On a recent Saturday, we went to the annual Ocean Grove Flea Market, which is probably the largest such event held in Monmouth County each year. Over 300 vendors set up tables and booths on Ocean Pathway, the wide swath of grass between the Great Auditorium and Ocean Avenue. (The Great Auditorium itself is pretty impressive. Built in 1894, and featuring seating for over 6,000, it’s supposedly the largest enclosed auditorium in New Jersey.)
But this day wasn’t about the auditorium, it was about the flea market – hundreds of sellers displaying every trinket, doodad, and outright junk you could imagine. It was sunny and pleasantly warm – the kind of September day that sweeps away all memory of the humid August doldrums, and makes you wish summer would never end. At the center of the event were food vendors selling sausage and pepper sandwiches, meats of dubious provenance barbecued on a stick, Italian ice, hot dogs, lemonade, calzones, and candied popcorn. The smoke and steam rising from the clustered food trucks combined to give the day a carnival air.
We promptly fell into a predictable pattern: the women in our group lingered at the jewelry and clothing tables, while my brother Jim and I poked through adjacent displays of moldy books and magazines, glassware, tools, candles, board games, and toys.
There were impressive collections of refurbished antique furniture, carefully glued together and polished for resale. There were concrete lawn ornaments shaped like geese, frogs, turtles, lizards, and grimacing gremlins. There were carved wooden replicas of African tribal masks, brightly painted gourds, and an array of meat cleavers in varying sizes for all your cleaving needs.
There was a phalanx of shiny metallic figures, each resembling a dentist, lawyer, accountant, surgeon, or other professional – all inexplicably fashioned from cheese graters. There were Ghostbusters action figures, and an anonymous pile of molded green soldiers, twelve for a dollar. There were handmade doilies, baseball cards, bayonets, and real World War II army helmets – both Allied and German (none with bullet holes). We picked them up, and marveled at their dull weight, and at how much more effective the German helmets seemed, with their sides extending down over the ears and neck in back like an angular ’60s flip hairdo.
We allowed one hawker to spot-test a cosmetic depilatory on one of the women. He buttered a wide piece of tape with the magic goo, laid it on her arm for two seconds, then peeled it off and proudly displayed the result: a hairy piece of tape. He assured us it was equally effective on mens’ ears, chests, noses, and sensitive parts of the female anatomy. We were duly impressed, but weren’t willing to lay out $35 for a gallon jug of the stuff, which based on that demonstration would appear to be a lifetime supply – at least for the mildly hirsute.
We were less impressed when that now-naked swatch of our companion’s arm developed an angry red chemical burn ten minutes later. But it was all in good fun. I bought a jar of local honey – guaranteed to guard against allergies, and at $8 a pound, to dispel the beekeepers’ aversion to poverty. My sister-in-law bought a portable (meaning it weighs less than six German WWII helmets), vintage Singer sewing machine that my brother declared would be perfect to keep the other sewing machines company in their closet at home. And for our 11 nieces, my wife Maria bought lovely, unique, hand-crafted Christmas gifts, the nature of which I’m not at liberty to disclose or it would spoil the surprise.
Here’s a hint: wide metal cuff bracelets with vintage costume jewelry earrings and pendants artistically arranged and glued on top. Shhhh. It’s a secret.