If you are like me and your taste in stuff runs to the weird, old and unique, the massive monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California is worth checking out. The following photos show just a taste of some of the creepier items on display there in February.
I always say I’m just going to look around. And I think it’s excellent advice to only carry as much cash as you can afford to spend that day. But every once in a while I’ll see something spectacular that I cannot bear to live without.
My biggest and favorite Rose Bowl score occurred just a couple of weeks ago. I turned a corner into a new aisle and was confronted with something so exquisite that I was afraid to even ask how much it cost because I knew immediately that I needed it no matter what: a hundred year old dilapidated hospital wheelchair.
The chair is wood with a whicker-caned seat, two big wheels that may have once been rubber, one small wheel trailing in the back, and wood feet and armrests. It’s very heavy. The first image that pops into my head when I look at it is of a drugged-up mental patient propped up in the chair, wheeled somewhere for the day and forgotten. It’s theatrical. It’s terribly sad. It’s me.
The thing has wheels so my first thought was, let’s you and me run away together, they’ll never take us alive. But just in case there was a way to avoid a cumbersome chase I decided to suck it up and ask how much the chair cost.
I timidly enquired with the booth’s owner and was ready to recoil from the sting of a six hundred dollar plus asking-price. I had my pained expression locked and loaded. But somehow, the universe was with me because he asked for only $150. Meanwhile my companions (actual companions, the voices in my head were one hundred percent with me on this whispering, my preciousss) are saying — how are you going to get this behemoth home? Where are you going to put it? Did you take your meds this morning? — in the background. And I’m thinking, okay, if I skip groceries for two weeks this could work.
I say, how about $120, thinking the guy will then say, $145 (I’ve seen a lot of Pawn Stars and Oddities on the TV, which is why I’m such a good negotiator). I try not to look shocked when the guy takes the $120. For this priceless treasure that I cannot live without you only want $120? You sir, are crazy.
It turned out the negotiating of the price was a lot easier than the negotiating of the fair-grounds and parking lot. I kind of understood why the guy would rather take a lower price than have to get the chair back home. I may have lightly nudged some random people who should’ve been paying more attention if they didn’t want to get brained by a 100 year-old wheelchair. People can be so fussy.
Did I mention I drive a two-door sports car?
When I realized that there was absolutely no way to fit the whole chair into the car, I thought maybe I could trail it behind me on the freeway, like a trailer hitch. That was a nonstarter with the people going home with me. Instead, we wedged as much of the chair as we could into the trunk area and I used my scarf to tie down the trunk door. Anything else in the car went into the laps of my passengers. The half hour or so of surface street driving it took to get home I just sort of prayed we wouldn’t get pulled over.
We made it all the way to my garage, when for the first time in recent memory, the elevator had a broken sign on it. So we had to go the long way around the building up some stairs. But the point of all this is, the chair is mine now. And I can sit in it whenever I want and wheel haphazardly around my living room. I plan to do some sick photo shoots with the chair soon as well.
I also bought two wall frames that day for $30. I’ve bought several frames on various trips to the flea market because I like ornate, baroque-looking corners that none of the big frame stores seem to carry.
The flea market can be totally hit or miss for shopping. I’m often surprised by how much or how little someone wants for something. I’ve left with my arms full and I’ve left empty-handed. I’m always glad I went though because the experience gets my creative juices flowing. I don’t typically find things that are display-ready. Most items require paint or sewing or some kind of repurposing.
When in doubt, paint it black.
You might imagine that such a thick concentration of bizarre stuff would attract an interesting crowd, prime for people-watching, and you’d be correct. Even when the shopping is lame, the encounters are often worthwhile.
When I visited the market in December with artist Stefanie Vega we were strolling arm in arm when an elderly, white-haired woman motioned to me. She asked if I could help her with Instagram on her phone and proceeded to show me a black and white photo of a much younger, Marlon Brando-like nude man with a predominantly erect penis. She said the photo was of her hot new boyfriend and asked me to give her a high-five. I tried to direct her back to her question about the app but she obviously just wanted to show me the picture. As Vega and I were making our escape Vega said to me, you sure attract the crazies. Then a young man ran up to us and said we’d just been filmed for a reality show called something like, Old People Pulling Pranks. We were presented waivers to sign. I feel like they were breaking some kind of indecent exposure laws with that one and nudity doesn’t offend me, but I don’t get the prank so much. Anyway, I knew my non-reaction to the photo meant the footage would never make it on the show (or at least I think I know. Has anybody seen me on an upsetting reality show recently?)
On the drive into the market this recent time my parents and I saw a young man with long shaggy hair and a beard sporting a frilly white dress and a backpack walking determinedly. He was a curious sight. And later that day I made eye-contact with the actor who plays Blake on Workaholics (I didn’t say hello because it took me a second to place who he was. My first thought was, I know you! And by the time that made it to, I don’t know you, I know you from TV, he’d vanished into the crowd again.)
How insane is my new chair? Have you been to the Rose Bowl Flea Market and if so, do you have a favorite find?
The Rose Bowl Flea Market is the second Sunday of every month (in other words, this coming Sunday the 9). Parking is free and admission after 9 is $8. Click here to visit the Rose Bowl Flea Market website. I’m resolved to skip March to give my bank account a breather, but the call of so much weird stuff in one place may be too strong to resist.