Yard sale finds

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The yard sale season came to an abrupt halt this fall when it became too cold to stand in a stranger’s yard looking at their crap. On a mild day anything can be interesting, worth purchasing even. But when it’s freezing the eye turns critical and exacting.

Before the end of the season, I rescued a smooth, sweet-faced seal and a glazed bowl from a woman with an admitted pottery addiction. I hear ya, sister. Let me take those off your hands.

Seals with adorable faces always remind me of that classic meme.

seals clubbing

Yard sale finds

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A few weeks ago I bought a pine tree. Just a small one–an indoor Norfolk pine. Someone had bought the other one or I would have gone home with a pair. Just as well. My house is turning into a jungle. Better to collect plants now and stock up on oxygen before Boston goes all Beijing. Anyway, it’s doing well after transitioning from a pampered home where it was probably fed fancy fertilizer. Here, it just gets water. It seems to like looking out the window though.

pine tree

For the record, I went to this other house sale with the cool door back in August, but no one answered the knocking fox. I even tried the door, but it was big and heavy and stuck or locked. I bet they had good stuff. 

Yard sale finds


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How cute is the print from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Boook Art? Answer: super cute. Also, a museum dedicated to picture book art? Amazing–and apparently two hours from my house. Yes, the elderly caterpillar may be a bit creepy, but I choose to think of them as a colorful, spunky duo with excellent eyesight. I bought it from an older woman and her 30-something daughter who said it had been hers–I assumed when she was a kid.

“Don’t tell anyone I don’t have kids,” I told her.

“That’s great!” they agreed.

“Would you like a minute to say goodbye?” I asked.

“It’s OK. We’re glad it’s going to such a good home.”

Which made me wonder why they assumed it was going to a good home. I could be a collector-turned-destroyer of picture book art. I could banish it to the basement. I could despise caterpillars and torch the print.

More likely, I will find a good spot for it on the staircase or in the bathroom, because every bathroom needs a whimsical caterpillar print.

At home, I noticed the exhibit was in 2004, nine years ago. I quickly did the math (well, not that quickly) and realized that the previous owner–let’s say she was 30–must have also bought it as an adult. How interesting.

Yard sale finds

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I never understood why museum goers enjoy gazing at the portraits of strangers. I mean, why? Even someone noteworthy like George Washington, a fine subject with perfect curls, is not a face I need to study. Art for art’s sake, perhaps. Or maybe I’m meant to have a moment of communion with the father of our country.

But this weekend at a yard sale I spied a luminous rendering of a woman I’ve never met staring back at me from the driveway. I walked around browsing the goods, but I kept going back to her.

“What’s the story with the portrait?” I asked the young woman selling it.

“Oh, that’s Jane,” she said. “But we call her Edith. It was done in the fifties. She was a neighbor.”

Several questions sprung to mind:

Why Edith? She was a plain Jane but Edith did seem to fit more. I thought of Edith from All in the Family, Edith from Downton Abbey.

Why would anyone have a portrait of a neighbor?

Why did this young woman keep it for so long?

Who painted it?

Was Edith part of a neighbor love triangle?

I didn’t pry. But I wish I had.

“How much are you asking?”

“Twenty dollars,” she said. “I really don’t want to sell it.” In the background her husband indicated that he did. “We’re moving to Michigan and we can’t take her with us. Really.” He silently pleaded with me to rid them of Edith.

Indeed, Edith, rendered in pastels and trapped in her vintage frame, is not cut out for Michigan. She doesn’t have the outerwear. For $15 with a couple of shirts thrown in that Edith would never be caught dead in, I brought her home and propped her up to see where I might hang her. Every time I look over there she’s looking at me. Such a starer.

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In Hudson, I buy antlers

Hudson is a not-yet-comfortable mix of super high-end antique stores and families living in poverty on the next street over. A tough mix but a reality of so many towns converting their old buildings downtown to lofts and studios. It’s a destination for Manhattanites furnishing their summer homes and for me looking for a treasure under $50. The Red Chair, a beautifully curated shop of Belgian and French antiques and textiles, invites visitors to linger, but the prices reflect the time and energy it must have taken the owner to scout out treasures in the French countryside and lug them back to the States.  The street is one long stretch of colorful shops and cafes, and it feels like scouring a flea market with air-conditioned pockets; a view of the Hudson awaits at the end of the street.

The work of artist Lee Musselman graces numerous storefronts along the main street, many in the form of doll head figures the artist calls “spiritual guides.” The shops are showing support for an artist who celebrates found objects–a man now in failing health. One shop where Lee worked has two deep bins of his art scraps: antlers, bones, dolls, tin. I dig out a pair of antlers with a tuft of fur still attached and buy it; the money will go to his caregiver. I spend a moment thinking of this artist I’ve only just learned about and about the deer who shed its antlers, unaware that a piece of it might the next day become art.

Hudson shops

Lee Musselman art

I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners

Murray's

Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar

Country mouse

My friends give me a hard time because I don’t have curtains on my windows. They’re just . . . too much. Yes, I suppose someone walking by could see me half-naked, but the chances are slim because I live across from a cemetery. I’m cool with ghosts checking me out. So when I arrive at my vacation rental and see a wall of windows, I am in heaven (ironically, where all the ghosts are). It’s like staying in the Philip Johnson Glass House. The only difference is that my house is not in the middle of the country so when it’s lights out on vacation, it’s the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen. Fireflies are welcome little flashlights.

As you might imagine, it’s also very quiet, aside from moths batting themselves against the windows and really, really big beetles that hurl themselves at the door so fiercely it sounds like someone is knocking. Which is a scary thought in the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere.  Insect static aside, the quiet and stillness are welcome in a world filled with noise. And serendipity being what it is, I happen upon a fantastic podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and the first episode I hear is an interview with Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist trying to preserve the few remaining quiet places in the world. The man really listens. Also, is that not the coolest job? Anyway, he doesn’t define quiet as the absence of all noise, but the absence of man-made or non-natural noise. Even in the quiet woods there are leaves rustling and water dripping and birds singing. I hear it all this week.

Red Hook windows

House at night

The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.

Dark dirt road

 

The daylight trickles in, dampened by thick tree cover that keeps the house cool in the midst of a heat wave. Maple roams the house sniffing everything, while I appreciate the well-appointed house and its mid-century modern charm. I pretend that I live there, enjoying the Bose system and walk-in shower, and devour weeks of New York magazine. I’m stealing a lot of their ideas–an old hospital cart that holds toiletries, taxidermied animals that are not as creepy as they sound, and this fantastic suitcase idea:

Suitcase of books

I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.

Maple on washer

Maple finds it is coolest on the washer

The silences of poetry

If you’ve ever been to a poetry reading, you know the silence after a poem is read. It’s a moment of reverence, appreciation, or simply I don’t get it. The rule is that you listen and hold your applause. But after fiery poems or protest poems or poems about sex and breakups, rowdy audiences applaud. Somewhere in that middle ground is a little sound that listeners emit when a poet closes a poem. A sigh, an “mmm,” a subdued acknowledgment that as an audience, says, We are moved.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival last month was filled with rowdy poetry fans. At one reading by Nick Flynn, the applause started up and he warned that if we applauded for one, we’d better applaud for all or it was going to get mighty awkward. Poet Jill McDonough read a touching (!) poem about a classic Boston subject: road rage. At another headline event held in a church, applause reverberated again and again as Sharon Olds read poems of passion and Eduardo Corral read a poem in which a woman had names for each of her breasts. The atmosphere was electric; I felt like a Baptist ready to shout Preach it!

I’m no poet, but I’ve immersed myself in poetry over the last few years because it’s nourishing. I attended a 5-day workshop led by the brilliant Marie Howe at Omega, a bucolic campus in Rhinebeck, NY, where you could write by the lake or in a hammock or in the garden–real poet stuff. I’ve been enjoying the MA Poetry Festival every year and taking workshops on persona poems or catalogue poems or poetry collages. I’ve been reading more poetry, keeping Billy Collins’ quirky collections on my nightstand. And I’ve been writing poetry, which, according to a handful of real poets who read it, is not a good idea. The problem with a new interest is realizing that you will never be great . . . or even good. It’s a bit depressing, like taking up an instrument and realizing you have no ear or joining a dance class only to realize you are uncoordinated. One must accept one’s suckiness. Still, I resolve to keep experiencing poetry, if only for those moments when a writer lays a poem at your feet and you can offer nothing in return by a reverent silence because there is absolutely nothing to say.

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Gangsta cat

My friend tells me that my cat, Maple, is a little vandal. “Sit on the right side of the train when you head home and check out the abandoned train with graffiti all over it. You’ll see ‘Maple’ spray painted in a couple of places.”

Apparently, my cat has been tagging trains.

OK, so it probably isn’t my cat because I lock the door at night, so I know she can’t get out, but seriously, whose gangsta tag is “Maple”? It’s so . . . sweet.

On a lunch excursion this week, I spot this amazing piece of work on Stuart St. in Boston. The clever style smacks of Banksy. If you haven’t seen the documentary on this artist–Exit Through the Gift Shop–you should. It’s weird, like graffiti  done by a cat.

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A little research turned up the fact that the artists behind this are Os Gemeos (twins) who have also contributed art to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

Yard sale finds

This weekend I headed to the Marblehead Art Walk, which was a bust. This was likely due to the fact that I missed it by an entire week (May is disappearing faster than I thought, apparently), so in wandering around looking for art or the art-making workshop I was keen to attend, I realized there was no art. But all was not lost. I hit up a few early-season yard sales and was pleasantly surprised to find (wait for it) art.

Everyone needs a pineapple oil painting, no? This one is heavily textured, like a pineapple, but the frame is a little staid for my tastes, which I probably should not have said to the seller after she gave it to me for $5, but no worries; I went to the paint store and they mixed me up a sample of an avocado green for $3. That little sample tub is my tip of the day, people; if you have something small to paint, samples are a bargain. Or does everyone know that already? Anyway, this weekend will involve funkying up the frame.

Turns out the seller is a poet so we chatted about people and organizations we had in common (You love Grub St.? I love Grub St.) and she even invited me to join a local writing group, which I must say, I hadn’t expected when buying a pineapple painting.

pineapple painting

But why stop there when I could dig up a second piece of art–this one of a madame that will go in my bathroom, if you must know. The style of the drawing (or watercolor? This is how little I know about art) is reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, yet it’s signed something like Lilead or Iliad, which must be wrong, because the Interweb turned up zilch about the former and a million references to Homer for the latter. Who cares. The vibrant red frame is perfect, no painting necessary.

madame drawing

I also found a packet of Bookmarks for Cooks (can’t bring myself to write in my cookbooks), which should help when I make a note like “Add more cheese.” I expect most bookmarks will say “Add more cheese.”

Finally, I scooped up this gold, worn heart locket, which is as oversized as it looks, for 25 cents. Come on! I don’t yet have the right dangly chain, so if you have one, get in touch. I need to wear this puppy before the steampunk movement passes.

heart locked

Yard sale finds

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The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

rooster banner

Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage

 

collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.

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With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Perception

“Are you Kate’s sister?” a woman asks me.

“Who’s Kate?” I ask.

She points to a dancer about to perform. Kate is lanky with disheveled hair, a crooked tooth or two, and dressed in bright, appealing colors. I size her up then size myself up, which is, of course, impossible to do in any objective way. Kate appears friendly and interesting, but she’s too quirky looking. She’s a lot older. Her underwear peaks out as she dances (me? never) but she has the confidence to keep on dancing (I’m with her there). In other ways, I see myself, especially in her colorful presentation, unruly hair, and funky glasses. But then, she has the boldness to perform a creative work in front of a crowd (uh-uh) and she’s artsy and chaotic in a way that screams free-spirited artist (nope).

In high school, my friend can’t wait to tell me she met my twin who was playing in a visiting school band. In the auditorium, I see the band members file in and spot her immediately. Oh, God. Her? I am humiliated that this is how my friend perceives me. The girl is gangly and awkward, and while OK, I was gangly and awkward, I wasn’t ready to own it as a freshman.

I think of a summer writing workshop I took two years ago, all creativity and summer dresses, when a participant told me I looked and sounded like Teri Gross. I love Teri Gross but I wasn’t sure I wanted to look like her (she’s older, NY accent). Today, I would say Thank you and smile.

TerryGross

I turn back to watch Kate, graceful on the stage in a way that I am not, and start to embrace not only the qualities that we share but also some that I don’t care to share but have to admit are right on. I think about approaching her after the show to tell her about the comparison, but I don’t want to risk a shocked reaction or watch her scrutinize my face. But hey, she should be happy to be me; here I am sitting in the audience of her show–surely I have good taste–and not a smidge of my underwear is showing.

Ugly gift contest

Some families have sweet, wholesome traditions of hanging their stockings by the fireplace while little ones run amok in footie pajamas; others leave cookies for Santa on a special plate while trimming the tree and singing Deck the Halls; in my family we have a new ritual: the annual ugly gift contest. This is the second year we’ve scoured yard sales and thrift stores to vie for the prize: an ugly bargain.

The tradition got off to a rocky start last year when my entry was confiscated by officials at Logan Airport for being too ugly. OK, not really, but you can read the story here. This year, I skipped the whole flying thing and drove to Virginia for Christmas. I wasn’t taking any chances. With my ugly presented nestled safely in my luggage in the backseat, the TSA couldn’t touch me.

Crowning the winner would be tricky as everyone in the family offered a contender. How would we determine, impartially, who won? We tossed around the idea of a secret ballot, but when the nominees were unveiled all at once on the table, one thing became clear: no vote was necessary. We had a clear winner.

My entry: evil-eyed moon in gross mustard color with flexible joints

My entry: evil-eyed moon with flexible joints in gross mustard color. Third place.

Mom's entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with sea life in relief, appropriately rendered in the letter "U" for ugly.

Mom’s entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with dolphins in sculptural relief, appropriately rendered in the letter “U” for ugly. Runner-up.

My sister and brother-in-law's entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel.

My sister and brother-in-law’s entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel. Winner.

Yeah, the last one. While the orb (?) was the original gift—ugly enough on its own—my brother-in-law stumbled on a starfish . . . receptacle (?) that housed the flamingo egg (?) nicely. We still don’t know what to make of it. My mom tried to give an award to the winning couple from a bag of seemingly regifted items; the winners declined more crap.

In many ways I was the loser: not only did my moon come in last, it also garnered a few likes from the crowd, which was dispiriting. Regardless, I’m still calling it a victory, because when I packed up the car to come home, not one piece of that junk was in my trunk.

Barnaby Bright

I’m at the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead—the longest-running coffeehouse in a UU church on tiny Mugford Street, the host likes to call it, when a cute-as-a-button couple takes the stage—he with fuzzy hair and a guitar, she with a killer smile and a squeezebox—and harmonizes like nobody’s business. The ballads of Barnaby Bright (Nathan and Becky Bliss) are haunting and beautiful, but it’s the way they look at each other that gets you. You know they’re thinking, How lucky are we to be married and singing every night together? You hear “Brooklyn” and think, hipsters. But they grew up in Kansas, moved to Brooklyn, and are now back in Kansas, and you realize they’re the real deal, not a handlebar moustache in sight.

I haven’t been to this coffeehouse in years since I had a boyfriend who liked folk and we’d make pilgrimages to this small town on the coast to hear Ellis Paul or The Nields. Now I live 10 minutes away and am reminded how music is magical when played on the altar of a church—and even better when the theme is about sex or politics and sung at full volume from the pulpit.

Yard sale finds

Today’s find: a dirty bird. As my friends will attest, I have exactly one coaster, which means I’m scrambling for a place for guests to put their drinks. I spotted this tile with an odd-looking, geometric bird for $2. Dusty and sticky, I cleaned him up like a duck plucked from an oil spill, where he now sits on the coffee table—coaster count doubled.

I also found a book titled Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, which is handy because I’ve been working on perfecting grilled pizza of late (perfecting, failing, perfecting, failing, eating anyway) and am interested to try to make piadinas, a type of flatbread used to wrap sandwiches or as a crust-like bundle for something sweet.

In addition to a sparkly metallic bracelet and a couple of CDs that the DJ sifting through the same box thought fit to pass up (The Sinatra Christmas Album and Corinne Bailey Rae, if you must know), I picked up the book Plastic Ocean for my ocean-loving friend who likes to snuggle up with a good book about the ocean’s flotilla of garbage. I mean, don’t we all?

Spine poetry

How great is this idea? Select a few books from your shelf  and shuffle them up to “write” a poem. The idea, courtesy of artist Nina Kathadourian’s Sorted Books project I read about on Brain Pickings, is called spine poetry. Brilliant, right? Peruse your bookshelf—or as this artist does: the public library, private libraries, anywhere that houses books—culling those with interesting titles to arrange a poem.

Such an interesting way to discover lines of poetry that might never be discovered otherwise, while possibly even motivating you to dust the bookshelf; it’s also time well spent with your books and even better: a reason to acquire more books.

Here are some lines I discovered:

Love is walking hand in hand,

devotion.

Enduring love:

the mother garden.

Man and camel

walking into the night;

don’t tell me the truth about love.

Happiness is a warm puppy,

driving over lemons,

the northern lights,

burnt bread and chutney,

the journey home.

Yard sale finds

It’s a good day when I find original art at a yard sale. Thank you, artist around the corner who dug out some old pieces and decided to stick them out at the yard sale. It’s a sweet hillside town, rural, I think, but it’s the spacious sky with a great swooping cloud that makes me pick up the painting three times before I decide to buy it for a mere $10.

I’ve been trying to gather more information about the objects I find, especially the stories behind them, so I ask if she remembers the location depicted in the painting.

“Do you know where that is?” she asks.

“The little painted houses on a hill make me think Guatemala or maybe somewhere in South America,” I say.

She laughs at my guess that turns to be way, way off.

“I painted that from the top of the Kendall Square garage in Cambridge,” she says, smiling. “Do you know that area?”

“I’ve parked in that garage next to the cinema so many times,” I say. “I can’t believe that’s Cambridge. Local art!”

I even catch Maple admiring it.

I also find this cute vintage-inspired bag (purse or reusable grocery tote, depending on the day) and toss this retro bracelet into it at the next yard sale where a woman says, “I love your bag.”

I also score a strawberry pot, which just about saves the strawberry plant that was just waiting for a roomy replanting. In the soil from another pot I fish out a peanut from a local squirrel that’s getting to work collecting for the winter. It’s a game: the neighbor scatters peanuts around and the squirrel plants them all over the neighborhood. Every time I find one I hide it again and hope that the squirrel will find it in its new spot. I picture the fuzzy guy looking at the map, digging around my basil, and coming up empty handed. Something tells me my tomatoes will disappear next year.

Yard sale finds

This week’s Marblehead haul included a crock for my birthday plant, a vintage box for stacking plants, and an amateur portrait of a very serious Bert. Rest assured, Bert will not be living in the garden, but nailed to the wall in the living room. Sorry, Bert.

I’d been hoping to score a planter at Brimfield, but the prices were high, especially for those stamped with a little number like this. Must be valuable, but I just wanted a solid, vintage-inspired container for my plant. This one was marked $30, but I talked him down to $15, getting it for $14 when I realized that’s all I had in my wallet. Whoops.

On the back of the Bert illustration was a handwritten note: “To Peter, Happy 4th Birthday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” I decided it was a keeper when I heard someone call out, “Peter, how much are you selling this for?” Sandy-haired Peter was now my age, the two of us children of the 70s. “You sure you want to sell it?” I asked. He seemed unfazed, and couldn’t remember if it was from his father or grandfather. For that, I asked if he’d sell it for $2 instead of $3. A man should know who drew and framed a portrait of Bert for him when he was four. But Bert, just so you know, I would have paid $5 for you.