Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pawnshop excursion

posted Sun, 22 Aug 2004

I don’t have many opportunities to go into pawn shops. If I ever do see one, it’s usually because I am driving in a neighborhood where I double check to make sure my car doors are locked. But yesterday, I had to go to the only shoe repair place I could find near me that was actually open on Saturday, a journey that took me downtown near the courthouse, the jail, bail bondsmen and of course, pawnshops.

Now why on earth the shoe repair place two blocks from my house can’t be open any other time than 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday I do not know. I cannot be the only person in this neighborhood who is not home during those hours and who would find it a little inconvenient, not to mention a career inhibitor, to leave work at 4:00 – not once but twice per shoe repair incident because of course he won’t fix them while you wait – just to get to my shoes fixed. But maybe in my neighborhood I am the only shoe-wearing person who 1) works those hours and 2) does not have someone at home to run my errands for me.

So anyhow I had to go downtown to where all the stores have bars on the windows. When I lived in Miami, all the stores had bars on the windows just because that is Latin fashion. The window bar, however, did not have bars, in a nice little twist. The window bar is where you buy your shots of Cuban coffee and hang out with the guys.

But in M’town, window bars are not considered an accessory in good taste, so I was a bit wary to even be driving in that neighborhood, much less be contemplating leaving my car unoccupied in it. I drove around the block twice before realizing that there were no decent parking options and that the best thing to do would be to make sure the car was in full view of the street so that a would-be thief would be maybe put off by the idea of witnesses. The parking lot – unpaved – reeked of urine, which I usually find is another indicator of not a desirable neighborhood.

I do feel fortunate, however, that I live in a society where it is not considered necessary to post signs ordering people NOT to urinate in a particular area. Such signs were posted on many walls in the ancient city in Cuzco. In Ecuador, the signs in the busses ordered passengers not to spit there. It’s like the way Germany didn’t know how to charge that guy who ate the guy he’d met over the internet. There is no law against cannibalism in Germany because it just didn’t occur to them that anyone would do such a thing. The reason signs like “No urinating here” or “No spitting here” exist because the authorities in exasperation have decided to take action against a recurring problem. So there is some comfort in the fact that in this country, one doesn’t see signs forbidding public urination. It happens, but people know that they are not supposed to do it and it doesn’t happen enough that we need to post signs forbidding it.

Back to the shoes. I dropped them off in the shoe shop, which happened to be next door to a pawn shop, which was also open on Saturday. What is it about that neighborhood that the merchants recognize the need to provide services on Saturday that eludes the merchants in my neighborhood?

Walking back to my car, I thought “Here’s my chance to see the inside of a pawnshop.” I had never been in one before, having led a rather sheltered life. I’m fortunate that my mother never handed her great-grandmother’s locket to me and ordered me to take it to the pawnshop where I would get enough money to buy gruel and potatoes for our next meal. Good thing, too, because I think the next thing that happens in that story, with the daddy done run off and the baby sick, is that mama buys me a fancy dress and tells me to be nice to the gentlemen. Unfortunately, I was not one of those knockout teenagers who could have made a living by being nice to the gentlemen.

Having never been in a pawnshop before, I don’t know if the contents of this one were standard or if this guy just had a particularly bad business strategy. It appeared that either his stock hadn’t turned over in years or that he was accepting goods indiscriminately. Either way, he had things for sale that don’t get demanded much any more, in M’town in particular or in the year 2004 in general.

Ice skates. He had several pairs of ice skates! So it wasn’t just a bad decision one time, but one he had repeated. Why is this so bad, you ask? Well – we might get snow once a winter here, but the river does not freeze and no other body of water around here does, either, as far as I know. And there is not an ice rink here. Ice skating is not a big sport in the south.

Manual typewriters. Maybe there is a market for manual typewriters still. Maybe. Slide projectors. When is the last time you had to watch slides?

There were lots of tools, both hand and power. There were baby seats. I hope the baby was too old to need the seat any more by the time it was hocked. A Craftsman scroll saw was $135. Is that a good price? I don’t know, but I would rather buy something like that directly from Sears. Is the warranty still good if you buy it from a pawnshop?

The only household appliances I saw were a few old upright vacuum cleaners. My assessment, based on the merchandise I saw, is that the majority of pawn shopping is done by men. Lots more hand drills, fishing reels, extension cords and ladders than vacuum cleaners. Although there was a pair of red suede shorts. I can’t see a man wearing those.

There were lots of musical instruments and equipment – guitars, cymbals, drums, amps – which doesn’t surprise me. You know the joke about the difference between a musician and a pizza delivery man, right?

I had suggested to my friend Rebecca once that she and her husband look for a lawn mower at a pawn shop. This was not a complete non sequiter – they needed to buy a lawn mower. Rebecca mused, “I would wonder what the tragic circumstances were that led some poor couple to pawn their lawn mower.” We speculated about Gift of the Magi situations. He pawns the lawnmower to buy her some black patent leather shoes; she pawns the red suede shorts that lacked the shoes to complete the outfit to buy him grass seed.

The same question crossed my mind when I saw the M’town salt and pepper shaker set. And the menorah. And the walker. And the wheelchair. What circumstances prompted the owner to pawn such a precious item? And why didn’t he ever return? Did the need for the wheelchair end? Did the owner regain the use of his legs?

I can see that this pawnshop issue will require a lot more research. I’ll get to the bottom of it and let you know.

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