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Junk drawer yields precious treasure, and not just on TV

POSTED: March 6, 2011 12:30 a.m.

By lunchtime, my grandmother was spent. She'd direct her young visitors, usually me and a cousin, to watch TV so she could fix our meals in peace. That the living room was the only place with an air conditioning unit parked in a window enhanced our July sojourns in South Georgia.

We'd sit on the floor at the coffee table, slide its one drawer open and fish out a deck of cards from the sea of loose items, Kleenex coupons to rubber bands stained black from newsprint.

My cousin dealt. I manually turned the TV knobs. A couple sandwiches and cold drinks later and the rest of our afternoon was scripted with cool games and game shows.

I preferred "The Price is Right." The show had predictability. It opened with "Come on down!" Bidding was next. Big wheel spins happened at the half-hour mark. The "showcase showdown" finale ended the hourlong program with a big winner, most of the time.

My cousin, way ahead of his time, enjoyed watching big losers. He was a Monty Hall man and preferred "Let's Make a Deal."

The host tested a contestant's resolve to go all in. Participants gambled prizes they possessed for a shot at better booty. But they had to randomly pick the right door, box or envelope.

Whoppers could trigger with each risk taken. We're talkin' skunks and a year's worth of epsom salts, or some other unsavory prize instead of the big score.

How Hall ended the show fascinated me, in particular. He'd pick folks at random and challenge them to possess whatever remote item he named.

Just like that, a stray lapel pin or $2 bill, neck tie or tube of lipstick could result in the host delivering $50 or more.

The creativity they poured into their rummage bags mystified me. It still does today.

Hall's end game revolved around junk.

Let's face it, the notion of discovering value in stuff other people trash is a romantic part of the American psyche.

We've all heard about the guy who paid less than $10 for a crummy painting only to find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence wedged between the canvas and frame.

The PBS staple, "Antiques Roadshow," has played off this concept for more than 15 years. The program features folks who take found or inherited items to appraisal experts who detail the history and market value of such pieces.

Today's lineup of endless reality shows include the junk genre, too.

"Pawn Stars" on History Channel showcases a family who trades cash for unusually valuable items hawked by desperate owners.

My favorite example, however, is "Storage Wars" on A&E. Relying mainly on instinct, professional bidders win repossessed storage units after a fleeting look-see. Somehow they make bundles on rare coin finds, rock collections, old denim blue jeans and more. Auction busts are common, too.

"I've seen my family's life change from just one locker," show character Brandon Sheets says. "I'm life-committed to this now."

The allure of good junk in my new home didn't appeal to me until recently.

We ended our storage space account after our move to Hall County two weeks ago. And a lot of trash was tossed in the process.

But when a friend mentioned in passing the must-move feature he carries from one house to the next, I stopped chucking stuff.

"The junk drawer," he said.

Picturing the clown contestants frisked by Monty Hall ever since, we've arranged our go-to collection of miscellaneous items.

Hairbands, safety pins and matches made the cut. Measuring tape, too. Couple of stray AA batteries were tossed in for Fisher-Price emergencies. Takeout menus and a standby pencil, eraser intact, are in there, too, for those lazy Sunday afternoons when the crossword puzzle beckons.

And don't forget to add a deck of cards, my grandmother would say.

There's no treasure in our trash yet. Chances are there won't be.

But giving up the junk drawer simply isn't worth the risk in our precious home.

Erin Rossiter is a reporter for The Times whose columns appear on Sunday's Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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