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The Thrill Of The Hunt
A Razor's Edge Column
by p.l. frank

This past weekend I was in the mood to hunt. Not just the lay-back, take-it-or-leave-it kind. No siree. It was one of those full-blown, wild-eyed, body thrust forward, I'm-not-going-home-until-I-bag-it hunts. Maybe you can relate. Or worse, maybe you spotted me. In which case, let me explain. I haven't always been this way. I was pushed to this point by forces and conditions beyond my control.....

Day One of The Hunt

I wake up early and am on the freeway with my friend, a neophyte to this type of hunt, heading towards our prey at full speed. I drive while she navigates the map, cups of coffee, and the newspaper containing the important announcement marking the end of the hunting season, "The World's Largest Garage Sale".

An hour and a half later we exit the freeway into another world. Cars stretch for miles, parked end to end on either side of a two-lane highway. As we get two miles from the center of the action men and women crowd the highway on foot, pushing shopping carts and baby carriages piled high with bags. Shuttle buses careen in and out of the area rushing the other hunters in and out of the center of action. Hand-written signs appear on every block now, beckoning the less adventurous hunters to park their vehicles for five dollars. I do not look at my prey but instead stay focused on two objectives: (1) don't hit anybody, and (2) find free parking. It takes thirty minutes but I finally spot an opening approximately two miles from the main street and we are finally on our way.

As we walk towards Main Street I explain the strategy to my friend. Every seasoned, discerning hunter, I begin, knows the difference between junk and "A Find". A Find is a collector's item that has not yet been snatched up by antique dealers. Junk is, well, junk. Stuff that wasn't even that good when it was new. It is the stuff that either ends up on tables in flea markets or passed on from one garage sale to the next. The key to a successful hunt, I went on to explain, is when you spot A Find, do not ever let on. Acting excited only serves to alert the owner that they have something of value. This is not only bad for negotiation but it increases the risk of alerting the other hunters.

By the time we approach the stoplight at Main Street I have laid out the entire strategy. In essence, stay alert, keep both hands free, eyes open, and mouth shut. Once it is determined that the item truly is A Find, keep your sites on it at all times. Encircle it, touch it, and begin to look for flaws. (Taking over the territory keeps the other hunters at bay, while searching for flaws increases your negotiating power as you move in for the kill.)

We settle on a few hand signals and cross the street. We are ready. Hearts pounding and minds alert, we turn the corner. The hunt has officially begun.

To my surprise the very first item I see is A Find. My eyes dart from one item to the next. It is only a matter of seconds before I begin to groan. Ughh, trouble. Everything I see is A Find.

"I smell a dealer," I say to my friend.

"What's up?" She asks in confusion.

I explain. Dealers, you see, are the most aggressive and craftiest of all hunters. They are the one's parked outside the homes having garage sales at 6:00AM. They ring the bell, rouse the family, bully their way in, and clean out all the Finds before the garage sale begins. The family, confused, sleepy, and thrilled to have cash in hand and stuff out of their garage before the sale even begins, doesn't even know what hit them. They have no way of knowing that Grandma's rocker, the crate from old Uncle Ernest's basement, or Aunt Josie's old dresser they just sold for twenty dollars will be sitting inside an antique store show room ticketed for three hundred bucks before the weekend is over.

We move on for several blocks but the scenery does not change. One after another, Find after Find, all neatly laid out and well-priced. Intense disappointment begins to set in. Three men walk past all proudly carrying their purchases of stuffed and mounted deer heads. Don't they know that the hunt is no fun at all when someone else catches it and bags it for you?

Finally we stop long enough to turn the tags dangling from the merchandise. Old wheelbarrows, $250.00. Rusted aluminum watering cans, $75.00. Small wooden crates the size of egg cartons, $85.00. Sleds, $350.00. I shake my head. My friend calls me over to a display on the corner.

"Isn't this identical to the steamer trunk you got for five bucks at that garage sale last week?"

I examine it carefully. "Yep", I say. "Only the one I bought is in a lot better condition than this one. How much are they asking?"

Her eyes widen as she reads the tag. "A hundred and eighty dollars!" She exclaims.

Again I shake my head.

We move on and pass a woman examining candle holders on a table.

"See anything you want?" Asks the man in charge.

"Are you kidding?" She responds. "The prices out here are ridiculous."

"Hey," the man says defensively. "I've got to eat."

"What the hell are you eating?" I say, but he does not hear me. He has already moved on to a woman examining a stained, tattered and unraveling baby quilt marked, "Early period: $275.00".

"I don't get it," my friend says rolling her eyes towards the quilt. "What's to say what is an antique Find and what is just junk?"

I walk in silence for several minutes. "Making people believe that they want it," I say as we head back to the car empty-handed. "Then it's not junk."

Day Two of The Hunt

Determined to make a kill before the weekend had ended I arose Sunday with renewed energy. Disheartened from Saturday's failure and Autumn in the air, I decide to decorate the outside of the house. Today's prey: pumpkins and gourds, a haystack, and a bundle of dried cornstalks. Nothing retail. Of course.

The first items were bagged within an hour of driving down country roads. The cornstalks, however, were proving to be an elusive prey. After two more hours a hand-painted sign outside a farmhouse taunted "Cornstalks, $2.00", but no one answered. An hour later cornstalks still planted firmly in the ground near the roadside beckoned but the barking, growling German Shepard chained to a nearby tractor stopped even me in my tracks.

Five hours later, tired and defeated for the second day in a row, I head home. Pulling in the grocery store to pick up a few items I groan aloud. There outside in the corner, near the pumpkin display stood stacks and stacks of dried cornstalks with a sign on front indicating the price. The thrill of the hunt was missing but at least I would have something to tie to the roof of my SUV.

A half an hour later I have managed to drag the stalks into the grocery line, convince the clerk that yes, indeed, their store was selling them, and overcome the sighs and groans of the other customers while the clerk, the assistant manager, and finally, the manager figured out how to ring it up in the computer.

As I struggle through the parking lot with my groceries and prey my husband approaches me. He knows from the look on my face not even to ask 'why cornstalks?' I open the car door and struggle to get the 6 foot bundle inside without breaking them. Dried pieces crackle and splinter everywhere inside the car. After ten minutes of shifting and struggling I close the rear hatch.

"You have just made an entire event out of getting these today," my husband says dryly. I do not respond.

It is all too much for him apparently. He continues. "You know," he says with authority, "Farmers used to PAY people to haul that crap off of their land."

A man standing outside the car next to us smiles. The two of them look at each other and, apparently bonding, both begin to snicker. I shrug and get back in the car. Some people just never get the Thrill of the Hunt.

b i o
P.L. Frank enjoys writing both nonfiction social satire and funny, thought-provoking novels.  Dr. Frank has been a researcher in the field of Behavioral and Social Sciences since 1983, and has worked as a university professor and therapist. 

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