A few weeks ago, I went dumpster-diving and got a Pyrex baking dish and what I thought, in the dark of night, was an oil painting of the Tower of Babel. It turned out to be a wood-print sort of thing of some houses on a hill, and some of the houses were peeling off. When I got home, I gave the dish a good soapy scrub (B said, People are throwing out Pyrex?!?) and hung the wood-thing from a nail on my porch.
But what I had really wanted to make away with was this hideous plastic robot, which was about 16 inches tall and leaning forlornly against an abandoned desk chair when I found him. It looked a bit Transformer-ish, but it didn't transform into anything, so that ruled that out. I had grabbed it by the arm (while cradling the dish and holding the painting), but the two friends who were with me started squealing things like, "Put that wretched robot back! We are no longer your friends if you take that thing!" and "There's no room in the car for that!" The car was small, I'll admit, but the argument that a medium-sized robot (whose joints bend, mind you!) wouldn't fit inside a 1996 Toyota Corolla [emendation: Honda Civic, 1988?] with the three of us, a dirty Pyrex dish, a small painting, and a huge case of cassette tapes (a permanent resident of said car) is patently absurd. But my friends' protestations were so shrill and adamant that I finally just gave in and left the bot on the curb. It occurred to me that I could get far more currency out of future guilt trips along the lines of I-wish-you-had-never-talked-me-out-of-taking-that-robot-I-wanted, than I could ever get enjoyment from an awkwardly built plastic toy. Indeed, he was
rather ugly and he did wobble when standing. (We are harsh critics of form. And one of us is a germaphobe.)
I hadn't thought much about it until yesterday, when I went out to the Lambertville Golden Nugget Antique Market and spied a giant yellow tin robot on one of the hundreds of tables of crap. He was sleek and massive, and one of the sellers told me that if you stuffed a few batteries in him, he would slide around until he bumped into something, his eyes would light up, and smoke would issue out of his mouth. "Sounds like some men I know," I said. The sellers laughed good-naturedly and said, "Yes, it is very cool."
"How much is it?" I said. The man averted his gaze, patted the robot paternally on the head, and said, "He's $45, but we're asking $40." "Huh," I said, also averting my gaze. And then I was quiet, thinking, presumably, of my next move.
I am a bad bargainer. I can bargain in China, where the rule of thumb is to ham up your shocked indignation ("$45?! For that piece of garbage?! I saw it in Tianjin for $28!") and pretend-stalk away in disgust, until the vendor comes chasing after you. But bargaining in the U.S. takes a slightly different trajectory, an arguably more difficult one because it involves that oh-so-delicate balance of gentle tact and firm resolve. The truth was, I thought that $40 was kind of steep--I wouldn't have paid any more than $20--and there was little chance he was going to go that low, if we were starting at $40. Plus, he didn't look eager to make a sale. No one there did. They looked like they wanted to hang onto their precious crap. You could tell because everything was so outrageously overpriced. I had also wanted a glass milk bottle that said, Buy war bonds, on it, and the guy was like, Sixty bucks. Elsewhere, some man wanted $10 for a completely faded LIFE magazine from 1969. I have gotten them (for collaging) for only $1 at Nearly New on Nassau. (And here, I start to sound like Chris Ware's loser-collector Rusty Brown.)
So I said no and kept on walking. Another day, another lost robot.
Or so I thought! Today I did some research on that yellow robot, and it's an R-1 robot
. You can get it online at Tim's Tin Toy vendors for $20. As it turns out, I am no sucker. My instincts are gold.