You perhaps could call me a poor man's picker. Don't get the wrong idea. I don't root through the neighbors' trash cans, and I'm definitely not a hoarder. However, I enjoy looking at antiques, browsing thrift stores, looking for old treasures, and finding aged artifacts while on walks and jogs and hikes.
I love buying unique, interesting, old stuff for next to nothing. I'm talking about things that escape the waste-collection truck and, for mere pennies, become priceless gems in my foxhole.
My foxhole is my version of a man cave. It's hardly worthy of being called a man cave, or even a man corner, so I just call it my foxhole. One would think that after 20 years in the Marine Corps, I'd call it my fighting hole. In the Corps, you see, we never used the word "foxhole." We used the term "fighting hole." But foxhole simply seems like an appropriate name for my corner of the garage.
I have acquired many of my favorite things not for pennies or dollars, but for free. It all started when I was a boy. At one time or another, my mom might have said to my dad: "You better talk to your son. But, first, go look in his room." And my dad might have said: "What did that boy drag home now?"
I might have dragged home a rusty bike or a raccoon skeleton or a live snake or lizard or frog. I guarantee, though, that to me it was always something pretty darn neat.
My dad usually made me throw away things I'd find every Saturday, when he and I visited the city dump with our week's worth of garbage and junk. While he was tossing away the trash, I was scavenging. The scene usually went like this:
"Hey, Dad, look what I found!"
"Throw that away!"
"Dad, look at this!"
"Throw that thing away!"
"Oh, Dad, you won't believe this."
"Let me see that thing."
Dad had a little bit of picker in him, too.
My first freebee as an adult was an Asian red-deer antler. I picked that beauty in a forest in the hills south of Hue, Vietnam, while on a four-day reconnaissance patrol in 1968. When I got back to our rear area, I took it to a little plaque shop in Phu Bai, where the owner made me a wood mount for the antler. He engraved a silver plate for the mount, too, which read: "To Grandpa. Found while on patrol in RVN." The handsome plaque became a Christmas present for my grandfather, who had taught me how to hunt.
The best Asian pick for me was a free pot. I saved it from being heaved into the local trash man's truck in Iwakuni, Japan, in 1978. And I still have it, still treasure it. It's a beautiful example of Japanese pottery. It's not an urn or ginger jar or vase. It could be a pot for a potted plant, though, or it could be a cookie jar if it had a lid. To give you an idea of its size, if it was a cookie jar, it could hold two packages of Oreos. It's whitish, with blue bamboo artwork, but it has a hairline crack in it. It was sitting amongst
some trash outside a home on a tiny Iwakuni street. It screamed to be rescued, and I rescued it.
Stuff you have to pay for is also fun to acquire if such stuff is a bargain.
Making a living as a picker would be especially fun. You would be on a continual treasure hunt, buying antique junk and selling it all in your antique-junk shop. And imagine if you could do that and star in a hit television show all about you doing just that. Great idea!
A couple of Iowa boys named Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, in fact, have such a TV show. It's called "American Pickers," and it's on the History Channel. And it's popular. If you haven't watched it, you should. Well, if you like unique, interesting, old stuff, you should check it out. It's a hoot. A hoot? Even some of my expressions are old.
During every intro into "American Pickers," Fritz says, "We travel the back roads of America, lookin' for rusty gold." That's gotta grab your interest right there, right? Confess. You want to watch this show. No? OK, how about this.
Also during the intro, Wolfe says, "What most people see as junk, we see as dollar signs." Eh? Gotcha now? Sounds good, huh? No?
OK. Next Wolfe says, "Each item we pick has a history all its own. … We make a living telling the history of America, one piece at a time."
If you're not hooked by now, there's no hope for you. And, believe me, you're going to be missing some captivating television. Listen, I give "Pickers" two big thumbs-up.
Wolfe and Fritz pick their treasures from businesses; homes; garages; old warehouses; closed-up stores; and the barns, sheds and outbuildings on many farms. Wolfe calls a lot of their picked items "farm fresh." I like that.
My first motorcycle was bought farm fresh. It was covered with dust, sitting in a barn on an Illinois farm between Lebanon and St. Jacob. It was an old, 125 cc, Harley-Davidson Hummer. I was only 15, and I bought it – picked it, we could say – for $100. It's not like I picked a classic motorcycle from the turn of the century. Yet, it was my first bike, so to me, it was a masterpiece of two-wheeled, motorized machinery.
Treasures for free are still the best. This year, I have found two old bottles while jogging along the north edge of Lebanon, my hometown. One is a bitters bottle, made for Baker, and the other is a soda bottle from M. Rithman, a Lebanon bottler who went of business quite some years back. I found an ad for M. Rithman in a 1927 McKendrean, the annual yearbook of McKendree University in Lebanon. I found the bottle, by the way, as I was jogging along a small stream and saw it sticking out of the creek bank. Great bottle!
My wife and I have at least one thing in common. She loves thrift stores, consignment shops, yard sales and garage sales. Sure, we don't travel the back roads of America, picking rusty gold, but perusing area shops and local yards is fine. I'm not picky about where I get to pick. I'm just a po'boy picker.