step right up, he mighta said, when he lured me off the couch, out to hunt a rug. strike the circus tunes while you’re at it. grab some peanuts, too, this might be a tale that twists and turns before it’s through.
the day was monday, a day we’ll not forget. given that it was memorial day, a day for not forgetting.
don’t know about you, but every once in a while the mate i live with up and roars about the lack of progress on this house. the piles of laundry clogging stairs, the dust that makes me cough, he never sees. but once in a while, there is a something that stirs inside him, that will not let him rest until he lurks the jungle, tracks the thing for which he hungers.
monday it was the rug. the rug that never has been in our living room. the curled-up, frayed-edged thing in the room they call the family room. the one lugged from bachelor pad to honeymoon cottage to house to house. the one expired years ago, but we couldn’t find a worthy replacement.
which is how we found ourselves in a circus tent of rugs on memorial monday.
but let’s wind back, just a frame or two.
the rug hunter and i had done the persian rug store thing dozens of times. have hauled home loads of rugs, rolled up like so much fruit leather. furled, unfurled, they never worked. too dark. too skinny. too too.
the rug hunter had it in his head that the big department store, the one that used to be marshall field’s, might be the way to go. for a century, field & co. peddled fine wares. reputable wares. they combed the globe, they brought home what was good. if a rug wore a tag saying persia, you could bet the rug was truly persian. not north carolina, with a few zeroes slapped on the tag. for effect.
so mr. rug hunter, a man who likes to read his newspaper, spotted a big rug sale at the big department store. he’s from new jersey where they love to say, “the mall.”
“let’s go to the mall,” says the rug hunter. “let’s hook a rug.” he might not have said hook, but for the sake of the story, let’s say he did. he probably said, get. let’s get a rug.
so off we rumble in the station wagon. me and my shingles to the right, the rug hunter at the helm.
we pull into the so-called mall. we see a circus tent pitched in the middle of the asphalt. not thinking (a refrain that picks up here), we steer toward tent.
i think, oh, the big department store has pitched a tent for rugs. how convenient. i think the rug hunter thinks the same. you would think we’d just come in from picking corn out in the cornfields.
right away, before the car’s in park, i see a rug. it is hanging off the circus pole. or, rather, the circus tent pole. i like the rug. it has all the reds and blues that i’ve been seeking for years and years and years.
a man with painted-on eyebrow, a man whose name we never really caught, comes to lead us through the circus. at first i only see the rugs.
the eyebrow fellow and a chap named ash come to flip the rugs. one by one, they flip the dusty so-called persian rugs, so we can eyeball every one. i like the one on the tent pole, i say again and again.
“you never know. you might see another,” says the eyebrow fellow, who then goes on to tell me how his bride saw the wedding gown she wanted, tried on dozens, then walked out, hours later, with the first one that she wanted. “and i rented a tux for 45 bucks,” he says, laughing.
while they are flipping rugs, ash tells the rug hunter that he could make a deal. we could have two rugs for the price of one. is there any other room, he asks, where you would like a rug?
by the way, by now it’s been established, the flippers of the rug have no connection whatsoever to the store that once was fields. they leave it rather vague just how it is they landed in this endless lot.
it is at about this point, as ash is barking two-fer-one, that i let my eyeball wander. i notice, to the south and east, a corner of the tent is crowded not with rugs. but with so-called art.
i notice there are naked women. and a skyline scene or three. how amazing, the skyline is of the biggest city near where the rugs are being sold. i start to think, i’ll bet there is a skyline for every city where the tent is pitched. a revolving wheel of city skylines. circuses are like that. full of circus tricks.
oh, did i mention, this was the last day of the sale? ash and eyebrow, somewhere in the middle of the rugs, made clear that they were on the road. the tent was coming down tomorrow, they were rolling on.
peoria next stop.
it was then, again, that i noticed winnebagos, back behind the rugs. these chaps who flip the rugs, i realized, are plain old circuit peddlers. they are magic carpet carnies.
they pitch a tent. they flip some rugs. take down the tent. roll on. to yet another dot on the never-ending map. parking lot after parking lot. rug after rug.
turns out a guy named lou is the rug ringmaster. lou, who wears black safari shorts, says he works with importers in new york. but he works from a warehouse down clearwater, florida, way. says he likes the freedom of the parking lot. he pays big rent, he says, to pitch his tent, to peddle rugs. and cheezy art in god-awful frames.
well, whaddya know. we find two rugs from the rug carnies. three, actually. next thing we know they are offering to haul the rugs right to our house. to let us try them out. too bad for you, they tell us, you only get an hour. today’s the final day. the tent is coming down.
i notice on the rug a drib and drab of spill. “oh,” says ash. “the only persian rugs these days are used. from estate sales. you know a rug’s authentic, if it has some spills.”
my eye drifts back to the naked ladies in the corner. i start to wonder if these clowns make us out to be the biggest fattest marks–that’s carny talk for gullible–they’ve seen all day, all week, all month.
next thing we know, ash has all three rugs loaded in his unmarked truck. he is trailing us. turn right, turn left, right to our curb.
there’s no denying: the rugs look great. while ash is sipping orange juice on our stoop, i am whispering madly to a friend i think will know a thing or two about oriental rugs.
out front, on the stoop, a deal is struck. i think that might have been, as well, where ash mentioned that back in alabama, he’d “gotten in a little trouble.” the rug hunter forgot to mention that to me, ’til later down the road.
we follow ash back to the tent, back to the credit card machine.
i see there on the money table a little book, written by lou. magic flying carpet ride’s ten steps to happiness, or something close to that. stacks and stacks, free with every so-called persian rug.
i see a pile of oil paints in tubes. “do you paint?” i ask as ash adds up those digits for our rugs.
“no, i touch up the art,” he says, without a blink. off to the left, i see the eyebrow fellow with a gilded frame, empty, teetering atop the rugs. he is dabbing bits of gold in a corner of the frame. hmm, i wonder, do they also touch up rugs?
as we shake hands to leave, dear ash makes sure to say we were really nice folk to deal with. was that code, we later wondered, for, you fools, you did not deal me down. you took the line, the hook, the sinker. you bought the bit about the persian spills.
so off we roll, my rug hunting mate and i. two new rugs upon our floors, a swirl of questions in our head.
“i got a bad feeling,” the rug hunter said again and again, as we strolled the mall.
are the carnies and their rolled-up rugs and tent laughing all the way to pe-or-i-a? howling down the highway, yet another couple from the leafy lakeshore sinks a lot of zeroes in some rip-off chinese rugs.
that night in bed we tried to sleep. but visions of synthetic threads were dancing in our heads. the naked ladies, the tubes of paint, the alabama trouble. it bounced and swirled, it made us sweat. were we schnookered, fools for rugs?
by dawn, due diligence kicked in. the rug hunter hit the computer. didn’t find a thing. i grabbed an innocent friend, one who happened to ring the bell. i had her on her hands and knees, inspecting the alleged hand knots. she spotted scribble down below, noted it was arabic. aha, a sign. a hint of authenticity. much moreso than the dribbles up above.
at last, a call from santa fe. a woman by the name of audrey. she is nearly 80. the epitome of street-smart elegance, if there is such a thing. she has been weighing in on every aspect of my life for years and years and years: who i married, how i made my matzo balls, and now the rugs upon my floor.
aw, heck, she said, it hardly matters. the size, the color, that’s what counts. never mind the tent, never mind the trouble. “you got a deal!” she bellowed.
this tale is spinning far too long, so i will end it soon. with blessing from dear aud, the rug debate was closed.
without delay, i dialed mr. rug hunter. passed on the word in audrey’s vibrant color.
and then i hauled out the vacuum. the rugs were here to stay. i’d have no crumbs on my authentic circus rugs.
step right up, people, tell your circus tales. have you ever fallen for a spiel, in the heat of the hunt, only to awake in sweat that’s cold and clammy? today’s the day to seek the sucker prize. best deal wins. and the winner gets, an authentic dribbled rug…..