Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inherent Value

Going to estate sales will show you a whole range of ideas about the value of items. Morgan and I were at a sale last weekend where I found a copy of Good Housekeeping magazine. It wasn't priced, so I took it up to the cashier and asked about it. She said, "Four dollars." I just shook my head and set it aside. She said, "It's from 1941." I replied, "Oh, I know." She sort of made a face that suggested she thought I didn't understand the value of an old magazine.

Funny, I left thinking the same thing about her.

I used to work for a record store, and they bought used music and games from people. Doing that, you very quickly learn that there's a disconnect between what people think things are worth and what they actually are worth. In that business, there's an additional disconnect caused by the fact that you're selling them to a middleman, so values are even lower. But I told many people that they were more than welcome to try selling their albums on eBay or wherever. It's all a matter of what's worth more to you - time or money. It's time-consuming to sell your possessions online and try to get the best price for them, and there is risk involved. Selling them to the store results in less money, but it's done, nothing more to think about. People always wanted more money for their vinyl records because they tended to equate "old" with "valuable," or because they attached monetary value to their sentiment.

Them: "It's a Rolling Stones album from the '60s!"
Me: "Do you know how many copies of this album were pressed and sold?"

You know what's worth something? First pressings of the Stones' first albums on Decca. Early punk albums. Your Journey or Boston albums that sold in the millions and were ubiquitous across everyone's record collections? Pretty much worthless and easily found in basements across the country.

I don't know much about vinyl, so the point of that story isn't the medium or the specific example, but rather just to say that that job is where I finally started to get it. Before that, I also thought "if only I had my mom's old Beatles records!" Now I realize that it would be great to have them for sentimental reasons, but I sure wouldn't be retiring on them.

On to another medium: books. I love books. But I also buy old books, cut out their insides, and fill them with blank paper for use as journals and sketchbooks. Let's talk realistically about old books - while it's quite romantic to imagine that every one of them could find its home with someone who appreciates it, it's simply not true. Lots and lots of books fade into obscurity and would never have their covers cracked again, many with good reason. Who today is going to miss a copy of Mystery in Old Quebec? Sure, someone out there might, but I highly doubt that was the last copy in the world. (Indeed, there are currently 9 copies available just on Amazon starting at $2.51 - feel free to save one.)

Finally, back to the magazines. I have gone to enough estate sales to know that there is no shortage of people who saved every copy of magazines to which they subscribed. So that copy of Good Housekeeping from 1941? I'm sure it's not the only one. To a collector, who wants to put it into a plastic bag and store it, it might be worth $4. But assuming you're going to run across that person at an estate sale on a cold day in Denver is a bit of a stretch, and a risk. Acting like I'm some sort of Philistine for not realizing the value of a relic from 1941 (71 years ago!) just increases the likelihood that you will end up selling those magazines like the ones at a sale we visited last weekend, where there were shelves and shelves full of magazines. They had previously gone for 50 cents each. They were now being sold 10 magazines for $1.50. I picked up 20 of various publications and years.

Some of these are from the 1930s, they must be worth a fortune!

I'm going to cut them up for collages and similar work, but before I perform this treacherous act, I'm scanning them first. Isn't technology wonderful? I can then keep them in their entirety, but I don't have to become a hoarder. Digital storage space is cheap. I will be posting ads and other interesting bits from them on Flickr, so keep an eye out there (I've just started, but there is much more to come, so check back).

Oh and at the sale I mentioned at the beginning of the post? We spent that $4 on a much-needed and seemingly brand-new tea kettle.

Clearly worthless, as it's not old.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Last Saturday was the annual Zombie Crawl in downtown Denver. This was our second year going. It's quite a scene; people in this town really seem to love their zombies. I'm not going to post any really gruesome ones here, so even if horror isn't your thing, you can read pretty safely. (Also, I'm just gonna tell you now there might be a reason to get all the way to the bottom of the post.)

Checking his No-Facebook.

One intersection on the 16th Street Mall gets closed down and most of the people congregate in that area, although there's certainly no lack of zombies for blocks around. Many people go all-out with their costumes, some go the lazy "I smeared blood on myself, I'm a zombie" route, and others just seem confused.

I believe the mime convention is next weekend.
You may also have noticed her mismatched footwear. 

I love child zombies, and there were quite a few out. The family that eats brains together, stays together, I guess. 
Even zombie children don't always get their way.

No festival is complete without music from a band of the undead. Whoever they were, they weren't half-bad, either. The singer had a sort of Tom Waits thing going without sounding like he was imitating Tom Waits.

I have no picture to illustrate this story (and that's a real shame), but here goes anyway. We brought Penny down with us. She's okay in crowds, although she doesn't like it when dogs sneak up on her, so sometimes she's a little embarrassing with the growling and barking at them. She was really good on this particular day, not with the dogs, but with the number of people (especially children) who petted her suddenly. Sometimes she interacted with them; most of the time she just ignored them while they patted her head. We had been standing in one place on the sidewalk, leaning against a wall, for a while and she got comfortable enough to settle in and lay down. Not long after, a trio of cops on bicycles squeezed past us. The first one was close but not that bad. The second one encroached on Penny's space (I thought his pedal was going to hit her in the head). She jumped up and nipped his ankle. I think she got him, although it happened fast and so I could only say for sure that I saw his pant leg stretched in her teeth. The third cop paused for a second and looked at Penny, but went on without comment. I know he deserved it, Penny, but you just can't go around biting the cops!

And now, as a reward for scrolling all the way to the bottom, it's time for Who Wore It Better? Blood-Spatter Edition.

Exhibit 1: Accessorized with blood, a fox mask, ripped stockings, and a hook.
Someone's having a bad day
Exhibit 2: Accessorized with bolero jacket, wrist corsage, '80s hair, and a gay prom date.
Yes, me. 
It's sort of an odd feeling to see someone wearing your prom dress as a costume. I mean, okay, the prom was in 1989 so that's practically vintage (the shortest amount of time I'll accept as "vintage" is 25 years, so we're not quite there yet), but still. When did so much time pass? Oh, who am I kidding: my initial reaction was to laugh, not to ponder the nature of time.

I have a bunch more pictures of zombies that I didn't include here - you can see them on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Family Skeleton?

I was nudged back into doing some research into my family yesterday. It had been a while, which is good in a way because Ancestry has added in a lot of new sources, so there's more information available. Plus, I'm finally getting a little better at searching things out. I have two trees going, one for my dad's side of the family and one for my mom's. The one on my dad's side is more of a poking-around hobby because there are a number of other researchers working on both of his parents' sides, at least sporadically.

My mom's side is a mystery, and there's no one else working on it, mostly because there's no one else to work on it. Her family tree is full of dead ends. She was an only child, and she had one first cousin and that's it. That probably doesn't seem that bad, aside from having no comrades-in-arms with whom to exchange information. However, there is the matter of her father.

She had told me that her father was killed in a car accident when she was a child. I remember one day when I was a teenager, we sat in my room talking and I asked her what it had been like for her to lose her father so young. I was pressing for details, and she finally just said, "Okay, I have to tell you the truth. He wasn't killed in a car accident. I never knew him." She knew his name - Roy Weimann - and that he had been a sailor, but that was it. I have no idea if he even knew my mom existed.

Looking into that part of the family has been completely unexplored territory. Finding him was pretty easy, actually. It's not a terribly common name, and he lived in Oakland (my mom and her mother lived in San Francisco), and of course there were Navy records. He died in 1979. Last night while browsing around, I found a member who had some photos of his family, including his mother and some of his siblings. I worked up the courage to send her a message and ask if she had any photos of Roy. It felt weird to tell her he was my mother's father, although I'm guessing from what I saw that her focus isn't on that part of the family so it was probably a non-issue to her. Nevertheless, it feels strange to be looking into family that no one even knew I was a part of. It's possible I'm the skeleton in the family closet.

She said she thinks she has some photos of Roy, so I'm anxious to see what she can find. She also had the single greatest family photo I've seen so far. This is Sophie, who was Roy's aunt. (That makes her my ... greater-than-great aunt, right? That's how it works? ... Yes, I'm joking.)

Seriously, isn't this the most amazing thing? (c. 1910)
Sophie here was born in the Hawaiian Islands in 1890. Very cool to find that the family was there at that time. It seemed completely random for a German family to be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the late 19th century, but as it turns out, German settlers came there and were notable as the only sugar plantation owners to import labor from their own country. So as it turns out, at one time there were kind of a lot of Germans in Hawaii.

In any event, I never thought that researching any branch of my family would take me to Hawaii. Fascinating stuff - I guess that family history is all about expecting the unexpected.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Living (and Blogging) in the Real World

(Disclaimer: These are just thoughts, brought on by a variety of influences. These thoughts in no way imply any sort of current issues here at home. Please don't read into them.)

Blogging is weird.

Theoretically, you can talk about your life, in whatever level of detail you're comfortable with. Except you don't live your life completely alone, so part of your story is invariably also part of someone else's story.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

-John Donne

How do you deal with that? Other people are entitled to whatever level of privacy they want to maintain online, right? But you are also entitled to talk about your own life from your own perspective, aren't you? (Side note: I hate the word "entitled." I hate it about equally as much as the word "deserve.") So do you make up names for people so that they're not as easily Googled? That stops random searches, sure, but if someone who knows you both stumbles upon your blog and reads the pertinent entries, I imagine they're going to see right through your "Great-Aunt Bertha" alias and realize you're talking about your great-aunt Greta. And when you're talking about people even closer to you, like your spouse, parents or children, well - there's no hiding who they are to anyone who knows you.

One solution is to only write about things that are specifically about you, as if you really are an island. Another is to only write about the most positive experiences in your life. Yet another is to write about other people only when you can say something that can't be interpreted even obliquely as negative. Finally, you can write about only people who can defend themselves (ie, who read the blog and are therefore free to comment with their side of the story), or perhaps only people who can't defend themselves (ie, who are dead or are unlikely to ever see the blog).

I have problems with all of those, but the one I really want to talk about is the second item on that list: writing only about the most positive experiences in your life. I can think of some compelling reasons to do this; a big one is that putting the best face on everything keeps everyone happy. Except possibly you, since you may spend a lot of time writing if not fiction, then at least half-truths.

I watched the first few episodes of Mad Men recently (I know, where have I been for the last 5 years?). The '50s and early '60s were a time when everyone thought everyone else's life was perfect. Your neighbor had beautifully behaved children, her house was always neat as a pin, she threw wonderful dinner parties. But you really had no idea what was going on behind the picket fence and therefore, you spent a lot of time comparing yourself to the illusion of your neighbor. And although there are complaints that now we know too much about everyone, and we see too far into people's lives through the various social networks, in a lot of ways, that illusion is still there.

Blogging was harder when it was called "writing your memoirs."

Now I'm about to sort of contradict myself, because I'm not saying anyone should post about every little frustration or argument on Facebook (we all have people like that on our lists, and it is cringe-worthy to read things you're pretty sure they'll regret saying soon). But I am saying that posting about things that you've gotten some perspective on, or things that happened in the past can be helpful to you, and helpful to others. It doesn't help anyone to look around and find either perfection or complete disarray to compare oneself to. I think it's important for people to be honest, although it's also important for readers to remember that they are always only reading one view on the story. It's easy to forget that we're all the stars of our own movies, and it may look different from the viewpoint of someone you think of as a minor character. (If you haven't seen it, you should check out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for an illustration of that point.)

And since I don't want to end on a parenthetical statement, I'll just say that I appreciate and have been seeking out people who are brave enough to write about the full range of their experiences. It takes guts to do at all, and it takes sensitivity to do it fairly.