There’s Always Money in the Flea Market (Except When There Isn’t)

I have this friend—we’ll call her Amanda (because that’s her name). Amanda and I have been compiling a list of things we ought to do in Baltimore this summer:

  • Maryland Crabs
  • Quality Time with My New Apartment & Pool
  • Actually Move Me into My New Apartment (check)
  • Try Raw Oysters (check)
  • Paint Amanda’s Apartment
  • Sushi Dates (check)
  • Wedding Crashing
  • Movies on the Pier (did not go as planned…sorry Amanda)
  • Woodberry Kitchen
  • Fleet Week (check although I’m scarred for life thanks to Martha, Amanda, and Ian)
  • Pirate Ship Party
  • Fells Point Ghost Tours
  • Dress as Cows and Get Free Chick-fil-a (missed opportunity)
  • Run a 5k
  • New York
  • Orioles Games
  • Date an Oriole
  • Washington, DC
  • Adventures. Lots and lots of adventures. (in-progress)
  • Massages
  • Re-learn German (Amanda) and French (Me)
  • Steak Night
  • Make Pottery
  • Get Through Summer School (big check!)
  • Artscape (slightly disappointing, but complete nonetheless)
  • Get Our Lives Together (in-progress)

This isn’t our complete list, but I think you’ve got a feel for our summer goals. And it’s important that you understand our goals and a bit about us, because I’m about to use this people-watching blog to give you a glimpse of a Saturday in July.

We definitely people-watched, but I think you’ll find that we were something of a muse ourselves (that is, if anyone actually noticed us):


With the help of several misspelled text messages we confirm that we are awake, crazy, and ready to go.


I arrive in Charles Village to pick up Amanda. We load her artwork and old clothes along side my artwork and old clothes. We both say things like “it’s really early” and “what’s with all the traffic at 5am?”


A: I want a biscuit. Do you like McDonald’s breakfast?

M: Who doesn’t?

A: Should we stop at this one?

M: Let’s get on 83 and figure out where we’re going, and then we’ll stop.

A: Yeah; they are everywhere here.

M: This town and their McDonalds, Subways, and Royal Farms…there’s one on every corner but there’s not a Sonic for 30 miles.

A: At least you’re not bitter.


A: It’s beautiful in the morning.

M: Isn’t this worth getting up for?

A: The morning feels more like a beginning than an ending.

M: That’s probably because it is.

A: Good point.


M: We should’ve light railed…(I point to the light rail stop in the median of 83)

A: …with all of our stuff.

M: It goes underground here!

A: Wouldn’t it be cool if it stopped at Land of the Lost?

M: (I take my eyes of the road to look at Amanda)

A: Ra..awrr (hands are bent and hanging at odd angles below her face)

M: Would it just be the one stop?

A: Yeah. Land of the Lost and then Charles Village or something

M: Okay, yeah. That would be pretty cool.


We each silently note that we haven’t seen a McDonald’s since the first one we bypassed. Neither of us want to bring it up.

We find our exit. We take the exit. No McDonald’s.


A: There’s a sign! (large billboard claiming the McMuffin is only 300 calories)

M: Hooray, it must be close! 300 calories, my ass.


M: Did we pass it?


A: Another sign!


M: Surely if they’re advertising…

A: It should be like: Oh hey sign for McDonald’s. That sounds good. BAM there’s the McDonald’s.

M: There’s another one!


(now ten miles past our final, intended destination, still looking for the McDonald’s that’s being so well advertised) 

A: Look it up on the GPS?

M: (sigh) I suppose.

A: First World Problems.

M: Truth.

A: Five miles ahead.

M: That’s terrible advertising!

A: You’d think they’d put something like “up ahead 15 miles”

M: Missed opportunity

A: Or an arrow

M: Though…it still worked on us…


McDonald’s drive-thru. Two coffees. Two biscuits. A bag full of ketchup we don’t really need.


The Flea Market. We’re here. 45 minutes later than we planned.

We find our booth and set up and now we’re ready to sell our gorgeous paintings, priceless ($10) handmade journals, and random junk we can’t stand the site of anymore. Because of our delayed arrival, we’ve been located on the outskirts of the market (near a forest), and we really can’t see what anyone else is selling.


M: Amanda, blog check-in. Thoughts?

A: (snickers) Just put that I snickered.


An older man approaches a pile of five matching frames (expensive Plaza Art frames that I no longer love)

OM: How much?

M: Oh um…a dollar a piece?

OM: Here ya go. (walks away with one frame.)

A: You’d think he’d want the set. You should go up on those. But we made a dollar!

M: We did! It’s going to be a great day.

(famous last words)


A: What if we set up a caricature stand?

M: And we studied the customer like this…(twists her face like she’s concentrating) and then handed them this:

 That'll be $26

A: That’ll be $26 dollars sir

We both giggle.


Amanda helps me make homemade business cards with my website. We display them all over the table, but no one takes one.


Another older man stops by our table.

OM2: Who drinks the wine before you paint the bottles?

M: Group effort.

Older Man 2 puts down the beautifully painted bottle and walks away without another word.

A: Well now he just thinks we’re alcoholics.

(I laugh my weird Baltimore laugh. It involves my sinus cavity more than any laugh ever should. It’s not a full snort but it’s definitely in the same family of awkward.)

 M: I have to stop laughing like that!

A: Yeah…

M: It can’t be good for my sinuses.

A: Each time they’re like: whoahh uhhh ohhh.

M: They’re like: Jeeze, Michelle. It’s not that funny!

A: Man your sinuses are really judgey.


M: People are literally getting out of their cars, walking over to our table, and getting back into their cars.


A: I’m going look at the other tables.


(Amanda walks up from the opposite direction she left.)

M: That good, huh?

A: I’m thinking this isn’t the right audience.


I point to another older man approaching our table, and with wild arm motions I indicate that he is our exact right audience. Amanda remains skeptical.

OM3: Are these (indicating our painted bottles) for incense?

M: Sure.

OM3: (raising his voice) Well then they need holes at the bottom!

A: No they don’t; you could just put it in there like this: (fumbles with pretend incense)

OM3: They’re no good like this!

(an awkward silence grows and Amanda and I avoid eye contact)

OM3: What were they meant for? Originally?

M: Candle holders?

OM3: Candle holders!  Ha!

(The silence returns, I roll my eyes and try to think of something clever to say. OM3 continues to sort through our nonfunctional art.)


OM3: Who’s the artist?

A: Well…(points at me)

M: We both are.

OM3: Can you paint ducks?

(Amanda and OM3 are now both looking at me.)


M: Well…umm…what?

OM3: (sighs like I’m the Crazy in this situation) I commissioned a duck painting and the artist died midway through. It’s on a saw from here to here (holds out arms to indicate a large, terrifying saw). It’s just their heads and chests right now, and I need someone to finish their bodies.

M & A: Oh. Wow…

OM3: (looking to me only) So can you do it?

M: Umm…I’m more of an abstract artist…I would hate to mess that up…sounds special

OM3: (clearly exasperated) Well I thought I’d ask! (walks away)


A: Maybe we’re invisible and we don’t know it.


A: You don’t need holes at the bottom for incense!

M: Preaching to the choir


M: Hey. Can you draw ducks?

A: Well I’m more of an abstract artist…

M: So the chest would be here…the metaphorical beak would be over there…


A sweet woman buys Amanda’s book-turned-sculpture, but declines the inclusion of my fabric-covered clothespins. She explains that she is here looking for a birthday present and just can’t spare the 50 cents, but she does think they’re nice.


I decide it’s time to use our free snowball coupon that came with our booth rental. Amanda agrees.

M: What flavor?

A: Surprise me. Bring back napkins.

I walk over to the snowball truck and assess the menu. What would be truly surprising?


DIET EGG CUSTARD jumps off the board, but I decide it’s not worth sacrificing our one free snowball

M: Green apple, please?

Snowball Man: Hot isn’t it?

M: Sure is

SBM: Sold out, yet?

M: No…not yet.


I return to the table to find Amanda showing customers how to make her artwork themselves. A real DIY situation. I raise my eyebrows at Amanda (no easy feat for me) and Amanda shrugs her shoulders.

M: Green apple

A: No spoon?

M: Oh…

A: Napkins?

M: Um…I almost got Diet Egg Custard?

Amanda leaves to get her own spoon and napkins

M: Can you get me water?



A lady from a nearby booth wanders over to talk to me about the day’s lack of success.


L: This is crazy.

M: Yep. Pretty crazy.

Somehow the conversation steers toward my impending move and lack of man to fix things. No worries, the lady had invaluable advice:

L: You’re single?

M: Yes ma’am

L: Then go to Home Depot. Lowe’s does have better stuff, but Home Depot has better men.

M: Oh?

L: Oh yeah. You’ll know what I mean when you see them.¹


M: What is this? This water is disgusting!

A: They only had flavored water. But don’t worry, according to the woman, the berry flavored is the least flavorful.

M: Gross

Amanda smirks, eating our snowball with her fancy plastic spoon.


M: It probably wasn’t a good idea to put out cards with my website. I plan to write about these people tomorrow.²

A: I feel “can you draw a duck?” is going to be your best story anyway.

M: Did he take a card?

A: I don’t think he has a computer.

M: You’re going to have to help me remember what he looked like so I can describe him

A: Scraggly grey hair. He had lots of gems. Gems hanging around his neck. And on his fingers. And by fingers, I mean rings. He had gem rings. So he was a troll. He had a gemstone stomach. He wasn’t real

M: Got it.


A: I don’t think we could have done anything differently

I laugh uncontrollably. Because it’s true.



Snowball Man stops by our table on his break and remembers me and then Amanda

SBM: How’s that spoon?

A: Amazing. Great shape for its function.

M: Thank God for that guy, right?

SBM: And not that long ago! ³

M: We could have been that guy!

A: We could have been millionaires.


A: That woman didn’t even come down our way!

M: You’d think the bright colors would attract her.

A: We look expensive.

M: Yeah we do…

A: We should put a sign that says, “Don’t even come down here, you can’t afford us”

M: Best offense is a good defense

A: Let’s try keeping them away from our table because trying to get them over here isn’t working.


A man and his daughter walk past cursing the flavored water.


A middle aged man and his lady friend-girlfriend-wife-stranger-following-him walk up.

MAM: Hello.

M: Hi! Good Morning. How are you, today?

MAM and LFGFWSFH walk away without another word



I pick up my water bottle now covered in condensation and rub it on my face to help combat the 110 degree heat. I’m immediately reminded that the water bottle has been resting in the dirty, graveled parking lot. My cheek is now covered with smeared dirt and tiny pebbles.¹¹

M: I’m an idiot.

A: No it’s good.

M: We’re just going to look dirty now?

A: I want to know we worked it from every single angle.


A: We need music next time.

M: We’ll have the party table.

A: And throw candy at people?

M: We’ll be Mardi Gras

My notes stop here, because the 100+ degree heat finally put my phone out of commission for a while. We took that as a sign we should pack up a few hours early, exchanged cards with the Home Depot vs. Lowes Lady, and headed back to good ole Hampden where we surveyed our notes over a pitcher of Bloody Marys.


Ultimately, we decided that the day was not a failure; it was simply a learning experience. A humbling learning experience. We learned what to do—drill holes in the bottom of our bottles—and what not to do—be uncompromising on our duck-drawing position. And we promised to do better next time.

That’s all I’ve got.¹²

¹ I still don’t know what she meant.

² AKA two months from now

³ Spoons have actually been around since the pyramids. I have no idea what Snowball Man was talking about.

¹¹ Reminiscent of the time I played a Lost Boy in the Sts. Leo Seton rendition of Peter Pan

¹² Last night, around a fire that wasn’t lit, I told my friend that I’ve been sitting on this post for months now. He asked why I didn’t post it and I said, “It’s stupid. And it’s bad writing. Nothing happens.”

He wondered aloud if that was true or if I was being the perfectionist he suspects me to be. I assured him it was really a terrible piece because it goes nowhere and says nothing of consequence.

But then today I had a similar day to the one outlined above, except even less happened. I choreographed in my underwear; I deposited a check and talked to the bank teller about her kids and her plans to go back to grad school; I went to the farmer’s market and bought plums and came home and realized I don’t like plums anymore. I had a long conversation by, in, and about the pool with a good friend, and once again Amanda and I promised each other that we’d “do better” as we look forward to the coming week. I ate dinner alone. And then I turned once more to this “stupid” post.

And so maybe that’s why I should post this. (And have.) Because if you’re a planner like me, you spend your days planning grand events or expensive trips or long-term goals that don’t matter by the time you reach them, and you forget to enjoy the stupid days where nothing happens.

We spent that gorgeous morning among strangers, and we laughed at ourselves, and at the end of the day, we promised to do better next time. It was simple and silly and it’s one of the only things we “accomplished” from our summer list. And I hope the Fall treats me just the same.