Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Little Table That Couldn't Sell Cringe

Since September I’ve been dabbling in the antiques and furniture restoration business with my friend Valery. That’s part of the reason my weekly cringe has lapsed into an every-once-in-a-while cringe. Not that I haven’t been cringing during this time-- I just haven’t been dutifully recording.

We purchased a vintage porcelain-topped kitchen table at an antique fair at a great price, assuming it would turn around quickly for handsome profit. We didn’t even need to fix, sand, paint or polish it.

But it sat in our “inventory” (two cluttered garages that increasingly irritate our husbands) unsold. Admired, but unsold. It seemed a dead horse. We listed it on Ebay and clicked the local delivery or pick-up option.

That’s when I became acquainted with Barbara from Santa Rosa, California. She bid on the table three times in a row, feverishly. Barbara was our only bidder. Boy, did she want this $75 table. At the close of the sale, I immediately received a phone call from her.

Barbara and I began to speak three times per day. I spoke to Barbara more often than to my mother and all friends and family combined for a one week period. The Santa Rosa number appeared morning, noon and night on my caller id. She was hyper-focused on the task of arranging shipping (at her cost) for the thousands of miles between us.

I quickly gather that Barbara is a woman who probably has eighty kitchen tables in her home. She is an Ebay addict and most likely a hoarder. She tells me that she has been seeking a green porcelain-topped utility table for years. She wants to drink coffee at this specific table in the mornings, while working at her canning food hobby. She is thrilled that she has “won” the table. Barbara’s Ebay profile indicates that she has bought and sold over two thousand items.

Barbara tells me of all of the flea market locations in New Jersey that I should check out. She has spent time traveling cross country hitting every flea market in the continental United States. The Cowtown Rodeo is her favorite. Yes, the Cowtown Rodeo is in New Jersey, located in a pocket of the state that is unknown to even the most ardent Jersey native.

Barbara discovers that the table will cost her roughly $350 to ship. I tell Barbara on our second chat that I am willing to forget the sale with no mar to her Ebay record. I understand that the exorbitant shipping fee makes this a ridiculous notion. Oh no, she protests. She wants the table. She needs it. She is going to make this work. There are many calls about whether or not I can unscrew the legs (no), and even if I could saw them off to reduce the shipping fee. She was prepared to reattach them on the west coast.

The sawing-off-the-legs conversation left me speechless. My farewell was always the same: Barbara, really, it’s no big deal if we cancel this sale. It seems unreasonable to pay $350 shipping for a $75 table.

She’s pumped when she calls two days before Thanksgiving. She’s found a great solution if I’m willing to help her. She can have the table shipped on a Greyhound bus for only $70. She will send me an additional $130 to pack the table and drop it off at a Greyhound terminal two hours from my home.

I’m about to tell Barbara that I’ve accidently lit the table on fire and it is no longer available. But, then, she mentions that the Greyhound terminal is in Atlantic City.

I call my “business partner”, Valery. We both love Blackjack. Drop off the table and earn $65 each for some mid-day table action. We’re in. I tell Barbara her table will be shipped on Monday and she wires our gambling funds to my paypal account.

After a two-hour journey with our big old package yesterday morning, the supervisor at Greyhound informs us that our box is too big. The acceptable dimensions Greyhound lists on their website do not apply to Atlantic City. Why? Unsure.

I’m aggravated. Not only is this messing up my gambling nooner, but how am I going to break it to Barbara that her little green table might never come to be? The thought of this heartbreaking phonecall is causing me cringe. I’m imagining that Barbara might decide to drive cross country for the table and want to stay with me.

I ask the supervisor what dimensions are allowed. We’re only three inches off. Valery and I rip the box from the table and begin to repurpose it. It becomes a work of abstract art in the Greyhound terminal, a vision of rough cardboard pieces affixed on an upside down form that looks like a cow carcass sheathed in bubble wrap.

Drifters laugh at our project. The supervisor watches in disbelief. We are two women on a mission, bending and sweating to meet and exceed our customer’s expectations. I’m running a circle around the brown heap with sticky tape. Barbara’s table is not coming home with us. The tattered monstrosity is sufficiently reduced, re-measured, and loaded into a cargo hold. California here she comes…

Our creative deed is rewarded by Lady Luck. Amazingly, the casino yields us $220 in combined winnings in just one hour of play. We head for the sunny Garden State Parkway to retrieve our children from school with lighter car and fuller pockets.