Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Good-bye, Duc ... come back soon

It’s hard to believe, but a school year has come and gone, and Duc, our exchange student from Vietnam, is preparing to take the 25-hour plane ride back home to his life in Hanoi.  His bags are packed, not only with his clothes, but also with vitamins, OTC medications, and baby clothes for his family back home. 

He leaves the day after Memorial Day, and as he walks out our door for the final time, the house, which for the past year has had a running Vietnamese soundtrack thanks to Duc constantly watching videos on YouTube while doing homework at the dining room table, or talking with family and friends back home, will be quiet once again.

Duc cut grass for the first time last fall; he got "all itchy."
With no kids of our own, Ella and I are far removed from the high school experience, and really could offer only rudimentary advice to Duc on his first day of class.  Be careful.  Make friends. Call us if you need us. Learn something.   His only misstep on that first day was getting off the bus at the wrong school.  Thankfully, a staff member gave him a ride when he explained his situation.  

Now, a full school year later, with friends made, classes aced, and honorary diploma earned, Duc is both excited and depressed about going home.  He’s excited about getting his life back, but depressed due to rising tensions in the region, and the fear that he could be drafted into the Army before he can attend college in the fall.

Ella and I have mixed emotions about him leaving.  On one hand, our life can get back to normal; Ella can walk around in her PJs all day if she so chooses.  On the other hand, though, Duc has become such a part of our lives that it will be impossible to not miss him.   I’ve read about empty nest syndrome; now, I guess, we get to experience it.

He’s leaving behind boxes of art supplies and other personal effects that we will ship to him once he settles in at Pratt Institute in New York sometime in August, if all goes as planned. He was awarded a five-year $100,000 scholarship to the school, which sounds impressive, and is impressive, yet his parents still will be chipping in close to $40,000 per year for his tuition, fees, housing, etc.  It’s disheartening to realize that had Duc been our real son, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that.

Duc's art was featured at the local visitor's center
I think Duc is the only person who has ever complained
that the go-karts were too fast
Unless worldly events intervene, Duc has a bright future ahead of him, either in his chosen field of architecture, or through his art.  Duc is an optimist, and supremely confident that he will be successful.  I’m a pessimist, which I guess comes from age and experience, and I’ve told him not to be a starving artist, and to fall back on his English as a second language skill, if needed.  Duc speaks fluent English; translators can make between $50 and $100 an hour in New York. 

Duc has promised to visit during his Christmas breaks.  I guess the trip between New York and Georgia is shorter and less expensive than from New York to Vietnam.  However, life happens, and while he knows that he will always have a home with us, it’s possible that Duc’s trajectory will take him elsewhere, elsewhere to fame, fortune, riches, and family, and away from the little rinky-dink town of Byron.

I have been trying to think of some “fatherly” advice to give him before he leaves, but the only words that come to mind are the words that we told him when he first got here:

Be careful.  Make friends.  Call us if you need us. Learn something.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Learning to compete

“She’s a dealer.  You can’t compete with her.”

Oh, really, I thought.  The gentleman to my left was just trying to be helpful as he watched me “lose” again to the well-dressed woman at the auction on Saturday night.

Ella and I decided at the last minute on Saturday to drive to an auction in a nearby town, about an hour away.  We arrived on time, but had to sit toward the back due to the crowd. I’d rather sit in front to see the merchandise better, but our vantage point allowed me to watch the crowd, and see who the serious bidders were.

And the well-dressed woman was a serious bidder.  She and I bid on many of same items, with me bowing out first usually once the price got out of my comfort zone.  Still, saying that I couldn’t compete with her ruffled my feathers a bit, even though, technically, it was true.  She was a more confident bidder that night, either based on knowledge or having deeper pockets. I took some consolation, though, that I was able to run the bid up on her.  Petty, I know.

Ella and I did manage to bid on and win some items for our antique booth, which is actually starting to be stocked with actual “antiques” and collectibles, as well as our usual misfit toy store items.  I’m still not satisfied with the way it looks, but I am trying to temper my impatience, given that the booth is not quite three months old, and hasn’t lost money yet.  In fact, we’re already in the black for the month with two weeks to sell.

We are trying to add more collectibles and fewer toys to our booth
Elsewhere in our little corner of the world, we are preparing for a trip to the Memphis Film Festival in early June. This year, we are bringing a truckload of western memorabilia and DVDs, and have rented two tables on which to display and sell our wares.  In past years, we just walked around, and Ella spent money on pictures with the western stars.  This year, I hope to make a little money while Ella is spending money, and hopefully at least break even.  I also have this crazy idea about live blogging the event, although I haven’t worked out the details yet. 

Ella is looking forward to meeting Cheyenne, Billy the Kid, Jim West and Maverick
Sales have been steady on Amazon, but well short of my goals.  Ebay has been dead, which is my fault because I’ve been neglecting it.  I still have plenty of inventory to list, though.  I just need to make the time to “get 'er done.”

On a somewhat sad note, this is Duc’s last week with us.  He graduates Friday night, and leaves after Memorial Day.  I’ll talk about Duc more later in the week.

Stay productive, everyone.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What sells, what doesn’t at Barry’s Bonanza

With May now in full swing, I’m proud to say that Barry’s Bonanza not only made rent for April, but also actually had enough sales to warrant a check for $204 from the local antique mall for our first full month.  It’s a far cry from actually being a “bonanza,” but it’s a start, and proof that we can make this successful if we keep up the hard work.

Well, it’s not actually hard work, since both Ella and I already are buying and selling for our online ventures.  However, it is time-consuming and thought provoking.  You get out of it what you put into it, we were told, so we have been pouring resources and, more importantly, time into getting it established.

A full month also gives me an opportunity to determine what’s working for us, and what’s not.  DVDs continue to be a big seller, and certain collectible action figures/toys also are moving quite well.  I’m disappointed the books aren’t selling; glassware remains hit and miss; and our Easter display was a bust.  Ella had purchased various items, including a collection of plush, which just didn’t hop out of the booth.

Also, our “May the 4th be with you” Star Wars campaign was a complete and utter failure with not a unit sold.  Obviously, these weren’t the droids that the customers were looking for. 

I knew that the booth would be a work in progress. Thankfully, we have collected a backlog of items to rotate in and out until we find that magical niche that will truly make our booth if not a bonanza, at least a semi-profitable venture.

My source for most of the Skywalker stuff texted me on Saturday seeking to sell another load of collectible toys, including more Star Wars, some Star Trek, and various other cool toy items, including a vintage Ronald McDonald plush still in bag.  Sensing that he actually had more to sell than what he was offering, I asked to come to his house and make an offer on his entire collection.  He declined, saying this load was the last that he had to sell.  So, we negotiated a price, $150, and I met him at Kmart to make the transaction.   As we completed the deal, he said that all he had left were some X-Men toys, and that he was not going to part with them. 

By the time I got home, though, he was texting me with pictures of his X-men collection, asking me to make an offer on it.  I declined, thinking the seller was trying to get more money out of me by piece parting his collection.  Later, he confirmed my suspicion, by texting me pictures of more Star Wars toys that he happened to find in his garage, despite saying he had no more just hours earlier.

He tried to appeal to my greed by saying that he would list them on Craigslist if I didn’t purchase them, and that I was missing a good deal.  I still declined, figuring I would hear back from him real soon if the toys didn’t sell on Craigslist, and that I probably could make an even better deal.  If not, c’est la vie.

Sales were plentiful this past weekend, with multiple churches and a plethora of neighborhood sales competing for our thrifting dollar.  As usual, we bought way too much.  I wanted to list a bunch on Sunday, but the dogs high stepping over the grass in the backyard convinced me that yard work took priority. 

On Sunday afternoon, we took Duc to see the new Spider-Man movie.  He’s not much into superheroes, but jumped at the chance to sit in the dark theater, eat a bucket of popcorn, and drink a large soft drink, complete with free refills. 

This week, we have to refresh the booth, and somehow I need to squeeze in some time to list all our treasures that we keep collecting.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (yeah, had to get in one last Star Wars reference), I was trying to impress some young lady by bragging about how busy I was.  I realize now, No. 1, that I was an idiot, and, No. 2, I had no idea what it meant to be really busy.

Have a week, everyone, productive or otherwise.