Let's say we take a little morality trip to the country. How's that sound?
Decked out in advertising... the very shirt off his back and nothing but pickles? It’s enough to make you cry, as if Tom Joad joined The Commedia; as if Steinbeck's, East of Eden sunk it's Biblical catastrophy in cucumbers instead of beans; as if all those dusty country roads and farm wives slamming doors in the face of a poor hayseed struggling to make an honest buck, Woody Guthrie mournful in the air, was just a metaphor for someone else I happen to know.
Ah being a gentleman of commerce. Ah the reality of only one good suit. Ah the nature of metaphors for being in the red. Ah the cosmic dilemma of a naive and awkward rube expecting to making a living by selling only one darn impossible to peddle thing... that no one wants, no how, no way. Shades of self-pity? Need I say more.
Actually Mr. Maybelle is a portrait of a gentleman I once knew in upstate NY. During my years of poking around old barns & Ma & Pa roadside antique stores I met Norman Hasselris. Norman was an assemblage artist as well as invenerate collector of the kind of junk that appealed to me, old, curious and decidely useless. Norman was long retired and lived in a town called Oak Hill, where he made a small living selling the junk he couldn't resist buying at the endless country auctions he haunted but nevertheless couldn’t manage to incorporate into his own work... there not being enough hours within any human lifetime. a visit to his workshop, a former general store packed to the brim with what he made out of useless transformed by his juxtapositions of arcane knowledge about all this old stuff (he sure knew a lot!) and his bookish humor, was a puzzle blend of grandpa's knee slapping, straw chewing, country cracker barrel homilies with New Yorker Magazine wit. An odd address, this former NY backwater, a sort of amusement park for the adult mind just off a country road in The Twilight Zone.
Norman got to know my taste in junk, my predilection for “multiples,” and on one visit he smiled his co-conspirator smile and said, “I think I have some-thing you’d like.” Leading me over to one dusty corner, he pointed through the heaps & heaps to a pile of about 2000 brown and crumbling antique cucumber packing box labels, all exactly the same and tied up with string. Then he looked up at me, standing there in his worn khaki’s and moth-eaten Woolrich plaid and smiled again between his usual three-day gristle and cigarette stubble. Norman always liked to please his customers.
Mr. Maybelle stands 4 1/2 sturdy feet high. His sales box is 8 1/2 ft high. He comes with a suitcase. Guess what's in it.