Car Bomb Shea thrice approaches my table of wares at the Fourth Annual Rock 'N' Roll Swap Meet. It's obvious that he's interested in my electric lap steel — a stubby, pearlescent yellow, six-stringed eyesore that looks a little like what Liberace might've played, had he been a slide guitar man instead of a pianist.
What's less obvious is whether or not Shea is actually going to commit to coughing up the hundred bucks I'm asking for the thing. Which is good, because I really don't want to sell her. I will if somebody meets my price. I mainly brought her to lure folks trolling the nearly 20 vendors set up in Jannus Landing's courtyard over to my table. But while I love the lap steel, I don't need the lap steel; what I need is a hundred bucks.
This particular instrument is definitely a Stage Three item.
I don't consider myself a pack rat. Still, the material possessions do tend to pile up — neat or interesting-looking things that don't work or that I have no intention of actually using in the prescribed manner — and I can use the occasional excuse to thin out their ranks as much as anybody else.
So when the Rock 'N' Roll Swap Meet rolled around this year, I decided to pony up the $10 vendor's fee and cover a table with a bunch of crap that's been filling my closet, bookshelves and CD racks, and generally taking up space that should be opened for more crap that I'll have to jettison later.
Over the years, I've developed a three-tiered approach to culling the physical detritus of my existence for any flea-market sale, swap-meet barter or donation situation. I'm pretty sure everybody goes through a similar process when an opportunity arises to get rid of some of the flotsam and jetsam floating around their lives; I've just found that making three distinct passes through my things enables me not only to come up with shit people might actually want to buy, but also to divest myself of possessions I'd otherwise kid myself into keeping forever.
Stage One consists of gathering up the obvious stuff, the stuff I've wanted to lose for years, but couldn't bring myself to just throw away. These are the things that immediately come to mind when somebody asks if you've got anything to contribute to their yard sale — too-small T-shirts, for instance. You make a mental list, you grab a couple of boxes, go directly to the objects on the list and put 'em in the boxes.
Some folks might be tempted to stop there, have a congratulatory beer and move on to watching Survivor. But look around, man — your apartment is almost certainly still awash with cash masquerading as Duran Duran albums or novels you've read a dozen times.
In Stage Two, I make a more thorough and thoughtful perusal of my assets. This is the "do I really need this?" stage, the stage in which the first pangs of loss emerge. It's during Stage Two that I force myself to discern between a great record that I'll probably never listen to, and a record that I might actually put on from time to time. It's when "neat" and "interesting-looking" are finally assigned values, and some very neat and interesting-looking things just gotta go. It's a little painful to look deep into yourself and discover that you might like five bones more than you like that lamp that looks like a tree that looks like a bong ... but sometimes the truth hurts.
And then there's Stage Three.
Stage Three is where I cut to the quick, where every time an item goes into the back of the Jeep, I feel like a rusty hook is yanking out a piece of me. No, I'm not going to die without my copy of A Widow for One Year. I don't need it. But I like having it so much that it almost amounts to the same thing, and it's the trade paperback version, and that hole in my John Irving collection might as well be a hole in my identity.
That's what it feels like, once everything else is set up on my table in the shade between the outside stage and the Port-O-Lets, as I flip the latches on the lap steel's case, raise its lid, and put the ugly/beautiful instrument out there for anybody with a hundred bucks.
Many shoppers come over to admire her as Dream Window plays a long set of Blue Oyster Cult-esque prog-rock, and Becks and I take turns running into the Tamiami for beers, and Peaches filches shirts and books (including A Widow for One Year, which she has yet to finish) from the table. Many of them don't know what the lap steel is, and ask; several of those who do know what she is ask how much I want for her, then shake their heads and walk away when I tell them.
And all the while, Car Bomb Shea — guitarist, lawyer and builder of amplifiers — keeps coming back to look at her, to strum her, to examine her slide, to make up his mind about her.
The fourth time he comes, he throws five twenties down on the table, closes and latches her case, thanks me, and wanders off with her tucked under his arm.
I know he'll give her a good home. Car Bomb Shea knows and respects music and the things that make it. And like I said, I don't really need her — hell, I only tried to learn to play the damn thing for about a month before giving up and relegating her to her case and a corner, first in the house and later at the Seaside Shack.
But still, that hole on the surface of the table might as well be a hole in my identity.