Wednesday, May 13, 2020

THE GOLDEN FLEA :: Michael Rips

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

Michael Rips grew up viewing most objects as contaminated: "The antique was a cesspool, and flea markets its tributary." His wife's family enjoyed garage sales, and one weekend he was forced by the heat to leave the car where he was waiting. The poster he discovered at the sale began his transition from artifact abhorrer to dedicated denizen of the famed market in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, the subject of his fascinating memoir, The Golden Flea.

To understand Rips's journey, one must understand the history and allure of "the flea." A staple in New York, the constellation of secondhand markets is among the best known, "widely regarded for the treasures to be found there." It rose from the vacuum left by the garment industry, which filled with the underground clubs, prostitutes, artists and junkies that flowed into the neighborhood in the '60s and beyond.

The flea was a meeting place for the various elements of Chelsea, where rare yet inexpensive items could be found to decorate apartments or provide inspiration, and people could display, create and re-create themselves. The colorful history of the neighborhood, the flea and the items sold there almost pale in comparison to the sellers, pickers and buyers that populate it. These people became part of the fabric of Rips's life, even as he needed to step away for a time due to more than a tinge of obsession. Discovering the flea through Rips's experience is magnificent, but the human influence on the transactions (Q: "Do you know what this is made of?" A: "It's made of get-the-fuck-out-of here.") give it true beauty.

STREET SENSE: This book is nutty in the best possible way and it makes me kick myself for not hitting this market while in New York. The wares sound crazily varied and fabulous (and sometimes fabulously bizarre), but the people and community make it spectacular. Some of the conversations in this memoir had me rolling. I know nothing about art or antiques other than what I like, so don't let you keep that away, that's not what this book is about. It's a look at the people, place and things that made New York City's Chelsea flea market one of the most famous (and outrageous) in the world.

COVER NERD SAYS:  This cover attracted me despite my lack of art knowledge. I love the color and though I lack art sense I love frames. It made me curious. This is a hard book to describe through a cover, yet this did a pretty good job.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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