Mel Birnkrant's
MY LIFE IN CRIME
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All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
 
          Now that I am old, it can be told.  My Passion and Obsession for collecting led me to a life of crime.  So here, by means of a confession, is the tale of my descent into deception.  It started as a sudden impulse that I gave in to, almost innocently, and seemingly with no harm done.  At the time, it felt like good clean fun.  And, as time went by, I honed my technique and developed my trickery into something of an art form.  All my friends knew that I did it, and most of my competitors knew too.  But no one ever blew the whistle on me.  I even acquired small following of fans and observers, eager and amused to see, how I outmaneuvered mounting difficulties to achieve my nefarious goal successfully, each successive time!

So, what was my crime?  Bottom line: Getting into Antique Shows and Flea Markets early.  How did I do it?  My methods were varied and complicated.  And, over time, I resorted to and invented every form of forgery and disguise.  And when all else failed, I was not adverse to sneaking through a swamp at night, or brazenly just strutting in, like I belonged there, in broad daylight. 

Why did I do it?  No one who is an old fashioned toy Collector would need to ask that question.  The answer is obvious: to be in there, before the public, and grab the good stuff, ahead of time.  And I have often wondered if the people in line, waiting for the doors to open, had any concept of what was going on inside.

         
I was there at the beginning of Flea Markets in the USA.  The first took place in Salisbury, Conn.  It was claimed by its founder, Russell Carrell, to be the first European style Flea Market in America.  He called it “Antiques in a Cow Pasture”.  It opened in September of 1968.  It was followed, the following year, by a Flea market in Rye New York, and Gordon Reed’s Auction Acres, in Brimfield Mass.  At the same time, there was Shupp’s Grove in Adamstown, PA, and soon after that; Renningers began in the same place.  There was also the 26th Street Flea Market in NYC.  In those early days, admission was free, and the dealers and the public, alike, could all come in at the same time.  Those were the best of times, when everybody got an even break.  And I attended every one!

         
When Brimfield was born, cars and trucks would line up on the highway, or park on someone’s lawn.  For every front yard on the street became a parking lot; and every home owner became an entrepreneur and parking lot attendant.  And when the gates opened, early on a Saturday morning, dealers and buyers, alike, could all enter the field together.  Buyers in cars, like me, would find a parking place along the stream, out of the way, while the dealers would drive, each to their allotted place, and begin unpacking right away.  That moment was exhilarating!

Being there, on the field at Brimfield, when the dealers were unpacking was like standing in a huge photo developing tray, acres wide in size, while beneath your feet and all around you, an enormous photograph was beginning to materialize. The gigantic image continued to appear, as detail, after detail became clear, throughout the day. 

At first, you could make out only the biggest boldest shapes.  I remember one May morning, when minutes into the unpacking, and few vehicles in place, I spied a monumental statue of Bibendum, the Michelin Tire Man, emerging from an isolated station wagon several thousand feet away.  I flew across the still nearly empty field, dodging moving vehicles on the way, and captured it, before it could escape. 
          What a wonderful way to start a day of high adventure.  Fueled by pure adrenalin, I carried the massive, yet fragile, plaster figure, across the field, and deposited it in the safe haven of my station wagon.  And this was only the beginning.  As the photograph continued to develop, one needed to keep walking.  Like a giant game of musical chairs, if one was fast enough, and lucky, they would be in the right place at the moment something wonderful appeared. 

Auction Acres, was just a one day show, back then, but what a day it was!  Those glorious 12 hours proved long enough to hold a lifetime of adventure, intense excitement, and intoxicating pleasure.  And when the day was over, both my money and my energy were spent.  But, ah!  My vehicle was overflowing, brimful of Brimfield treasure.  And this exhilarating event, this best Christmas morning ever, took place three times a year.  With each passing season, it grew bigger and better, and we allowed ourselves to believe that this tri-annual source of predictable nirvana would go on, year after year, forever.

         
But alas, things change, and not always for the better, and Brimfield was a work in progress.  Each successive time, it was a little different.  As more and more collectors and dealers, alike, discovered new categories of collectibles, the stakes were raised, and the excitement intensified.  Competition entered the equation, and anything extraordinary, or even mildly interesting, would disappear in seconds.  As packing boxes were opened, a crowd would gather around them, and a decent object no sooner hit the air than a buyer’s hand would be upon it.

Overnight, more shows appeared, and as they did, show managers realized that they could charge, not only for booth space, but for admission too.  That was when the situation changed for the worse for anyone who was not a dealer.  Henceforth, the public had to wait outside, while inside it was “set up time”

Set up time was the same thing that the opening minutes used to be, all the excitement of discovery was still there, only, now, it was for dealers only!  And they continued to ‘Walk the show” shopping for anything they thought they could “flip” to make a fast buck, or several hundred.  Furthermore, as many dealers were also collectors, chances were that the most extraordinary items simply disappeared, and were not for sale at any price.  Thus, when the doors were opened to the public, the good stuff would be gone already, or if any of it was still there, it would have changed hands many times, and doubled, tripled, or skyrocketed in price.

Thus, it became imperative that I managed, somehow, by hook or crook, or whatever it took, including a growing repertoire of tricks, to always get my bones inside.  Once there, I cunningly assumed the disguise of a dealer.  I even got a sales tax number.  And I learned to always inquire, “What’s dealers on that?” and, therefore, I was always offered “dealer’s price”.

         
My first attempts at this took place, in 1967, before the first flea markets were invented.  In those days, there were only two “known” collectors of Mickey Mouse in NYC, my friend Richard Merkin and me.  And there were two shops in Manhattan that in their quest for “Camp” merchandise, occasionally turned up early Mickey Mice and Comic Characters.  One was Fandango, run by Richard’s friend Kenny Kneitel, who became my friend as well.  He was Max Fleisher’s grandson.  And the other was Michael Malce & Son.  Michael and Kenny were both gifted with an incredible “EYE”.  They could see what was old and great, up and coming, and trend setting, many years ahead of time.  Richard and Kenny had been close friends, ever since they attended the Rhode Island School of Design together.  Richard, who was a successful painter, also remained a teacher, there, and traveled to Rhode Island, several days a week, to teach. 

Whenever Michael Malce got a decent Mickey it was always $9.  You'd be amazed at the great things he sold me at, that, his standard Mickey price.  Richard and I indulged in a friendly competition, and whichever of us happened to drop into Michael’s shop, at the right time, got the prize.  As Michael’s store was located only a few blocks away, I dropped in nearly every day.  That, and the fact that Richard was often in Providence proved to be providential.  Needless to say, I was winning the Mouse Race.

Apart from these two shops, there was one other place, where one could get great stuff, and that was the Madison Square Garden Antique Show.  I had wandered into the show one day, when it was still located in its original place, and I was blown away.  The fabulous things I saw there exceeded my imagination and my bank account.  But I met a brilliant dealer, Betty Lipton, who remained a friend for years, thereafter.

Betty was extraordinary.  I am speaking of her in the past tense, but I assume, and hope, she is still living, although we lost touch, years ago.  She represents the best kind of antique dealer, and several others, like her, that I was privileged to meet, along the way, as my adventures in collecting continued.

Like a small handful of gifted dealers, Betty had an eye that could look into the future.  The things that she discovered were amazing.  And no one else could see them, or realize that they were worthwhile.  Dealers like Betty Lipton are really creative artists who can see art and beauty, in what others see as garbage.  Saving glorious garbage, and interrupting its inevitable journey to the dumpster, is how Comic Character collecting began.  They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Betty had the talent to see treasure among the trash.  And, much of the time, I was her foremost “another man”.  She, and a growing number of other dealers, knew just what to save for me.

        
On the day that I first met Betty in the Old Madison Square Garden, she had one precious treasure that loudly spoke to me.  Did I say spoke?  Make that hollered, screamed, and begged, pleading to go home with me!  It was really kind of crazy.  What was I, a grown man doing purchasing a Shirley Temple doll?  Ah, but she was extraordinary, in breathtaking condition, and utterly complete, with every imaginable accessory, and in her original box, with her picture on the label.  Her hair was pristine with every well permed curl in place, and she wore her original dress, with every pleat, perfectly pressed.  Her hands were affixed to the hem of her dress with blue ribbons in her signature curtsy.  This was her point of purchase presentation pose, and the bows had never been untied.  There were other clothes as well, her straw hat, a second polka dotted dress, on an official Shirley Temple hanger. She also had a Shirley Temple purse with a Shirley Temple Mirror and a Shirley Temple broach, and her original pin back button.  And as if all of that was not enough, there was, also, a autographed photo.  What a stunning presentation!  How could I resist this miracle, all for $35.  She proudly stands, today, the only doll, among a multitude of Comic Characters.

Her 80 years of age show just a little, in the form of a few cracks that have appeared on her face, and her glass eyes have slightly clouded over, but she still Radiates!  And she still speaks to me as clearly as the day that I first met her.  As a matter of fact, she called out to me from the deepest recesses of my memory, while I was writing about Betty, and said, “Please include me in your story.” So, I did!  This diversion was not intended.  Nonetheless, I quickly snaped her photograph with the existing lighting, and here it is.
          On an open field like Brimfield, both dealers and collectors are equals; they are each looking for the same thing, Magic!  Often, a dealer, like Betty, will recognize the Magic, first, and the collector, like me, will see it, later, through her eyes.  Dealers can be the teachers of collectors.  And each daring chance a creative dealer takes, by investing their working capital in an unusual item, is verified when a collector sees and loves it, and validates the dealer’s judgment by purchasing it.  At times like this, selling is much more than selling, it becomes a means of sharing.  Through that commonality, dealers and collectors often become the best of friends.  And many of my best friends, ever, have been both dealers and collectors. 

Of course, not all dealers are wonderful, or friendly; some are merely mercenary.  These predators have no love for the objects that they are peddling, but merely a knack for sizing up their victim’s weaknesses, and feeding their customer’s addictions for as high a price as highway robbery will enable them to extort.  This kind of dealer regards his customers as adversaries.  I will not claim to have been immune from doing business with the likes of them, before.  But, like poisonous snakes, they must be handled carefully.  Buyer, be wary!

In 1968 the Madison Square Garden Show moved to the New Madison Square Garden, a huge round building on 8th avenue, between 30 and 33rd Streets.  I was determined to scout it out, and see if I could get in early.  The set up lasted for two days, before the opening of the show.  As I lived on 28th street, it was not difficult to mosey over, and nose around.  I came upon a huge garage door with a ramp.  Trucks were driving through that portal.  I knew this was the place.  So I started walking up the ramp.  A guard stopped me immediately.  “You can’t go up here!” he said.

“Oh, how do I get into the show?”  I asked, as if, I belonged there and just didn’t know where to enter.  He pointed out an inconspicuous side door, ”Go in there!”  So, I did!  I could see that there were others walking in, some carrying boxes, so I followed them.

Just inside the door, there were two uniformed guards, sitting behind a desk.  Some of the people were going up to them and checking in.  Others headed directly to a nearby elevator with me in their midst, trying to look like I was with them.  The elevator let us out into a hallway, alongside the end of the ramp that I had seen below; a line of trucks was still coming up the ramp.  Before me, was a wide entrance that obviously opened onto the show.  There were two guards stationed there as well.  I casually circled one of the trucks, and walked along beside it, the side that the guards couldn’t see, and passed by them successfully! 

That moment was exhilarating, a strange combination of fear and triumph, intermingling.  My heart was palpitating, my body tingling.  I had made my first illegal entry!  The early show was wonderful!  I have forgotten what I got there, although, I did get plenty.  What I will never forget is the adventure and excitement of getting in early. 

When the next show came around, in a moment of generosity, I offered to share the experience with Richard Merkin.  Surely, there were enough treasures there for more than me alone, more than I could afford, anyway.  Unwilling to take a chance at just walking in again, Richard and I cooked up a scheme.  Eunice had a friend, Benita Blau, who had been her roommate in Paris.  They peddled the New York Herald Tribune, together, along the Champs-Élysées.  Now, Benita had married, and her name was changed to Benita Fury.  She had become a news reporter for NBC TV. 

Richard had a current girlfriend, Virginia Fritz, who he called Bunny.  She resembled Betty Boop.  Benita loaned us her press pass and Bunny became Benita Fury, girl reporter.  Richard and I carried empty camera cases, empty to cut down on the weight, and we masqueraded as her camera crew.  And so we went parading into that side door, several hours before the show began, prepared to meet the guards.  As it turned out, nobody stopped us, or asked questions.  They all just let us pass.  In a way, it was kind of disappointing.  Bunny was ready to go home.

Once inside, we scattered, and I, no sooner, made it down half an aisle than, there, before me was an object that absolutely blew my mind; a 9” tall bisque figure of Mickey with two moveable arms, the first that I, or anyone, had ever seen.  It was $20, which was $10 more than I had ever spent on any Mickey Mouse, before.  And, although, that seems like a trifle, today, it was a lot of money then.  Of course, I bought it and put it in my camera case.
When Richard saw the Mouse he went completely nuts!   What a reaction!  Like a three year old, throwing a tantrum, he raved and ranted and kicked a concrete post!   Ow!  That hurt!  Later in the day, as he limped past a booth where one could dress up in antique clothing, and pose to have a tintype taken.  Richard was still steaming.  He proclaimed, “Dress me up like Abe Lincoln, and shoot me!”  This was the first, and the last time Richard went with me to the Madison Square Garden Show. 

But naturally, I continued to go, and developed a technique of looking like I belonged there.  I would appear at the secret door, a day or two before the show, and early on the opening day as well, carrying an empty corrugated box, and trying to make it look heavy.  I’d struggle with it past the guards, who, sometimes, nodded me a greeting.  They were getting to know me, as I became a familiar face at every show.

I couldn’t merely walk the floor for several days, while waiting for things to slowly appear.  Sooner or later, I was bound to be noticed.  So, I made friends with several dealers, who not only were prepared to vouch for me and say I was with them if I was ever stopped (I never was); they also let me stash my purchases and coat at their booths.  And better still, knowing what I was looking for, and knowing I would get in early, and knowing that I would keep my mouth shut, they saved special things to show me first.

One dealer in particular, Jane Lewis, was one of the great ones.  She had an incredible eye and a shop in Nyack.  Jane was on the cutting edge of discovering what was good.  She also discovered that I was good at setting up a booth, so I would help her, as a means of looking busy and passing the time, between excursions out onto the floor, again.  Eventually, I didn’t need an empty box to get in.  It was my Dumbo’s Feather.  I found that I could fly without it.  But just in case, if I was stopped I would simply say I am Jane Lewis’s helper, and if they marched me to her booth, she was prepared to verify the story, for in fact it was the truth.  That was the plan.  We never had to use it.  I had developed a style that made it look like I belonged there.  And in the eyes of both the guards and the other dealers too, I did.  This attitude stood me in good stead, in later years.

         
Another major milestone in my descent into deception took place in New Jersey.  I was sitting in my car, outside the Meadowlands Arena, waiting for a newly created Antique Extravaganza to begin.  Of course, I was there two hours too early.  I wanted to be the first in line when they let the public in.  And I was going slightly crazy, for all around me I could see dealers, driving up, parking, and walking in.  I noticed that they were all wearing badges, yellow cards with printing and some sort of picture on them that I could not make out, as they passed by at a distance.  The cards were held in acetate sleeves, attached to their clothing with a safety pin.  At this fateful moment, a sudden impulse hit me, one that would mark a turning point, in which I added unpremeditated forgery to my repertoire of crimes.

In a flurry of inspiration, I rummaged through the glove compartment, and found a car repair receipt, printed on a piece of yellow paper.  I promptly folded it into a rectangle, approximately the same size as the badges I saw passing.  Then, using the pen, with which I hoped to write many checks, that day, I scribbled something onto the blank side of the folded paper.  This abstract scribble approximated the general size and shape of the unknown image I had glimpsed.  Next, I removed the cellophane wrapper from my pack of Robert Burns cigars, and folded it around the yellow paper.  I pinned the resulting forgery to my shirt with a tooth pick I found in the ashtray, and casually, half covering it with my open jacket, marched up to the entrance.  Trying to look like I knew where I was going, I sauntered past the huge ominous guard, and up the awning covered walkway, into the show.  Wow!  It was worth it!  I immediately found a set of wooden Mickey Mouse musicians, made in Germany.  Being there that extra hour early, made all the difference in the World.
Later, I made a point of getting a close look at a real badge.  I had to laugh out loud at how pitiful my attempt had been.  What I had crafted was a joke.  It was my body language, the determination to look like I belonged, and the brazen audacity of it, that got me into the show. 

         
Meanwhile, Brimfield continued to grow.  I was there for every show, right from the beginning, and I saw it, all too quickly, change.  One Saturday, when it was still a one day show, it rained.  A disappointed crowd of us stood under the refreshment tent, and watched, as the day became a total washout.  There was no flea market that day!  We all went home.  The next time, many dealers and buyers, too, arrived on Friday, just in case.  And, slowly, but surely, Brimfield became a two day show.  Eventually, somebody printed up and sold tee shirts that read, “Some action Friday”.

And Friday not only became a regular event, but there came a time when the action kept on going, all Friday night.  Sellers continued to arrive, and set up in the darkness to be ready at the crack of dawn.  And the vast expanse of Auction Acres became a sea of moving lights.  Like twinkling stars or fireflies, the crisscrossing beams of a thousand flashlights pierced the night, converging on each new arrival, while crowds of would-be buyers, attracted by the incoming headlights, gathered around then, like moths drawn to a flame.  Many a battery was depleted, long before the sun rose on the bleak gray morning of the following day. The night had been exhilarating, like trick or treating out of season, or a giant game of flashlight tag.

One item that my flashlight beam discovered on that first spontanious Friday night was something wonderful that I had never seen before, this German Mickey pull toy, in the center of the photo, with a snout that is adjustable and limbs that animate, when he is pulled along the floor.  I never saw this toy again, nor would I ever know that it existed, if I had not been there in person, at exactly the right moment, in the middle of that July night.
         It was on one of these late night occasions that I got to know my buddy Noel.  He tended to have stuff I liked.  I ended up hanging out in his well lit booth, intermittently, all one Friday night, and that’s when our 40 year friendship began.  From that time forward, he would stop at my house, halfway from his home in Alexandria Virginia, and we would drive up to Brimfield together, in tandem, in separate cars, as we slept in them.  These were great days, and, over time, they got even better, as Brimfield grew into a collection of half a dozen shows that opened, one or two a day, throughout an entire week.  The first market opened on Tuesday, then three on Wednesday.  Thursday was a day of rest, when we would hang out with my friend John Fawcett.  John was a professor at University of Connecticut  He lived not far from Sturbridge.  John and I often walked around the show together. 

Then, there were two more shows on Friday and another one on Saturday.  An entire glorious week of shows, and all, alas, charged admission, and were closed to the public, while the dealers set up inside.  Each show invented its own method of identifying booth renting dealers, and letting them in, while keeping the public out, throughout the set up time.  This involved a variety of ever-changing devices, badges, passes, and rubber stamp markings on one’s hand, etc.  Any dealer who was registered, could flash his badge or tag or rubber stamp at the entrance gate, and walk right in.  Are you guessing what I did?

Now, all my many years of art school, finally, came to fruition, as I used my lifetime of art training to gain early admission.  Over the next twenty years, I developed my technique into an art form.  And along with a mattress, blankets, pillows, and the other stuff required for a week of camping in the car, my vehicle became a mobile artist’s studio, complete with a full stock of forgery supplies.

I had every kind of colored cardboard, Day-Glo, especially.  That range of seven shocking colors was popular for tags and badges. I also carried colored papers, scissors, string, for making hang tags hang, and several sets of Magic Markers. 

        
The various markets were strung out along a half mile stretch of road.  Each day one or two new markets opened.  A few hours before they let the public in, the dealers started to arrive for set up time.  I would hike down there, early, and check out what kind of device each show had contrived to identify the dealers, that time.  The badges, or whatever, were always changing, so people, like me, couldn’t get in early with a badge or tag from a former show.  I would scope out what new variation they had come up with, and then hightail it back to my car, and replicate it. 

Some badges and hang tags I could anticipate, and make up at home, ahead of time.   For instance, if a show in May had a hang tag printed on green Day-Glo, you could pretty much predict that the show in July would have the same tag printed on one of the six other standard Day-Glo colors.  I always made sure I got a sample of every genuine tag or badge from some dealer at every show.  So, at home, I could print a badge of every color.  And, sure enough, next time, it would be the same tag in red, pink or yellow.  I only had to run back to my car and grab the correct color, and I was good to go!

If the badge turned out to be some color I didn’t have, I could alter one I did, or replicate the color from scratch, on white paper, using Magic Markers.  There were times that, after I saw the kind of badge that they were using, I had to rummage through the roadside trash containers to find a scrap of colored paper that matched.  Once, I found the color I required on a notice tacked to a telephone pole.  If the entry pass consisted of a rubber stamp on the hand, I would, study one stamped on a friend, then, go back to the car, again and draw one on my own hand with a marking pen.  Then, to make sure it looked authentic, I'd smudge it!

One of my favorite things was the hang tag with writing on it that I had not preprinted.  These were the most fun. The backs were always blank, so I would just make a blank tag of the right color and tuck it in the brim of my hat, or tie it to my belt loop, then affix it in place with the corner of my belt or a piece of double sided tape, so it didn’t readily flip over.  Who was to say which side of the card was showing?  Therefore, a blank tag of the proper color was really all that was required.

Once inside, someone who knew what I was doing would inevitably come up to me and say. "OK, Birnkrant what did you do this time?” and grab the tag and turn it over to discover that both sides were blank, and laugh!  I was developing a small following of fans. 

When I returned to the entrance with my newly created pass, I would never go through the gate and take off like a bolt of lightning.  Instead, I'd casually saunter over to the nearby concession booth and get a cup of coffee.  Then I would sit and sip it leisurely, like I was in no hurry, like I had nothing to do for the next two hours, like I belonged.  Then I would inconspicuously take off, in full pursuit of treasure.

There were a couple of shows that were heavily policed.  You had to show your contract papers and ID at the gate.  On these occasions I always arranged, ahead of time, to share the booth rent with a dealer friend, and get in legitimately.  On one such field, year after year, I was officially my friend, Les Fish’s "uncle".  But, most of the time, I got in free.  In all those years, there was never a show that I didn’t manage to enter early.  And, although, dozens of dealers, and even competing collectors, who sometimes stood outside the fence and watched me, knew full well what I was doing, no one ever turned me in.

         
Inside the show, the dealers loved me. They were glad I got in early.  Many were holding things aside to show me.  My being in there, before the gates opened, made this easy.  Fellow collectors often marveled at the fact that I got all the best stuff, and wondered why.  Now that those glorious days are over, I can explain my simple rules of buyer etiquette, that included, being a nice guy.

First of all, I was a good customer, open and up-front.  I never played the poker face game, feigning lack of enthusiasm to bring down the price.  If I liked something, it was apparent.  Dealers loved to see me light up like a Christmas tree. Of course, this cost me.  Showing genuine excitement, and paying a premium for being shown things first was expensive.  But they loved to find me stuff, and liked and see my reaction.   Secondly, I kept my mouth shut.  So, a dealer could safely show me anything.  And if I bought it, no one would know it, as I always left it at their booth, and got it later, inconspicuously.  Knowing it would hurt their reputation, among their other customers, if the word got out that they held their best stuff for me.  And If I didn’t buy something, for whatever reson,  I kept my mouth shut, even tighter.  Thus, there was no harm done.  The item, for all intents and purposed had not been “shopped”, as sellers call it when an item has been shown around, and turned down.

You would be surprised how many collectors, who were shown something, secretly, would run around, afterwards, boasting that they had seen it, and putting the item down.  "Oh I saw that piece of crap", etc.  I, not only, never disclosed the fact that I had seen something, but, furthermore, if I didn’t purchase what I was shown, I would advise the dealer who to offer it to.  I knew a lot of collectors and their collections, and what they liked and what they wanted, or as collectors are inclined to say, what they “needed”, in those days.

Beyond that, I never haggled over a price.  If an item was worth the asking price to me, whether or not others would agree, I paid it gladly.  On rare occasions when a price was way out of line, I would explain why, and if the seller was convinced that I was right, they would either sell it to me, at a lower price, or I would pass, and no one took offense.  Alas, it often happened that if I didn’t buy an item, the next customer who came along would be offered it at a much lower price, one that I would have paid, willingly.  That was one of the downsides of being me.

There were no means to which I would not stoop, no subterfuge that I would not use, to get into a show.  If all else failed, I would simply creep through the woods, or crawl under a fence.  I remember, one time, Noel and I were sneaking into the big Gordon Reed market by crossing the stream I used to park beside in the early days.  We planned to enter acrobatically by carefully balancing on fallen trees.  I got over first, and ducked into a port-o-let to hide.  Peeking through the tiny window, high up on the side, which was really there for ventilation, I watched as Noel, who was still crossing, lost his footing, and fell in.  He came out cursing, soaking wet, and blaming me.  Those were fun times!

Here is a photograph of Noel and I, hot, happy and home again, returning from a week at Brimfield, on a warm day in July, so many years ago.  We were still young then.  Noel had a beard; I did not.  It was The Golden Age of Comic Character Collecting, and amazing treasures were apt to turn up anywhere.  But there was no place better to hunt for them than Brimfield.  How I would love to relive those Golden Days.  How quickly the years have flown away!
          I remember the Great Flea Market in its heyday, as vividly as if it were yesterday.  I often return there in dreams, or lie awake, remembering those amazing days when a week at Brimfield was the best of all the Holidays.  It was the greatist Christmas ever, receiving gifts from Santa, sent to you from out of the past, courtesy of Father Time.  And, if sneaking in to flea markets was naughty, Santa Claus didn’t seem to mind.  The naughtier you were, the more you got!  Brimfield was like Easter too, hunting for where the Bunny hid your stuff.  And in the dark, it was like Halloween: a glorious week of trick or treat.  As if that wasn’t enough, the midsummer market, actually, happened on the Fourth of July!  And the fireworks display took place, in broad daylight, as the World’s Greatest Flea market exploded into sight.

But, sadly, things changed, over time.  As my collection grew, the treasures I found at Brimfield became few.  And I began to believe that the stuff I was getting there was no longer worth a week away from work. Finally, I found myself going, mostly, for the fun of sneaking in.  Once that realization became clear to me, it was the end.

My forgery kit now resides in the storage area, under the floor behind my desk.   The Magic Markers, the colored papers, the scissors and string, and every phony badge, tag, and entry pass I ever made, a kind of  Crime Museum, is in there too, never to be used again.