Antiquity: A Travel Essay

When you first see it, if you find yourself on the sharp edge of Downtown Fred’s outskirts, all you see is brick. The quasi bar/karaoke lounge that lives next door is laid entirely of burnt cherry blocks, and oddly enough, the way its foundation sits makes it jut out slightly in front of Antiques. If you make it past that weird little obstacle, you’ll find yourself at the front door. You’ll be greeted by the smear of children’s fingerprints across every bit of the glass’ surface, as well as twenty to thirty pairs of eyeballs. Or at least, that’s who’s been looking at me for the last four visits or so; the doll section makes itself known pretty quickly.

When you venture through the door, past the grimy spots and creepy stares, you’ll tread outdated red carpet. Bookcases loom over you while great, big chests vie to be opened and explored. Sparkling things glance at you through dusty surfaces. And delicate, watercolored china stands at attention, making ready for the passing admirers. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a smile from Ingrid at the front desk area. When I do, I make sure I stick it in my pocket for safe keeping.

What you’ll find is that this floor is a maze; it makes you feel overwhelmed in more ways that one. You’ll feel overcome by the vast array of stuff and with curiosity to conquer each little planet across this great universe of the past. If you keep going straight, you’ll see that it’s made up of more bookcases, more chests with drawers and doors to be opened. They go off in directions that will take you to different places, whether in history or in household genre, each section and piece of the grand scheme puzzle organized by vendor. You’ll see how easily you’d be able to use your daylight hours going through it all.

If you’re like me though, you start from the top and make your way down. If you’re like me, you make the trek up the steep foothills they call the staircase to the second floor. As your calves are pumping, you’re met with paintings of landscapes, and people, and dogs, frogs, bears on logs, flowers, a few cross-stitched love notes; every millimeter of wall space is covered. After about fifteen steps, you’ll make eyes with literally everything but the kitchen sink. (Well, that’s not true, I did see an old sink once.)

There are two windows straight ahead, but they’re shrouded by stacks of boxes. The best ones meet the lip of the window sills, full of records by underground artists from the 60s and 70s. One of those curly-q phones neighbors a wall display of practically every manufactured Pez dispenser, hanging overhead random kitchen appliances and scratched up furniture. Some of them are junky and on their last leg, but they still have a place; they’re still allowed to take up residency here. I can’t help but think of the no-kill shelter that’s near my house, the one where we looked when we were searching for a dog. Even if the sun doesn’t rise on their adoption day, every pup can make that house their home. In the same fashion, it seems that nothing is turned away here at Antiques. There’s something really tender about that.

If you decide to go right, you’ll make your way into an alcove entirely made up of loose fabrics and crochet work: doilies, tablecloths, blankets, lacey pillow cases. My favorite are the itty-bitty baptismal gowns. I can almost see them, those women pricking their fingers and swearing under their breath. I can feel the breeze tickle their skin as they labor the night before the baby dedication. I can feel the thread spooling from their hands into this piece of clothing, the one I’m holding in my hands. I can feel everything when I’m in the expanse of this place.

If you decide to take the other route, you’re getting closer to the best spot. Instead of following directly right, you’ll make that right and then go backwards, going past the old cameras that need flash cubes that aren’t made anymore. Knick-knacks organized by animal classification will roar and meow and stamp at you, inviting your advances. After those cases, you’ll be confronted by an odd smell. Imagine mothballs coupled with an aging ink stink; it’s not bad, but not entirely pleasant either. It’s something acquired.

Keep this path until you see the, “For Rent” sign, and the huge window that exposes the dirt that’s crawling on the floorboards. The last time it wasn’t vacated was two Autumns ago. Picture in your mind turkey themed gravy boats and leafy napkin rings. Handmade ornaments, and wreathes with fresh holly berries. Baskets teeming with seasonal postcards next to the pile of old Christmas tree skirts. Soon February came, and since then, this sanctuary has been open. Freedom reigns in this place, at least until this coming holiday season.

For this reason, you’ll make the trip to Antiques, for the perspective it gives you, for its vantage point. When you step foot onto this holy ground, you’re allowed a glimpse into the days preceding the moment your lungs expanded. You get to watch the stories of the people before you play out. And as you read them, you can’t help but read over your own. You’ll think of your own life, all the stuff you smile at when it comes flooding back, and then the stuff that you grimace at, the stuff that makes you wipe your eyes with your shirt sleeve. When you stand in the barrenness of that room, you might feel the same. And that can be good and bad: either your life is open and free, your future awaiting you, or you’re empty and have nothing. Either way, this room will tell you the truth about yourself. It will tell the truth about what happened before.

As you stand there, you will act as witness to the leftovers of people’s lives that have long been finished, and when you finally get to the window, you will be reminded where you came from. The street that you walked to get here will span in front of you, and you will not be able to do anything but spin through the reflection of past, present, and future.

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