Note: This might just be an American thing, but I would imagine there are variations all over the world…
1. That antique malls even exist.
Where did these things even come from? Back in the day, when people got together and tried to sell used stuff, it was called a flea market. People set up little tables where they could pile a bunch of dusty things that you could walk by and touch even though you had no intention of really buying anything. Now we have these “malls” that are not actual malls like you would imagine (with food courts and teenage girls giggling in naive packs) but just abandoned stores that have been converted by desperate people who don’t have a business degree. You spend half your time walking around and going “hey, didn’t this used to be a K-Mart?”
2. The concept of “antique” is no longer what you think.
If you believe that an antique is something very old that perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt played with or kept her clothes in as a youngster, then you clearly haven’t been going to the right parties lately. The door has been thrown open and now, apparently, anything qualifies as an antique, from cassette-tape players to Bill Clinton bumper stickers to cracked Chia pets that nobody wanted in the first place. Oh, and those homemade candle-jar things that are in nearly every other booth? You know, the candles that are still warm because they apparently just poured them as you were pulling into the parking lot? I guess “antique” now means “slightly older than the last time you blinked”.
3. People will hoard and then try to sell the most amazing things.
It’s odd enough that you have the final season of “Full House” on old-school VHS. But the fact that you have somehow managed to acquire 36 copies of that mess? That takes it to a whole new level. Did they even make that many official copies in the entire world? I’m guessing several of these must be boot-legged, meaning somebody thought they could make an illicit buck or two by making cheap copies of a once-beloved TV series that had jumped the shark by introducing yet another set of twins. This is a really sad reflection on our society. (Side note: How is it that John Stamos still looks like he’s 27? Bastard.)
4. Some people have a different sense of social etiquette in these places.
You will inevitably run into a couple of people who have rarely left the barn wherein they were raised, and you will probably do so right after you make an ill-advised detour down a less-popular row in the hopes of avoiding the crowds in the prestigious sections. There will be at least two of them, probably more, because these folks run in slow-moving packs. They will be blocking the entire aisle and you cannot get past them, even if you clear your throat, bark “Excuse me!” in multiple languages, and fire a warning shot into the air.
Making matters worse, they will be admiring and discussing some piece of crap with little value, like those odd floppy hats that were all the rage at one time, made by bored people who crocheted pieces of beer cans together despite the clear lack of need for such a thing in anyone’s life. Why are they even needing to review this item? They obviously already own the whole set and possibly own the patent.
5. Questionable social etiquette, Part II.
Apparently, a shared fondness for faded but nostalgic collectibles is all it takes for some folks to transition from complete strangers to best of friends in an alarmingly short period of time. You can be innocently strolling down an overstuffed row of booths, minding your own business, and your eyes just happen to linger for two seconds on a bottle opener featuring the likeness of Velma from “Scooby Doo”. Next thing you know, some woman with very questionable shoes is by your side, her eyes aglow with rapture.
“Don’t you just love Velma? She’s my favorite!”
My response in my head: Um, Velma’s kind of cool, in that “obvious lesbian before lesbians were obvious” sort of way. Are you coming out to me? My actual aural response: “Well, I always appreciate smart cartoon women with a fondness for high-necked sweaters.” I say this hoping she will be offended in some way and leave me alone.
“I do too!” squeals Bad-Shoe Woman, crushing my dreams of escape. “Let’s go have some coffee and talk all about her!”
Me, eying the nearby fire alarm pull-thing on a wall, and wondering just exactly how much trouble you can get in for jacking around with that, even if justified: “You know, that sounds like a lot of fun, but I need to go have some elective surgery right about now. Have a nice day!”
6. The 1970s was a very messed-up decade.
Why were people so invested in plaid clothing, things involving black velvet, polyester, record album covers that didn’t make any sense, macramé plant hangers the size of Montana, and hairstyles apparently designed to keep crows out of the corn? I realize that everybody was on drugs at the time. But seriously, those ten years were just wrong from a design perspective. How this planet didn’t just fall out of the solar system is beyond comprehension.
(Side note: I was not yet a legal adult during this phantasmagorical stretch, so don’t point any fingers at me. I was just happy to watch cartoons and ride my bike. Granted, I was also furtively reading Sartre, helping my older activist friends make posters protesting nuclear power plants, and listening to Barry Manilow records. I was a tween-age anarchist at heart. But still, I couldn’t vote, and that’s where the real power is. Although you wouldn’t know it based on how many people don’t vote these days.)
7. There are no sales people anywhere to be found.
Granted, I’m normally not a fan of people who race up and ask me intrusive questions about how they can satisfy my merchandising needs. I’d rather they just stay away and let me peruse at my leisure. But these places are ghost towns. The little booths apparently have been designed and stocked by people that have since vanished from the planet. Perhaps there was a target-specific virus that only affected people who opened dusty boxes in their great-grandma’s basement.
8. The absence of booth owners means you must talk to women that don’t care.
So, if you have a question about some rusty object that appeals to you in some way, you have to approach the lone employee in the entire building: The Dominatrix in charge of the check-out counter. She is not interested in any type of vocal research you might want to conduct. She is only concerned about the little number-coded tag hanging off the dented candelabra that you relish, so she can credit the proper absent vendor, collect her minimum wage, and then go drink somewhere in a bar where people ask fewer questions.
9. Even if the amazingly-detailed, free-standing art deco wardrobe cabinet that you encounter is the most stunning thing that you have ever seen, if you can’t open the door easily, there’s an issue.
Seriously. You shouldn’t have to break a sweat getting into this thing. If it doesn’t open right, that’s probably why somebody doesn’t want it anymore. Just move on. Let the Velma lesbian that has been stalking you have it. She’s apparently used to closet doors that she can’t get open.
10. The mixed aroma of the 4,000 handmade candle jars will stay with you for eternity.
You can run. But you can’t hide. It’s a lingering, syrupy sweet nightmare that will have you screaming yourself awake at 2AM in the morning. Especially if you stupidly snatched up one of those bootleg VHS copies of the “Full House” final season, watched every grainy episode, and then drifted off to sleep wondering about your poor life choices and what might be in that shed behind Granny Mae’s house over to Arkansas. There’s gotta be some crap in there that some fool will pay good money to own just because it reminds them of good times that never really existed
Wait, I think I just figured out the last presidential election. Cheap candles, fake nostalgia, doors that don’t work, and an absence of people who will take ownership for the useless trinkets they put on display.
I think Sartre had something to say about this. Or maybe it was Barry Manilow. I’ll get back to you…
Previously published in “The Sound and the Fury” and “Bonnywood Manor”. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post. No actual antique malls were harmed in the production of this post, but there are quite a few that I will never visit again. Because, wrong. But I’m still in search of an exquisite art deco wardrobe that will send me into paroxysms of pleasure without any speedbumps in the opening ceremony, so I will most likely continue haunting the hallowed halls of nostalgic retail…