Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Seat belt Lawn Chair...

I still like the old-style aluminum folding lawn chairs-to me, as a bigger guy, they are much more comfortable than the new collapsible camp-style chairs being sold today. However, the old plastic or vinyl replacement webbing is nearly impossible to find, and if you are lucky enough to find it, it may be in no better condtion than what you are trying to replace. I had picked up a roll of seat belt webbing at the flea market for a few bucks, and after seeing handbags woven from it in magazines, I decided I might try to re-web one of my vintage chairs. The result is better than I expected, plus the webbing is stronger and much more comfortable than the plastic stuff. No pinched leg hairs or sticking to it in hot, humid weather! My guess is it will last forever as long as i keep it out of the rain.

If you can't get a roll of this stuff, troll your local "u-pull" junkyard for seat belts. I don't think they can sell them complete for safety reasons, so just cut the webbing with EMT shears or sharp scissors. You should be able to get it for a song. Pull the belts ALL THE WAY OUT and cut as close to the retracting reel as possible so you get as much of it as you can. I would estimate about four cars worth of belts should be more than enough to cover your chair. This stuff is super useful for lots of other things as well.

Look closely at your chair-if it still has the original webbing, examine how it is put on, it's pretty simple. Take a digital photo for reference, just in case you forget. You may want to replace the often-rusty screws with new ones also. Take your time and the results will surprise you. I also took a lighter and singed the cut ends so they would not fray, and singed the holes I drilled for the same reason. You can probably use a leather punch for holes as well. DON'T BURN YOURSELF ON THE HOT, SCORCHED WEBBING! Let it cool after singeing it, it's just like melted plastic until the temperature drops, and will stick to you like napalm.

For racing fans, you can attach a set of shoulder straps, complete with buckles to strap yourself in at races and to keep someone from stealing your chair when you get up! You can also use alternating colors, I just used this blue because I had a huge amount of it. Remember there is tan, gray, maroon or burgundy in addition to good old black for mixing and matching. I also remember the Pontiac Sunfire perhaps having bright red as well as an aqua "moon rock" color in the mid 90s (?) Do your favorite team colors or match the rest of your patio furniture. Black and Tan (for beer drinkers) would look good I think, as well as blue and Maroon (looks like the Gemini space program to me somehow). I think these lawn chairs are comfortable enough to use inside if company comes and you need extra seating, at Superbowl or holiday time.

You can also use this procedure for old, Mid-Century Modern-styled folding chaises and chairs-some of them were originally slung with webbing, or woven with macrame' type patterns and twine. A cheap flea-market wooden chaise or folding chair could yield a masterpiece... Go nuts, have fun.

UPDATE: A search of Ebay yielded new webbing in every color of the rainbow...it's not as cool to buy new if you ask me, but if you need to match with colors like orange or safety yellow, this is the way to go I guess.

Government Surplus...

For me, it started with an ad in a magazine-maybe even a comic book. "Jeeps for $44 from the US Government!!" was the line. I imagined, as a teen, making more than enough mowing lawns all summer to afford a four-wheel-drive vehicle to show up with on the first day of my sophomore year of high school. I imagined myself taking friends, and more importantly, girls, on long weekend camping trips on the hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in my town and surrounding area. I would, like Magellan, discover yet-uncharted paradises in my own backyard.

There were the rumors, of course, the stuff of urban legend-the jeeps were sawed in half, as part of the demilitarization process-I'd have to weld it back together, I was told by more than one "wise" individual. Same went for the thousands of Harley Davidson Army motorcycles still allegedly crated up in a government warehouse somewhere (probably that big warehouse in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", where they stashed the Ark of The Covenant, I thought, and probably the Roswell UFO and the alien corpses...!!), I'd never get something pristine, there would have to be a catch.

As a young adult, I managed to track down the necessary numbers and addresses to contact the DRMO, the deparment responsible for government auctions. Back then, in the early 1990s, it was still a bit of a pain in the ass. You had to make some calls, write some letters, register as a bidder and eventually show up at the site and bid in person. I managed to get credentials for myself and my buddy Jason. Jason had a box truck for his business, which would let us no doubt haul home the infinite amounts of booty we would score. I imagined not only my jeeps, but flight helmets, aircraft parts, weapons, and God knows what else. You can imagine our disappointment to find at our local army base only desks, woefully outdated computers, the odd mismatched piece of canvas and acres and acres of impossible to identify field communications equipment. We never went back...as we drove out, sullen, I noticed for the first time all the military gear was being painted desert tan...."Hmm", I thought, "we must be getting ready to spend some time in the Middle East".

In 2006, it's the same, but different-the equipment has been painted green, and then tan again as we remain hunkered down in Iraq. My hometown is developed to the point of Suburbia with McMansions and the self-superior attitudes of their inhabitants... Jason has made himself wealthy over the last 15 years and traded his truck for a new Land Rover....

There are still government auctions, but luckily for me, they are as easy to register and bid on as Ebay. The only real catch is picking up your winnings. For me, however, that's all part of the fun.

I discovered Government Liquidation in one of my infinite threads of searching the web late one night. A blurb on another site mentioned it, and how easy it was to basically bid on and buy whatever the government was offerering. A quick hop over to www.govliquidation.com and I was registered to bid. I began to search the huge site-auctions are ongoing all the time, in every area of the country, including Hawaii and Guam.

You can find anything from a pop rivet (OK, 10,000 pop rivets maybe) to retired sea vessels, aircraft, and vehicles. The aircraft is demilitarized-you can buy an FA-18 Hornet, but it's gonna be darn well chopped up before you leave with it. Watercraft consists of everything from recreational rowboats to naval tugs, most still seaworthy. Vehicles are varied, from officer's staff cars to pickups, the diesel Blazers and Chevy trucks, to full size Deuce and a Half 6x6 trucks, on to loaders, forklifts, and airfield fire trucks. There are, however, still no jeeps, really-most military jeeps are long dead, or in the hands of civilian collectors. Occasionally, parts for them come up.

The Jeep's replacement, the HMMWV, or Hummer as we know it, is supposedly the center of a similar controversy and is never for sale. Story has it, American General, the Hummer's manufacturer, gave the military explicit instructions not to sell the vehicles through the DRMO-allegedly they felt a glut of HumVees on the market would take away buyers from their plus-$100,000 civilian Hummers. They have mostly been torch-cut in half like the jeeps of urban legend. That may soon change, as the military is rapidly in development to replace the HumVee, and American General has, I"ve been told, ceased production of the H1. Plan on seeing a bunch of military HumVees on the market soon. Some have snuck out, I've heard stories of less-than-honest soldiers driving them off base and taking them to the local pawn shop that buys vehicles with no title. I've seen them at military collector shows and on Ebay. But I still don't have my army jeep.

I have, however bid on things like digital projectors, welders, tools and automotive repair and diagnostic equipment, as well as good old surplus like uniforms and personal gear. My best find so far were two MIG wire welders I purchased for $50 a piece, that I sold for $600 a piece on Ebay. I have also made a brisk business of selling a few digital projectors for those building a home theater-why pay $600 for a $600 projector at Staples or Best Buy when you can buy a $21,000 projector from me for $300? I have my own personal home theater set up with a $4000 Sharp projector I paid less than $200 for-it works, and has worked great from day one.

Upon winning your item you have two choices-pick it up in person or have one of several shipping companies who work with Govermnent Liquidation pick it up, and ship it to you at your cost. This can all be done with nothing more than your PC and a phone. I buy from two bases, one just twenty minutes away, and the other about two hours. Provided you don't look of Middle Eastern descent or like Tim McVeigh's brother, a few pictures and your ID and signature are sufficient for clearance on the bases. I have used my pickup for some items, but most of what I buy is easily stored in my 1994 Grand Marquis's trunk.

How does this all relate to The Wasteland? Basically, for me, it's the world's largest online junkyard, another place to examine and potentially purchase the detritus of history, the forgotten flotsam and jetsam of the ages. A piece of aircraft may indeed have played a part in the space program, or an important military campaign. Something may have been purchased and sat, brand new, in a warehouse in anticipation of a conflict that never materialized. At the very least, it's a way to defray the cost of your taxes by purchasing top-grade merchandise at pennies on the dollar. But sorry, no Jeeps.

Monday, July 24, 2006

On Tupperware and the Age of Innocence...

There is something about Tupperware that makes me very nostalgic-I can't entirely put my finger on it, but most likely it is due to it being in my life in one capacity or another since first consciousness.

My mom hosted a Tupperware party when we were kids-it was a big deal to hang out with the adults, even if it was just the ladies. My brother and I cleaned up at the "icebreaker" games-being the only males (albeit small ones), we were able to play "I never" (say something you've never done and everyone else loses a point, or at some parties, has to drink), with aplomb. Little did we know the ladies could have easily kicked out butts in equal fashion.

I remember Mom getting FREE STUFF just for hosting the party-some small containers, a burnt-orange marinader for the fridge (the hot Seventies color), and a green and white watering can, that featured a small nozzle and hose to reach those hard-to-get hanging plants in the corners of our house. It was due partly to this, I guess, that Tupperware became as much a part of my young life as the Sears Catalogue.

As I grew, I always, for some reason, found myself noting the Tupperware in other people's houses. Apple Green Servaliers, Dark Brown or Orange Canisters stacked neatly or side-by-side in ascending order of size, Jadeite lettuce keepers, colanders, and bread boxes, Yellow Snack Cups. A small replica of a blue mixing bowl on a ball chain is where my dime was kept to call home in an emergency (remember the dime phone call? and payphones?) Later I would use a Tupperware organizer to keep my model car paints, glues and tools in one place. Tupperware was on the canoe and camping trips (waterproof!!), road trips, parties, and graduation ceremonies, keeping the edible memories of youth just a little longer than Saran Wrap ever could.

Being a container junkie anyway (cases, cans, boxes, you name it), I love Tupperware as an adult as well. I scour the thrift stores for vintage pieces, grabbing them to start my own collection. I have most of what Mom did now, plus a bunch of those I thought were neat as a kid but were not in our household. I use the small snack cups to organize my lunch. I spend Sundays cooking for the week and filling Servaliers with one-pot dishes. I have the one-pound bacon keeper cause I hate that wrapping bacon comes in so much. I probably have too many-anyone with cool stuff to trade is welcome to make me an offer on my spares...

Is this some sick obsession I have? or is it that I just equate Tupperware to growing up the way some do a food item, a song, a vacation, or their home town? Maybe it's just me, but at least my lettuce is fresh.

The Life, and Death, of an iPod...

I was one of the last to jump on the iPod train-I am not a huge fan of Mass-Appeal gadgets and "must-haves", mainly because I try to pride myself on not being easily coerced by advertising and marketing. Having just discovered the wonders of the Mac over my PC, however, I figured I could, at least, give the iPod a try and see what came of it, in the interest of integrating my lifestyle or whatever clever nonsequitur you want to throw at it.

I bought one off Ebay-Used, 20gb, white....I hate white. I shopped at every home improvement store in eastern Pennsylvania to find the right windows for my house, that being, ones that aren't white...I had to settle for brown exteriors with white insides...but I'm getting offtrack here...

The iPod is bliss-whether you have a Mac or PC, it seamlessly blends your music, picture and video collections thru iTunes. I found set-up to be a breeze even without any setup disk. I have added about half of my music collection (1754 songs thus far) and it had hardly put a dent in the iPod's 20 gigabyte storage drive.

Last night, while listening to a podcast, I had a problem-my "wheel" controller stopped working. I am not sure what the deal was, but I was like a junkie with no junk until I went out today and popped for the 30gb iPod Video-in BLACK. There may be a simple fix for my last one, but I am too hooked to wait around...anyone have any ideas? I'm all ears.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Garage Sale Saturday!

So I went garage saling (sailing? lol) today. I can't tell you how long it's been! I managed to hit about seven or so before the rain started, all within about an hour and a half. Only disappointment is there wasn't much there-I like those massive, three or four-family jobs, or the big ones for charity. Plenty of stuff to look at, and plenty of people to distract whoever's hosting. For whatever reason, I hate being that lone guy that walks up, looks around, and walks away without buying...Just my thing, I guess, so when there are a ton of people, I love to shop...

Anyway, nothing major today-got one of those folding camp stools to sit on when my spine starts barking at car shows and flea markets and such. Three bucks, no dickering...Can't wait to be healthy again for sure....

Friday, July 21, 2006

Today's finds...

Today I took a ride over to my local Salvation Army Thrift store-for those of you who have never been, go....it is where the detritus of all human existence goes to die. Forgotten things even I have forgotten are there, all at cut-rate prices...Lately, I have been a little miffed at my local store-whoever is making decisions at the top has changed the pricing and discount structure. It used to be that every Wednesday was 50% off everything but furniture. Now, the Bric-a-brac has been eliminated from that discount, leaving only clothing. At the same time, the pricing of bric-a-brac has been increased. As a result, it is piling up-no one wants to spend full price on junk, come on people! I only hope they see the error of their ways soon.

Anyway, I found a few things I needed-some speaker grille cloth, perfect for the refurbishing I plan on doing to my vintage Zenith console stereo ( I plan on adding an Ipod hookup not unlike Mr. Jalopy, as well as some new speakers). Also a vintage, good condition Milton Bradley Simon Electronic Game, with box and instructions! I was recently outbid on one of these on Ebay-must have been Divine Providence, as the price I paid was a mere tenth of what the auction I lost went for...Need to get some batteries-I forgot Simon required both 9v as well as D-cells, I believe. Finally a couple of board games-a complete Monopoly set, and a Parker Brothers bad gamble called "Masterpiece"-it looks like you bid on classic artworks like Rembrandts and Van Goghs. It looks complete, but I may just pirate it for pieces and use the board if I need a heavy cardboard for a project. Or, I may stack it on my pile of games, I'm trying to build a closetful like in "The Royal Tenenbaums".

I'll post pics when I find my camera-it moved in the last cleanup.


Ever since I was a kid I have loved junkyards-to me, those rusty piles of twisted metal may as well been gold to an 8 year-old. I dreamed of finding lost treasure there, and making myself "rich" by doing so.

As an adult, I have done my best to adhere to my childhood aspirations-as a teen I worked as an auction runner and secured dozens of great finds that were sold at a profit. As a dumpster diver and curb crawler in my twenties, I scoured the wasteland of Suburbia for the cast off fortunes other's had forsaken. Currently, as a temporarily disabled utility lineman, I scour the web and local classifieds and yard sales for bargains for resale elsewhere. My ultimate goal? to earn a comfortable living off what everyone else throws away.

But enough about me-you'll learn more as we go along here....watch closely, I enjoy teaching others my tricks of surviving with less in a materialistic world gone mad.