Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Concord's Market Days Induce Sally To Buy 'Necessities'

Every summer for the past 30 years, Concord has held its Old-Fashioned Bargain Days festival, a three-day event also known as Market Days, on Main Street. The street is closed to traffic in the downtown area, and booths, concessions, sidewalk-sale tables and racks, rides for the kiddies and displays are set up.

And every year for as long as I can remember, the Market Days celebration has been held on the hottest days of the summer. I can recall one year in particular when it must have been 100 degrees in the shade. The chocolates and fudge in the candy booths rapidly turned into hot-fudge sauce, and the frozen treats from the ice-cream vendors became drinks in cones before they even reached the people’s mouths.

Fortunately, this year’s Market Days fell on much cooler days, so I decided I’d head to Concord and see if I could find any bargains.

The minute I parked my car and set one foot on the ground, the sky turned black and exploded into such a downpour, I found myself wishing I’d brought an umbrella…or oars.

When the monsoon finally let up, I walked up to Main Street. I was expecting to see the vendors and store clerks wringing out their merchandise or using blow-dryers on it, but obviously past experience had taught them to set up their tables under tents or awnings, so everything, for the most part, still was dry.

On a large stage at the end of the street, a guy with a guitar was singing a Neil Diamond song. He had good voice and really seemed to be enthusiastic about performing, but there wasn’t a soul standing there watching him. Still, he announced his next song, gave its history and even cracked a few jokes, as if he were performing for hundreds. I had to admire the poor guy.

I really enjoyed walking right down the middle of Main Street without having to worry about being turned into a pedestrian pancake. As I walked, however, I began to realize that this street was the worst place on earth for someone who was trying to lose weight (e.g. me) to be. I passed by booths selling cotton candy, ice cream, French fries, cookies the size of dinner plates, homemade bread, buffalo burgers, pizza, sausage, kielbasa, nachos, hot dogs, Chinese and Indian food and even food for dogs (I was so hungry by then, even that appealed to me). By the time I’d gone two blocks, I was salivating worse than my rottweiler at feeding time.

What I really enjoyed the most was watching what people were buying. I could tell that they didn’t really want or need a lot of the stuff they’d purchased, but I guess the sale prices just were too tempting to resist. For example, one woman of ample proportions was holding up a floral dress that looked as if it had been made for a Barbie doll.

“Isn’t this dress just darling?” she called out to her friend, who was looking at a display of earrings nearby. “And it’s half price! Think I should buy it to wear to the anniversary party?”

Her friend’s expression clearly revealed that she thought that if by some miracle, the woman did manage to squeeze into that dress, it would take the jaws of life to extricate her from it, yet she replied, “Half price! You’d be a fool to pass up a bargain like that!”

At another tent, a boy was trying on a pair of brand-name sneakers that were marked down to an unbelievably low price. “How do they feel?” his mother asked.

“They’re way too big” the boy answered. “My feet come right out of them when I walk, even with the laces tied tight.”

“Well, I’m not passing them up at that price,” the mother said. “You’ll grow into them.”

I figured that by the time the kid was about 30, he might be able to wear them…if his feet grew to be about the size of Paul Bunyan’s.

Something on one of the tables of toys and games struck me funny. Among the items on display were bags of plastic “play” money that looked exactly like real coins in color, shape and size. I picked up the bag of play pennies and read the tag…100 for $3.99. Heck, it would be cheaper just to let the kids play with real money.

And then there was a booth selling giant inflatable baseball bats that seemed to attract kids who’d majored in the art of whining. Each time I passed by, at least two kids were standing there, whining for a bat until their parents finally gave in and bought them one just to shut them up. Then the kids ran up and down the street and whacked each other (and a few other people, by accident) with them.

I’m proud to say that all of the bargain prices didn’t tempt me into making frivolous purchases or buying anything I didn’t really need. I came home with six Lord of the Rings bookmarks, a bag of assorted polished stones, a package of Polaroid instant film that expired back in January, a pen that contains clear, colorless ink, but magically writes in blue, and a pair of socks with unicorns on them.

Now those are what I call necessities.