Thursday, January 19, 2006


I used to watch this show on PBS called "Antiques Roadshow" religiously. You've probably seen it. You just haven't been bored enough to actually watch it.

It's a traveling show that goes from city to city getting people to bring all their old junk to see if they've unwittingly been sitting on a goldmine all those years. My favorite part of the show is when the camera pulls back and pans around the room and you see hundreds of people forming lines behind the "experts" with their crap in old wheelbarrows or cardboard boxes. You can see a hopeful glimmer in their eyes, maybe even a bit of desperation, enough to make you feel uncomfortable but for that reason all the more riveting. The people seem to come from backwater middle America and the saddest thing next to watching their sagging flesh squeezed into cheap pants and hush puppies shoes is seeing their faces fall when they find out that the pile of crap they brought in is pretty much just... a pile of crap.

No, there is something even more tragic than this. It's when they find out they actually have something of value, something that their grandfather or great aunt had collected lovingly for decades--bits of collectible soaps or pop art or tea tins--one measly scrap at a time, that they then learn is worth thousands of dollars. The sad part is that you know they will walk off the screen, auction that shit off as soon possible, so they can buy themselves a new three-piece walnut bedroom set from Sears. Yeah, that's definitely the saddest. No doubt about it.

I finally stopped watching this show because of one episode. It was one where a kid brought in an old helmet that he literally found in his attic, wedged between the rafters and had been there since the time his family had first moved into their house. He had no idea where it came from and thought it was a part of some junky costume. What it turned out to be, amazingly, was an Italian masterpiece from the 16th century, hammered out of a single piece of bronze and covered on every inch of its surface in the richest and most intricate relief of figures fighting in battle. It was really breathtaking. It was signed. The artist-metalworker was someone famous. It was a historical treasure. The obvious part of it of course was that this helmet, valued conservatively, was worth a quarter of a million dollars, but probably closer to half a million. The kid and his mother started to stagger around like someone had clubbed them on the head. Apparently the helmet alone cost at least twice as much as the house they found it in. Art in the hands of the guileless masses. Both touching and infuriating at the same time.

Yeah that ended it for me. It's impossible to top something like that. The indelible mark though that this show left on me is the startling reality that one person's trash is another person's treasure. Truly. Even terrifyingly so. This brings me to my final point, which is, that one of my own personal treasures has been officially published in the most recent book of collected trash titled Found, an idea that was started by the irreverent Davy Rothbart (Listen to last week's episode of This American Life for his story. The first unrelated story is really funny too.):

A friend of mine pointed out that she found my name in it and lo and behold, it was so. That's me there below under "Reserved for Jesus".

In case you can't make it out, this is basically a threatening note put on my car by my neighbor and Minister for blocking part of his driveway. It was the "Thanks, In Jesus' Name" that really killed me.

If you haven't heard of Found, you can see some of it online. It's an interesting concept that connects the disparate trails of our human lives together into a universal weave of love, humor, personal tragedy. A good read all around. If you want me to autograph your personal copy, send it in. Who knows how much more famous I may get. You can pass my autograph onto your grandchildren, and their children, who can then bring all that old shit onto some lameass TV show and have them learn that that old signed manuscript is worth freaking millions. Then the circle will be complete.

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