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The Observer, July 8

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The Observer was relaxing in the Observatory, feeling somewhat smug that he resides in a metropolitan area so civilized that it has its own submarine and in which fully 25 percent of the waiters know what a straight-up gin martini is.

To celebrate this feeling of civilized contentment, he decided to motor over to a nice steakhouse off the Financial Center Parkway and enjoy a medium-cooked New York strip steak and one of said martinis.

As The Observer was smiling and enjoying his cut of meat, a party of three, who appeared to be in their 60s, were shown to a nearby booth in the tastefully dim-lit dining room.

Just as The Observer's feeling of being amongst civilized fellow Arkansans was combining with the warm glow of the martini, one of the two women in the party of three kicked off her shoes, turned to sit sideways in her booth and treated her fellow diners to the vision of her calloused, bunion-loaded size 12 EEEE feet waggling in the aisle. During her whole meal.

A gentleman in the booth behind The Observer summed up the feelings of all who were being treated to this display.

"Uh-uh-uh," he murmured softly.

One man's trash is another man's treasure, they say. The Observer couldn't really be bothered with either, but nonetheless we found ourselves at the Ramada Limited in West Little Rock last week for the Treasure Hunter's Roadshow. It's exactly what you think. Since 1996 they've sent teams all over the country to appraise and purchase people's antiques and heirlooms in what is essentially a highbrow pawnshop.

What with the country in a recession, this kind of thing has a special appeal. One Roadshow employee told us that she thinks there are some people who lug antiques out of their basement to sell for rent money. They also aren't as intent on keeping great-grandma's jewelry box around anymore, thanks to the price of gold. Little Rock's Roadshow has so far met with considerable success, having gotten hold of a collection of vintage comic books, a sterling silver Japanese tea set from 1912 and a bayonet. Also sitting out were a lot of rusty old toys, baby dolls, guitars, guns, stacks of coins, candelabras, baseball cards — just the sort of miscellany one expects to see clustered together in antique stores and auction houses.

Another employee bragged that in Nashville, they'd bought Johnny Cash's bed for $30,000. Before that, it had been a letter signed by George Washington, which had fetched $35,000. For $10,000 they'd bought an 18th century vampire "kit" — presumably including a wooden steak, and perhaps a garlic press? He admitted that while they do run into a lot of impressive and unusual finds, there's plenty of crap that surfaces as well. Whatever pays the rent, we suppose.

The goods that Treasure Hunter's Roadshow gathers up are delivered to various auctions, collectors, and the occasional museum. Jewelry is usually sent off to be refined. It's an interesting phenomenon, this sort of recycling of old possessions, we mused as we glanced at tarnished picture frames and faded silverware. Here are little bits of historical detritus, props from old black-and-white photographs, the sort of junk we couldn't be bothered to still use but have the sentimental hankering to keep around. It's as if since they belong to someone else's time period, we feel we don't have the right to throw them away or destroy them.

On the way back to our side of town, we noticed a particularly beat-up Aerostar van on I-630 with the driver's side mirror dangling against the side of the door. We made the prudent decision to pass them on the right. Guess some things weren't made to last forever.

We talked to one person who took a doll to the Treasure Hunter's event. She said it was an old doll and quite valuable. We pictured a china doll, with a little white dress and cotton body. "It was from 1960!" she added. Oh.

We were playing with dolls in 1960. I guess we're really old — and valuable?

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