Between the syncopated machine gun pops of Silas stomping on bubble wrap, I heard a flyer slide under the front door. “What’s it say?” Lindsay asked. “Either a sale on snow tires or a high school cupcake drive,” I responded. My kids started dancing, “CUPCAKES!”
”No, no, I was kidding.” And then a silence fell over the room. Even my dad was disappointed. So I broke my “never entertain hand-delivered offers” policy, and read it aloud.
“Victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme have been forced to auction off their FINE PERSIAN RUGS at greatly reduced prices! Don’t miss this opportunity to get your very own FINE PERSIAN RUGS. July 17th 2010, Maplewood Women’s Club 9am-1pm.”
Predictably, my father tumbled into one of his rants; “Fucking Madoff. You know, this is exactly what Marx predicted when …” We shot him a glance. “Ah, shit. I’m really sorry about that, guys.” Arlo and Silas were in the room, and while uncorking expletives around a one year-old is fine, and, for the sake of sanity, often necessary, three year-olds are parrots bent on fostering social calamities. Being new to the neighborhood, we wanted to avoid accepting muffins from the accountant next door while the faint sounds of a child squawking, “Fucking Madoff.” drifted into the foyer.
We’d moved from a small Brooklyn apartment to a four bedroom colonial in New Jersey, and after a quick survey of our barren house, smattered with half broken-down boxes and scraps of deflated bubble wrap, my wife didn’t want to miss this rare opportunity snatch-up our very own FINE PERSIAN RUGS AT GREATLY REDUCED PRICES. According to her, we could also meet some other people in the community. And what a jolly group of rug enthusiasts that must be, I thought. My father was hesitant, but came around after Silas showed interest and I positioned it as a looting of the rich and greedy.
The Women’s Club is in an old mansion located near the small strip of diners, stationary stores and nail salons we came to know as “downtown.” Upon entering, I expected to see scads of broads airing out their bosoms; dresses piled in the corner; and stacks upon stacks of pillows, each topped with a bare-chested lady smoking a long cigarette. Clearly I have no idea what a Women’s Club is. And I didn’t learn–this hadn’t been a club for over fifty years. The scent of perfume had long since been replaced with that of mildew and leftover food from various fundraising events and artsy hoedowns.
Hundreds of rugs lay spread out on the wood floors of what was once The Grand Ballroom. The finer ones hung on the wall, each emblazoned with some variation on the bucking stallion/genie lamp motif. It appeared a Saudi Prince had offloaded his most hideous pieces to Aladdin who had in turn decided they were “a little too busy” for his tastes.
After a few minutes of browsing and dissuading Silas from making “rug angels,” a moist, overweight man of Eastern European decent swept into the room, and seconds thereafter came the eye-watering wake of his discount cologne. He carried himself effortlessly. How do so many men of such ample size and dubious health have such zest and energy? I thought. I’m younger, and thinner, but struggle just to sit up straight. Maybe I’m in need of Prozac. Or maybe I’m the normal one and he’s manic. After returning to his trailer he’ll sleep for days, I’m sure of it.
He turned on the floodlights, positioned them just so, and unfurled the first rug. He stepped back and gazed at it. Then he gazed more. And still more. I took my eyeballs out of their sockets and rolled them around in my hand. Was he having a stroke? No, he was fighting off tears, as if perhaps he wasn’t worthy of being in the same room with such a striking piece of art.
In a thick accent he told us that this “specimen” was “seeeelk, veg-a-table dyed” and hand woven in “Tourrrkey by the country’s most finest weavers.” It boasted a perfectly trimmed pile and a KPI (knots per inch) “twice that that of the rug which your very own president has in his Office of Oval!” His passion, real or manufactured, was contagious, but I would rather have set that rug on fire than walk on it in my home. At it’s center was a large pink and orange flower surrounded by listless cherubs wearing crowns of roses. Also there were doves. So many doves—each one eating a fig. The correlation between one’s susceptibility to Ponzi Schemes and poor interior decorating had never been more clear.
I glanced over at my dad and Lindsay, hoping for a nonverbal commitment to flee before we were fleeced of our life’s savings, but they waved me off like we were at the ballet and I was trying to show them a balloon animal I’d made. Their eyeballs were spinning, mouths slightly agape. My dad’s baseball cap had shifted slightly to the side, and Lindsay was apparently unconcerned that she had a chunk of hair partially covering her eye. They had fallen under the auctioneer’s spell.
I plucked Arlo from Lindsay’s lap and took him with me to find Silas. What kid wants to be in an old musty mansion, sitting still in a folding chair while a stranger waxes on about textiles? After exploring a kitchen we clearly weren’t supposed to be in, we peed, thoroughly investigated the bathroom, and then found a small staircase adjacent to an old chair with a random doll and half-eaten spring roll on it. At the top of the stairs was a large balcony overlooking the auction area. From it, I could see there was a rug up for bid. My dad and Lindsay were busy whispering to each other and raising their little flags. I collected the children and hurried back downstairs.
“Babe, your dad and I just bought that rug for two thousand dollars.”
“It’s the most gorgeous rug I’ve ever seen in my life,” my dad added.
They both stared at me, panting like puppies seeking approval for killing a squirrel.
“Holy shit. Did you buy any other ones?”
“Yes, four,” She answered, confidently. “But the other three weren’t as expensive. We definitely have five-thousand dollars in our account, right?”
We did, though it had been put aside for a much needed bathroom remodeling. My dad had a twinge of guilt and offered to pay for them himself, but Lindsay wouldn’t let him. For that money, we got something much more important than new shower tiles and a toilet. It wasn’t the rugs or even the laugh we shared later at their expense, but instead, it was the experience my wife and father shared. It’s not that they were adversaries; both of them are nearly impossible not to like. But there was something missing, and if that something was the experience of buying ugly rugs at exorbitant prices then so be it. I don’t know whether my dad actually liked the rugs, or whether he was simply playing along. Maybe he was repenting for the “fucks” he spit out that morning. But whatever the reason, they’d had the kind of moment that, at the time seems insignificant, but is capable of recalibrating a relationship forever. They’d completely lost their minds—together.