So yesterday, I went with some ladyfriends to check out the Punk Rock Flea Market.
It’s basically Hipster Etsy in real time. Beards and flannel and those skirts made out of weird upcycled materials and vegan food trucks and Little Baby’s Ice Cream. It’s crowded and overwhelming and AWESOME, and I went with a mission: ALL of the christmas shopping would be HANDLED. BOOM. DONE.
And like all good intentions, I set out with only other people in mind and accidentally fell in love with this original watercolor of a perturbed-looking Kermit the Frog instead.
I didn’t have anyone in my life that it felt specifically like the right person to buy it for, and I had promised myself that I would only buy things for other people during this particular trip. This wasn’t about me. It’s Christmas, goddamnit, and I’m poor, and this was about making sure that I could afford to buy presents for my brothers and loved ones and support local artists and this was the place to make that happen, and I needed to stick to my guns and remember that this was not about buying crap for myself that I didn’t need.
I fucking LOVED this painting.
It was 25 bucks, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it, to spend 25 bucks on just myself. The artist was awesome: young and polite and sweet, and I sort of hesitated before saying, “Listen, I’m just going to come back in an hour, and if it’s still here, maybe I’m meant to come home with it.” It sounds like the kind of bullshit that vendors probably hear all the time, and it’s incredibly uninteresting: just buy the damn painting from me, or don’t, I would have thought, if I were him — but he was nice about it, smiling gently as I walked away.
I wandered through the rest of the arena, and saw beautiful things: weird repurposed light fixtures, the most gorgeous vintage aprons, terrariums with tiny plastic dinosaurs, canvases with old pulp magazines stretched across their surfaces, old action figures, handknit scarves and hats and gloves, record albums you once loved, journals made from recycled paper, jewelry made from freeze-dried, resin-coated fruit slices. Finished my shopping list. And yet.
Nothing spoke to me like that damn Kermit painting.
About an hour later, I went back. The artist spotted me across the room, saw my face when I looked immediately at the lonely corner where the Kermit had just been, now empty. “It went to a kid,” he said, before I could even open my mouth. “I’m sorry. But at least it went to a kid who loved it.”
I totally got it. Waved it off. Bought another print, for a friend, because I still wanted to support this artist who was so nice. Loved the idea of a child falling in love with this painting. Thought about the way I had fallen deeply in love with the Muppets as a kid, staying awake with my dad to watch the Julie Andrews episode on VHS just one more time, snuggled on his lap, giggling together, at peace with the universe.
Quietly said, as I walked away, “Thank you. I really love your work.”
I went over for drinks tonight at my friend Krista’s house. We opened a bottle of wine and we laughed and we talked about nothing, us and her husband Dan. The two of them, my extended Philly family, the couple that makes me believe in marriage, the ones who know me so well and ask nothing in return. Dan refills my wine glass. Krista smiles this odd smile.
Offers me a package, wrapped in brightly colored paper.
I’ll be damned if she didn’t sneak over to that booth the minute I turned my back and buy that painting for me.
Look, I’ll be real for a minute. I don’t like the commercialism of Christmas. I hate the stress of the holidays. This whole season bums me out. I find it hard to believe in some magical season where everything is mutated into a sparkly version of a Hallmark TV movie, manipulative and centered around the idea that material objects can bring inner peace. That’s not how the world works, and an object wrapped in pretty paper is not going to make your world better, won’t make your problems disappear. Fuck all that shit.
Except that the moment I unwrapped that thing, it wasn’t about that. It was about someone else in my world knowing that there was something I definitely didn’t need but would unabashedly love, who liked me enough to sneak back and convince this artist that he needed to come up with a cover story for when I came back to buy the painting myself.
It was my Red Ryder BB Gun. It was my little material object that made me feel loved. And I do love it. Because really, what it actually means is, I love her.
Merry Happy December 16th, everybody. (And if you also are in love with this painting, check this dude out. His stuff is awesome).