Turning Crap into Fabulous Prizes

There comes a time in every man’s life when he looks around his hovel and thinks, “I’ve got way too much shit.” A body collects these things as he saunters through life, like ticks in the wild. Until a day of reckoning, or a day of moving, where he starts poking through the back rooms of his life and all sorts of odd bits and pieces fall out. Thimbles, wires, inkpads, left handed safety scissors, shot glasses from Pittsburgh: all safely tucked away “just in case.”

Just in case of what? I don’t know. In case someone’s strangling me with a piece of yarn and my right arm is paralyzed. The only thing I can use to save myself with is my trusty pair of left handed safety scissors.

The world is filled with such things. Your house is jam packed with oddities. Go through it right now. I dare you. Sweep out the back shelf of your broom cupboard and the dusty corners of your attic. See what bits and pieces you’ve stored away because “it might come in handy one day.”

Jars of batteries, spare cables for the VCR, old demo tapes of some local band that never went anywhere (“Druken Puppet Sings”), album covers with no vinyl inside, mismatched socks, “Dukakis in 88” pins, Volume 16 of the Junior Encyclopedia for 1948, old photographs of a guy who might be a great uncle, or crappy Christmas decorations that you made in 5th grade that your parents “just love.”

If my words don’t ring true in your ears, then there is something the matter with you and you need to reexamine your life. Go back to Iraq Mr. Al-Queda. If this does strike a note of recognition, then let me tell you how I turned crap into fabulous prizes.

The Madison-Felix Awards, that great tribute to cheapness, vulgar audiences, and alcoholic shenanigans, was entering the terrible twos. It’s infancy was marred by various problems that Brian and I corrected. One task was left, and I decided to fix it solo. At the end of the first year door prizes were handed out to the lucky audience, all twenty of them. This last part had been left in the clumsy hands of Ensign Raiff and Nurse Pam. While their enthusiasm certainly wasn’t lacking, their sense of humor was. They bought cute things that were supposed to be funny, but actually weren’t. People chuckled and said it was funny, but it was more out of a sense that they though it should be funny, without actually being funny.

They gave away a lot of pink plastic jewelry, gotten from a convenient CVS, spice girl dolls, rewritable plastic pads with Urkel’s picture on the cover (though we got some use out of that), and so on. These items just didn’t fit into the style in which we were fashioning the show. That of cheapness and with a base of crass. We were the Oscar’s evil twin, with all it’s glitz, glamour, and pomposity stripped away. So the following year I took over the door prizes, and like the Russians who built the disastrous Volga-Don Canal in 1931, I declared that there would be “not one kopeck spent.” It would all be gathered from the generous accumulation of crap which had been stuffed into the nether regions of my closet, and beyond.

Being of a lethargic nature, I didn’t get to work straight away, but let the idea ferment in my mind for awhile. What spurred off the initial gathering was a pile of junk left at my work. I was employed at Noco Gas Station on the corner of Sweet Home and Sheridan. I worked the midnight shift, as it appealed to my nocturnal instincts and paid an additional 50 cents an hour. Not much happened usually, and I had plenty of time to read and sleep, but we were closely situated to the University of Buffalo Amherst Campus, so there were plenty of head-up-their-ass college punks around (more on this in a later post). The hippie revival movement of the early 90s was starting to catch on in the area and brought around all the usual dregs that such movements dig up. I’m sure you know what I mean: Indecent scruffy types who slouch about with their hands in their pockets, just looking at people.

One evening a VW van, a vintage classic, pulled up to the store. Two tied-died “people,” stinking of petuli and BO entered and started pooling change to buy a bottle of water. A third remained at the van emptying copious amount of garbage into the trash cans. After purchasing their water and finagling two cups out of me, presumably so they wouldn’t swap their various types of hepatitis with each other, they departed. Leaving the store I found that they had filled 3 of the 4 cans and left a pile of old vinyl albums on top of one. Closer inspection showed that these were just the album covers with no sign of anything else in them. The thought then hit me. These would be great gifts to use at the Madisons. I mean who wouldn’t want the album cover of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “A Song Will Rise”, or The Romanian National All Male Chorus Sings, or Neil Hefti’s “Batman” Scores? The covers, while most people would see them as garbage, covered all three of the criteria I had for the Madison door prizes: They were cheap, they were crap, and they were funny in an odd sense.

I was inspired. I rushed home, grabbed a cardboard box, and started to dig, dig, dig. And the wonders I found. Our house, it seems, had become a receptacle for unwanted material from both sides of the family. Older members died and there was always something left behind when the loot was divvied up. They would turn to us and say, “Dan, you like reading and stuff, so here’s a crate of books from your Great Aunt Betty.” This was all on top of my Mother’s and I natural pack rat mentality. We find an item, file it away, thinking “Well it might come in handy,” and then promptly forget about its existence.

Handfuls upon handfuls of buttons were dumped in the box, a phone book from 1985, game tokens from a destroyed copy of The Blizzard of 77 board game, a few ratted up copies of The Watchtower, old comic books, and so on.

Then under my generous loft bed I found the grand prize. An item of singular beauty and attention. By itself it seemed useless, yet I found myself incapable of getting rid of it. No matter how many times I found myself handing it over at the Madisons, I found it back in the box at the end of the night. We had a true love/hate relationship. I didn’t want it, yet could not let the joke go.

The item was an old scuffed up black Oxford shoe for the right foot, left over from High School. For those who attended private school (3 of the 4 major posters) you remember we were required to wear proper shoes whilst attending the institute, along with a shirt, dress pants, tie, clean shaven face, and short hair. For sneakers, along with long hair, leads to degeneracy and general lapses into moral turpitude. Though, as a side note, one of my class mates, Ralph Maggio, managed to go for 4 years never wearing a pair of shoes. He always snuck the sneakers through.

Back on topic: Yes, a shoe. A glorious right shoe. Its partner had been torn to pieces by my dog Thor many years prior. For nine years I attempted to give it away and, without fail, it was left behind or tossed back into the box by an ungrateful winner. But each year it gathered bigger and bigger laughs; became one of our standard running jokes, from the people who remembered it from the year before.

To make a short story even longer, I previewed my low budget door prizes at the end of the 2nd Madison-Felix Awards and was met with uproarious laughter and applause. Filtering out the high alcoholic consumption at such events, I still feel that people appreciated the humor value of such junk over the “cute” prizes handed out the first year. The door prizes remained in this form for the remainder of its decade long run.

Now as I sit in my apartment looking at the increasing accumulation of “stuff” during my five years in the South, I feel like starting the Madison’s again, if only to clear the clutter from my closet. I’m sure my right shoe would agree.

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8 Responses

  1. I think you could whip up some attendees for a “Madisons: Resurrection” event. Perhaps after 3 years it can rise from the grave (or choice B). Good post. By the way, you will note that everyone who stopped wearing shoes after the “Institute” (funny) did in fact lapse into moral turpitude.

  2. Wasn’t year two or three missing door prizes? I remember one of these years missing door prizes and a huge uproar because of it, causing massive jubulence when the door prizes returned. My favorite was the driver’s manual from a car Dan never had.

    Where is the shoe now?

    This makes me think if there are any Joe’s stories out there to be told? I can only speak of the locker combo wheel Paul made, or confusing Dan, Mike, and Booger. Mike has told the story of Paul tricking him into coming in very early. It’s a Breem Night!

  3. That shoe is still in the box. I saw last time I visited Buffalo. The box is still full of crap as well.

  4. Excellent posting! One year I won a copy of ‘Biker Mice from Mars’ which I never watched and recently gave away to some douche who still has a VCR.

    I have a bunch of Joe’s stories up my sleeve, many of which, true to your guess, deal with Knaus’s passion to burgle or lacking that, breaking and entering for no good reason.

    The Breem nights still haunt me although I was smart enough to snag Louis as a lab partner. I remember the late night teleconfrences well; “What did you get on that Louis? Awesome! That’s what I got too! … The next one… uh, what did you get?”, staring down at as yet unmarked sheets of graph paper. Grand experiments to see if an egg will stand on end during the equinox.

    If there is a Madison’s revial, I will certainly be there, as I still wail and gnash my teeth over the ones I missed.

  5. Before Dan plans a Madisons revival I demand you complete the Madisons posts for each year that I started. Most are near empty, and should have at least the winners if not any details.

  6. Re: “Indecent scruffy types who slouch about with their hands in their pockets, just looking at people.” — hahahahaha. BRILLIANT. I got the visual immediately and commenced giggling like the nervous Catholic schoolgirl I once was….. hahahaha, great line. You know, MoonMan, the sad condition of saving everything in the paranoid belief that one will use it again at some point and time, is actually a major and classified psychiatric disorder. (Hmmm….those with the condition may say, “I have a psychiatric disorder which is that I like to save everything, which creates disorder. I’ve got a disorder disorder.”) I think those who came of age in the Depression are particularly vulnerable to clinging to the material world. My father saves plastic grocery bags from King Kullen, a supermarket we have not frequented since the late 1970’s. A friend of mine saved the Coca-cola can that this girl he once liked drank from, in like, 1982…I think the cheap Maybelline lipstick is still on the mouthpiece. SCARY.

  7. By the way, I enjoyed the reference to the Urkel pad.

  8. Thank you. I’m aware of that particular disorder you’re speaking of, and I’m not there yet. My nextdoor neighbor back in Buffalo used to have it. you’d go into his house and there would be bags of recipts from the 1970’s, and along with all sorts of little wires and plastic twist ties and carboard cylanders you get in a roll of toilet paper and so forth. All catalougd away. I’m not that bad yet.

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