My True Love.”  The art work is hideous, and the titles make me sad – but I can’t help myself.

2013-09-26 16.20.29There are door handles.  Political books.  Photographs of a fierce-looking black woman, likely taken in the 1970s.  I ask Carlos if she was a model.  He has no idea.  He bought them at an estate sale.

I pick up a small purple book titled True Thoughts, Good Thoughts; Thoughts Fir to Treasure Up.  The pages are yellowing.  Some have holes.  All of them are falling out of the binding.  It is a collection of poetry and prose by Robert Browning.  A reading for every day.

2013-09-26 16.36.19April Tenth.  “Infinite passion, and the pain/Of finite hearts that yearn.”

September Ninth.  “No protesting, dearest!/Hardly kisses even!/Don’t we both know how it ends?/How the greenest leaf turns searest?/Bluest outbreak – blankest heaven?/Lovers – friends?”

The cover page for October.  “…Days decrease,/And Autumn grows, Autumn in everything.”

My heart swells.

Inside the cover page is a handwritten name: Ruth Lemson.  Inside the back – “So the year’s done with! (Love me forever.)

It is marked $1, but it is on the half-price shelf.  I hold on to it while fingering through a stack of rectangular cards –each with a double exposure of an old photograph.  I pick two.

“American Scenery: Yosemite Valley, Cal.”  It is a picture of El Capitan.  A tree bending before it.  I have been here many times.  The other reads “Paris au Stereoscope: Photographic C’ a Paris.”  It is Notre Dame.

I bring these to the counter, along with the Browning book, and ask what they are.  Carlos explains the cards are from a Stereograph.  It is a predecessor to my childhood ViewFinder.  I remember putting the plastic “binoculars” to my eyes and inserting a disc of photographs into it for a 3-D show.   Same idea.  He does not have the viewer.  Just the cards.

I take a couple of photographs – right in front of Carlos.  I do not explain myself.  He isn’t the least bit fazed.  I try on a pair of vintage glasses in the case.  They are much too wide from my head.

I ask him about the lamp behind him.  He calls it a memory lamp.  I cock my head like a confused puppy.  He explains that an individual glues his or her “special treasures” to it.  It is tacky and awful and painted gold.

Carlos rings me up for my own special treasures – $2.50.  And I wish him luck in his next endeavor, inquiring what that might be.  He sounds a bit like the Big Lebowski, replying something like, “A little of this.  A little of that.”

As I walk out the door, someone walks in.  Someone else who has been meaning to and just now is.

I think about timing.  About finding something “shiny, something “mine” where it seemed there was nothing.  About staying open, while Carlos and Sarah prepare to close.

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