There was a racetrack near where I grew up called Roosevelt Raceway. I know it not because my family was big on betting on the ponies, but because that was the site of a weekly flea market my mother would take us to from time to time.
My memory wants me to believe we went there weekly but after conferring with my mother I am told it was perhaps monthly.
The flea market took place in the rather sizeable parking lot next to the racetrack. It was aisles and rows of individual stands selling everything from kitchen appliances to video games.
We’d park in the sunny parking lot among the hundreds and hundreds of other steel boxes on wheels separating us from all of the fun stuff to be seen and hopefully purchased.
The flea market was one of many places we went with my mother. My dad, never one for shopping was usually out golfing or working in the yard. My father was always working in the yard when I was a kid.
Unlike the mall or other stores, the flea market seemed eminently more approachable than other retailers. It wasn’t because we bought more things there as a family. I myself certainly did not buy anything. I was probably getting a small allowance at the time, 50 cents maybe. I was old enough to own a fanny pack, but not old enough to have anything to put in it that wasn’t a G.I. Joe.
Everything at the flea market just seemed closer and perhaps more possible. Maybe because it was all right there, next to you, at the edge of every aisle, begging to be touched, picked up, and examined.
All things my mother told me not to do because, well, she knew me.
Whatever if was you were or weren’t looking for, you didn’t have to venture very far to find it. It was always right in front of you, individually wrapped, and probably massively discounted.
Or so they’d have you believe.
When I was really small my mother would wheel me through the market in a fabric-bottomed stroller, the only way to travel. It was considerably better than walking and having to hold my mother’s hand when I got older. My frequent requests to “Just go over here for a minute” were almost always met with a no.
And for good reason. What right-minded mother would let her child loose in a cacophony of thousands of deal hungry strangers on a hot summer day?
Especially since I had a penchant for getting lost in department stores… and those were indoors. Never mind the limitless space of an outdoor flea market.
Logic like that was lost on me though. In fact, a similar, progressively more advanced logic that combated my questions of “why can’t I do this?” would almost always be lost on me at every age.
The flea market attracted as many characters as it provided. People looking for deals are usually an interesting sort.
There was always a hoarse, tank-topped man standing on a stepladder yelling through a megaphone.
LADIES, THESE DEALS WON’T LAST LONG. GET THEM WHILE THEY LAST. LADIES!
He was there every week. Always yelling through a megaphone. Always at the ladies. You heard him way before and way after you saw him.
No matter what aisle we walked through or what we were in the market for, I was always looking for the toys. The colorful plastic toys encased in more plastic in cardboard. Things I had never known I had wanted before I saw them.
Not that I needed any more toys, but what child could understand such a statement?
Not me. I was so hypnotized by everything I saw.
Like the “Little Policeman” set I found that had a set of plastic (naturally) handcuffs in them.
Somehow I had been well behaved and persuasive enough that day or week to convince my mother to buy it for me.
It was a happiness I could barely believe.
I don’t remember how old I was at the time but I remember I was old enough that when we made a trip back to the car to drop off some of the sheets and tablecloths she had purchased, my mother asked me if I wanted to stay in the car while she checked out the last aisle.
I willingly agreed, not wanting to walk anymore and now having a plastic handcuff set to play with and completely occupy my attention.
It wasn’t long after she closed and locked the door to her blue Pontiac with me in the front seat that I opened my new toy and promptly handcuffed myself to her steering wheel.
This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if the piece-of-shit plastic key that came with the handcuffs had actually worked… which it didn’t.
As a teenager or even a slightly older kid this would have probably been something to laugh about before finding some way out of them, to free myself from embarrassment before my mom came back.
But as a child my heart went into an intense panic. I was locked to the steering wheel. Trapped! I fiddled with the key. Over and over again. Trying it 10 different ways. Sweating out of my tiny armpits all the while dreading what would happen if my mom saw what I had done in the few minutes she had been gone.
Miraculously, I freed myself, the tiny Houdini that I was before my mom came back to find me casually inspecting the quality of my wares, or whatever it was I was doing.
I’d like to believe that I never asked her to buy me another toy again.
But I’m pretty sure that’s not true.