It’s early (for me) on a cool, crisp beautiful Sunday morning. The sun is trying and succeeding at peeking through the trees surrounding our porch. My wife, Susie, is sleeping in but I don’t know how since our dog, Poco, is making her normal racket flushing the rabbits out of the undergrowth at the back of our property. Poco is five years old and I wonder at what age (in dog years) she will finally learn she’s not going to catch one or if she never learns, how old does she have to get before her body won’t let her do that anymore?
When I sat down this morning, I was going to make some comparisons to my own chasing of symbolic rabbits and at what age (in people years), I finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort to continue down that road. However, it’s hard to compare people activities with canine actions because dogs don’t really have a choice; chasing rabbits is what they do. So I guess we can forget that little attempt at dispensing wisdom.
At the moment, I’m having the first of my two daily cups of coffee, a self-imposed limit that is more of less a tip of the hat to my gastro-intestinal tract, bruised and battered by my years of flushing rabbits out of the undergrowth.
Last week, I wrote a newspaper column about hoping to make money in the collectables market. It’s about 900 words and did not begin to include everything I wanted to say on the subject. There are several things I wanted to get down on paper about this story and while a weblog is not paper, it will still serve as a medium to record what I wanted to say. But before I begin, I’m going to cut and paste the story into this post so you can read it and better understand what I was going after when I wrote it.
The Doll Collector.
I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Betsy, a new bride, when she arrived at our home in the back of the UPS truck. She was still dressed in her bridal gown, a fashionable, roaring 20’s, ‘Flapper’ era outfit. Her baby blues peered out from under her veil perched precariously atop a trendy, finger wave bob. My parents were products of that pre-Depression ‘Flapper’ era and Betsy’s ensemble could, if not for the money, easily have been my mother’s wedding dress – although I suspect that money was tight enough in 1930 that her dress looked nothing like Betsy’s.
So who is Betsy and why is did she come out of that UPS truck? The story actually begins in the late 1960’s, the setting being a boutique Hotel bar in downtown Indianapolis, a refuge for well-heeled travelers who more often than not, spent their evenings in the small, cozy Bar just off the lobby entrance. On this evening, I stood behind that cozy bar, polishing highball glasses. It was a slow night; my last customer had left a few minutes earlier. Flo, my cocktail waitress, had taken a break so I was keeping an eye on the dozen tables scattered around the room. Without customers lining the bar, there was no one to tell me a sad story and conversely, no one to whom I could dispense my own little pieces of wisdom, an added benefit of my job.
Conversation, besides making the time go by, is the life blood of a bartender so naturally, when a gentleman customer wearing a Fedora pulled low over his eyes walked in and sat down at the bar, I welcomed him. Flo liked for the gentlemen customers to sit out in the room where she could take care of them but, hey, Flo was on one of her many breaks. Have I mentioned Flo loved to take breaks?
The gentleman sat down, removed his hat and said ‘extra-dry Martine, straight up with 2 olives. Shaken, not stirred.” He had a sad tale to tell; Insurance job, lost a big corporate term life sale that day, close to retirement and really needed that sale. I brought him a refill and he said ‘Well, if all else fails, I’ve still got my collectables to fall back on.”
“Collectables?” I said.
“Yeah, you know. Stamps, antiques, maybe even old cars if you can afford to buy them. I even think baseball cards are going to be worth something one day.”
“You’re kidding, right??”
“Nope.” He laughed, or was it a sob? “Mark my words.”
Before the evening was out, he grew a little more morose and I signed on for a whole life policy, hoping to make him feel better. What I should have done was let Flo have him, but of course, she was on break.
About 12 years later, in my mid-forties, I found myself in another conversation about retirement, this time at a party for a friend who was taking his pension and going off into the sunset. I had not been sharp enough to work for a company who offered a pension plan so I was fast coming to realize I had better do something on my own. As luck would have it, that evening, Susie brought me the current Readers Digest, opened to a page with the headline ‘collectable Brides of America’ dolls.
“What do you think?”
The memory of that long ago insurance salesman jumped into my head. I read through the material. Words like “ Possibly, should, could, may very well ’ were sprinkled in with the literature extolling the value and future worth of these dolls, now available for 119.95 –as I remember- in 4 easy payments. The offer was from the Danbury Mint. Mint? Couple what the salesman had told me all those years ago with a quasi-government agency; it must be legitimate. 4 times a year, beginning with Betsy, we got a new doll until we had the complete set of 12. We left them in their boxes and stored them away in our attic. As time went on, we thought less and less of the dolls and by the time I was ready to retire, we had forgotten all about Betsy and her friends.
However, while digging around in the attic recently, we came across the dolls, now almost 30 years old. A tinge of excitement crept into my voice as I yelled for Susie. It was time to cash in on our investment; We needed to offer those dolls for sale on E-Bay. ‘ Now, don’t get greedy.’ I told myself. I didn’t want those dolls to be worth too much. Getting hit with a big tax payment wasn’t in our long or short term plans. If we could just make enough to get a new car; nothing fancy, of course, perhaps one of those small SUV’s with all the electronic gadgets.
My hand was trembling slightly as I clicked the E-Bay icon and typed in ‘Brides of America’ Dolls. Up jumped a whole page of entries and my heart leaped. There was Betsy, already up for sale. My eye drifted across to the bid price: 2500 dollars. Holy mother lode, Batman. I couldn’t get my breat… No. Wait. There’s a decimal in there. Not 2500, 25.00. Twenty five dollars for Betsy??? I read on. It wasn’t 25 dollars for Betsy. It was 25 dollars for all 12 dolls. GAAAAAAH!!!!!
I went outside, climbed up on my neighbor’s turnip truck and yelled “A pox on you and your damn breaks, Flo.”
My wife and my kids know that I will sometimes take liberties with the truth when telling my stories so after my son, Joe, read this particular piece, he asked me if there really was a ‘Flo’.
Yes, Joe, there is a Flo. She exists as certainly as love and generos…….. Never mind. That last sentence resides in the catalogue of personally selected great sentences that exists in my mind. One or more of those will come roaring out of that dusty old vault almost every time I sit down to write something. This one is from an 1897 editorial in the New York Sun. / I could have used some derivation on this particular sentence a hundred times in my writings but I haven’t yet.
Anyway, Joe. There was a Flo and a Carla and a Sally and countless others that served as cocktail waitresses in the places I worked. The Flo in my story is kind of an amalgamation of several waitresses that I knew. I worked with the the real Flo at a bar and restaurant called the 500 club on the ground floor of the Essex House Hotel at the corner of Pennsylvania and (I think) Vermont streets in downtown Indianapolis. She was the consummate server of alcohol; taking pride in her job, polite and attentive to her customers and always crisply dressed, not overdone or gaudy. She could always be counted on to show up for her shift, unlike some of the others that I worked with. She took a minimal number of breaks in the evening although being somewhat older than me (I was 27 at the time), her feet had to hurt after a 10 hour shift. She took a Cab to and from work which always amazed me.She didn’t talk much about her personal life although I knew she had a child and somewhere in her life she had been married but the outcome of that had apparently not been good, leaving her wary of relationships. She telegraphed that feeling to her customers in such a way that they respected her and her job.
Not so the waitress who took all the breaks. Her name was Shirley and according to Carl, the guy I shared the night shift with (we took alternating nights), she was also a prostitute which explained all the breaks. After he told me this, I was fascinated by her and also, still being fresh out of Loogootee, Indiana, a little bit scared of her. When she’d come to the service bar to place an order, I would take sneak surreptitious looks at her (without looking her in the eye) to see if she looked any different than she had before her last break. Sweet Jesus. a real, live prostitute. My mother would have had a cow.
Her boyfriend(??) would come in a couple of nights a week and get money from her, further cementing her status in my mind and also keeping me on the alert. As I recall, she didn’t last very long; the Essex House was a reputable, staunchly conservative place of business and if she really was a prostitute, the management would not have put up with that.
The encounter with the Insurance man took place in the bar in the Atkinson Hotel, a real boutique Hotel. It is now the Omni Hotel at the corner of Illinois and Georgia streets. Mr. Atkinson was one of the movers and shakers in Indianapolis at that time and I think played a large part in the convention center being where it is today.
Incidentally, the insurance man not only told me about collectibles, he also told me to invest in rental property, one of the more inopportune suggestions that I took to heart in my life. That was and still is, a disaster. I will say, however, that if I am ever to write the great American Novel, it will come from the adventures we had in dealing with the myriad of renters we had over the years.
Lastly, Even though it’s not Christmas, I think everyone should read that 1897 editorial You can find it at: