Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

The Stuff Rules
David Simmonds

Have you noticed how hard it is to get rid of 'stuff', in comparison to the ease with which you acquired it?

The fact brought home, brutally, in my recent efforts to help a friend sell a late model, big-engine Scrambler Beatnik; not its real name. The black book told us we should be able to get eight to 10 thousand dollars for it; while the dealers implied they might take it for between three and six.

Months later, the car is still sitting in my friend's driveway, unloved and unwanted by the general public, it's too inefficient; dealers, as no buyers would be interested, and even relatives because it's too expensive to insure. We reduced to uttering Henny Youngman one-liners, such as "take my late model car, please."

I learned a lesson from that. A market for a product only exists unless someone actually steps forward to negotiate its purchase. Owners of tube televisions and massive television armoires know this all too well. The owners of 'pay us to take away your trash' services, such as1-800-got-junk, live very well on the obsolescence rate.

To safeguard against the over-acquisition of stuff, my wife has instituted a set of Stuff Rules for our household. Rule number one: two things must go out for everything that comes in. Rule number two: never have anything in the house that isn't beautiful or useful. "What about me; where do I fit?" I inquired indignantly about the latter. "Household members who do not fit either criterion may apply to be grandfathered," she said. My application submitted, is still pending.

As a result, I have not made much of an incursion into the field of stuff hunting. I have ridden as sidekick with a couple of friend recently, and have made some interesting discoveries.

Right off the top, there is an upside. You can purchase a household full of stuff for next to nothing, compared to what it would cost new. You just have to be there at the second hand store at the right time, when a grateful previous owner has paid the intermediary a tidy sum to take away the unwanted stuff and the intermediary is just unloading his truck.

What's more, you never know when you will strike gold - if you are alert and have your intelligence networks primed. One friend who is a relentless garage-sale seller always carries a list of 'wanted items' and 'would be nice to haves' for himself and his friends. The burden that goes with the benefit is that you have to be ready to back him up immediately if he wants to pounce on something. You may be in the bathtub, but you need to provide instant advice on such questions as "What is the reputation of Silvertone popcorn poppers? This appears to be the turbocharged model; is that good? They're asking $20; should I talk them down to $15."

Every so often, persistence finds rewards. My friend and I went looking at guitars. I had suggested that we might try to find them in musical instrument stores, but my friend wanted to check a pawnshop first. Low and behold, he picked up an overlooked designer guitar and bought if for, well, a song. Score one for the stuff hunters.

Then my epiphany arrived. We were making the rounds of antique dealers or second hand shops, if you prefer, when I came across a mint condition Playmobile garage set, marketed as an 'antique toy.' I couldn't believe it: my favourite children's toy is now an antique! How my wife and I envied our children the opportunity to play with those little plastic figures and structures; the wild west stockades, the pirate ships, the desert islands At Christmastime, we used to linger in the toy store, debating the merits of the lady plumber figurine against the fairy princess, or the zoo against the hospital. They never had it that good when I was young and I had to walk uphill to the mall, both ways.

Now if Playmobile is 'antique' then I can become a 'serious collector.' I'm no longer just bringing 'stuff' into the house: I am building a collection, which will grow in value and be a good investment, and which will fill our sails with civic pride when we are photographed donating it to the Wellington museum. A little plaque next to a photograph will read, "The donors, a husband, left, looking sheepish, and wife, right, unsmiling, but apparently relieved, present their collection of antique Playmobile toys, believed to be the largest in private hands. The collection was amassed over a 15-year period on the couple's travels to various places around the world, including Belleville, Trenton, Nappanee and Desoronto as well as Prince Edward County."

What's more, if toys from my children's childhood are valuable, maybe it's time I hauled out those Freddie and the Dreamers 45 rpm records from my own childhood. After all, didn't media mogul Moses Znaimer donate a truckload of 'antique' televisions to the Canadian Museum of Civilization? They're probably worth a fortune. If I sell them, I can add to my Playmobile collection.

I'd better do so quickly, before my wife comes up with version 2.0 of the Stuff Rules, requiring that collections be subject to budget approval and stored at offsite locations. Maybe I can soften her up with the gift of an antique Playmobile flower seller. I don't think the woman plumber will do the trick.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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