The Old Avatar


Shopping (cheap) was his hobby. He spent summers at the flea markets along Route 1 in Searsport, Maine (salt air, old glass bottles and dishes, especially blue, rose, and green), and the rest of the year at the Odd Lots bargain emporium on Church and Chambers streets in lower Manhattan (thumb tacks, masking tape, traffic fumes).

Around the time he retired (from work, not shopping), e-bay put a serious dent in the non-virtual bargain business. Owing also to the events of September 11th, 2001, Odd Lots closed its doors, as did (also owing to e-bay) most of the Searsport fleas (their booths).

But e-bay did not do it for him—call him set in his ways—so he soldiered on at the few fleas left standing (or hopping) and at the extant New York schlock emporia. The latter, although they could never match the selection or deep discounts of Odd Lots, were harder to kill than Dracula. No sooner had market forces driven a stake through the heart of one of them than ten more popped up (like umbrellas when the rain starts to fall, or bats flitting into the evening sky).

“J’achete, donc je suis,” he waggishly quipped (to himself), paraphrasing René Des(shopping)cartes, although he did not subscribe to that philosopher’s pernicious mind-body dualism. Shopping, for example, was something you did from the heart, but the brain never said, “Stop!” at least not to the selective, joyous shopper like him.

It was a life (so to speak). He shopped in New York, drove up to Maine, shopped in Maine, drove back to New York, shopped in New York, drove up to ….

Eventually , he waxed (waned) old and (nothing special) died. Acceding to his wishes, his relations (family) had him (his corpse) cremated. But when the ashes were scattered, in a wooded area on the larboard side of Route 1 North, something inexplicable happened.

The dead shopper coalesced into a giant pâpier-maché sea captain (old avatar), wearing a yellow rain slicker, boots, and hat, smoking a corn cob pipe, and sitting in a giant wicker armchair in front of a diner on the starboard side of the highway just south of Searsport.

“Well, I’ll be darned,” said the owner of the diner when he arrived for work that morning. But he left him there. (Why not?)

The Captain’s advent took place (so to speak) several years ago. He still sits in his chair, holding his smokeless pipe, with the rain or snow dripping or melting down him (when it rains or snows), none the worse for wear, except for a few places where the paint has chipped off, creating white spots (like snow flakes) amidst the predominant yellow (rain gear) , white (hair), and rose (hands and face).

“Welcome,” calls the shopper-cum-salt to passing motorists (many from New York) as they whiz, hum, or creep past at the start of their summer vacations. “Up here to enjoy the sea air, are you, my friend? Why not stop for an hour? Grab a bite and a cuppa, browse a bit, maybe even buy a little something, then go on your way. Believe me, you’ll be the better for it” (stopping). “And later when you’re back in town, please remember to spare a thought for your old pal, Captain Nelson Billings.”


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