Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

Confessions of a Flea-Market Fraud

I’ve turned into a bad person. Let me explain.

As you may know, last summer I developed an addiction to buying antiques on eBay. This summer the addiction changed to selling antiques on eBay. But now I’ve run out of things in the house to sell. So I have to look elsewhere.

Therefore I am, I admit, a flea market user and abuser. Hey – it’s not my fault. They shouldn’t put these things in fields and parking lots anyway. What am I supposed to do? Just say no?

My husband Bob and I go to two flea markets on the Cape. One is in Wellfleet at the Drive-In on Route 6. The other is Dick & Ellies in Mashpee. Both are great and, along with the obligatory “designer” tee shirts, shorts and sunglasses, are loaded with antiques and collectibles.

I first discovered that I’ve become a bad person last Sunday at the Wellfleet flea market.

“Do you know anything about silver?” a vendor who appeared to be in her early 80s asked me.

“Not really.” I lied. I know a lot about silver. “Why do you ask?” I said, and like a bloodhound I began sniffing around her table.

She picked up 4 gorgeous spoons, each marked 84, which I know is the Russian sterling silver standard mark. “I was wondering if this number means they’re sterling or just silver plate,” she said.

I picked up the spoons and looked closely. “Gee. I don’t know what the number means. But I’ll give you a dollar apiece for them.” Oh, don’t you hate me? The woman could barely see, much less walk, for heaven’s sake.

She took the spoons back from me. She slowly turned them over and over, straining her eyes to look at them closely. She looked up at me. Her eyes narrowed as she expertly assessed my high level of interest. Then she focused on me with fox-like acuity. “I want 80 bucks for the four,” she said.

We both gave each other an “I know what you’re all about” look and I moved on.

I said to Bob, “What a shark.”

“That makes two of you.”

At Dick & Ellies’, most vendors are dealers. But sometimes people set up who are basically just cleaning out their attics and are not professionals. These folks deserve something very special for dinner. That is because I, along with the rest of the buyers, ferret out these poor souls, deem them “it” and swoop down on their tables like a swarm of bloodsucking greenheads on a hot sweaty behind.

My rotten nature sinks to its lowest at these sellers’ tables. It is my shameful intent to take advantage of them because they don’t know what their antiques are worth. I saw a box filled with old kitchen utensils. I rummaged through it at lightning speed and found an ice cream scoop in the very bottom. It wasn’t just an old plastic scoop; it was a wooden one made by Dover, and worth a lot of money.

“How much do you want for this?” I held it up to the naive seller.

“Um  . . .  well, I’d like $2 for it.”

I handed him the money, feeling victorious in my coup. I hate myself on Sundays.

As I walked away, a tidal wave of guilt rushed over me. I was sure the scoop would sell for over thirty dollars, and maybe for a lot more than that. I went back to the table. I handed it back. “This is worth much more than $2,” I said.

“No it’s not. My son glued the wooden handle on it from part of a broom yesterday.”

I was sickened. I walked away and turned to Bob. “What has happened to people these days? It’s just disgusting.”

I am very sensitive to mother bashing. I think moms get a raw deal when it comes to parenting and blame. Having said that, it is with reluctance that I tell you that part of the person I turn into at flea markets has to do with the not-so-great parts of my mother.

I saw a large Fire King Jadite mixing bowl. Years ago, I could have bought one for under $10. But today they go for around $40. There was no price on it. I have a pet peeve against vendors who don’t put prices on their items. Flea markets can be hellish ordeals, let me tell you.

So I casually picked up the bowl. “What do you want for this?” I asked the man at the table.

“Make me an offer.”

I hate when people say that. “OK. How about $15?”

He shook his head and laughed. I really hate that too.

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want for it?” I said.

Just then, a tiny little weasel of a woman shoved her way in front of me, grabbed the bowl and said, “I’ll give you $17.”

Here’s the mother part I was talking about. Mom would never lose an argument of any sort. And she’d go to any lengths to win. “I was here first,” I said.

The woman ignored me and took money out of her purse. I stepped between her and the table and whispered to the seller, “I want that bowl.”

“What’s it worth to you?”

“Eighteen bucks.” I took the money out of my pocket.

“I’ll give you $20,” the weasel said.

“OH YEAH?” I laughed so loudly and inappropriately that everyone from the other tables turned around. Bob grabbed my arm and tried to pull me away. “I’m busy,” I snarled at him. “Go away.”

Weasel-face began to hand the money to the vendor. “It’s my bowl now,” she said to me.


“You already said that.”

I took out a twenty and slapped it on the table. “I’ll see your twenty.” I reached into my pocket. “And I’ll raise you fifty!”

I took the seventy dollars and thrust it toward the man. “The bowl,” I announced, “is mine.”

I walked away with the bowl and Bob. “You paid more for that than it’s worth.”

“What does that have to do with the price of tomatoes?” One of my mother’s favorite expressions. “You should get your priorities straight,” I said. “I WON.”

And now I must admit to one final act of deceit.

Last Sunday in Wellfleet, I saw a Stieff Rose sterling silver cold meat fork. These are beautiful large serving forks with an intricate raised floral design. They can go for up to $75 on eBay. I picked it up. It was in mint condition with no scratches and had only the smallest amount of age wear. The dealer came over. “I’m letting that go for $65.”

“OK. Thanks,” I said. I put it back and walked away. I caught up with Bob who was 4 tables ahead of me looking over some old photos. I pretended I didn’t know him and whispered without moving my lips, “Stieff. Meat. Four tables back. Dealer $65. You $50.”

He knew not to even nod. With practiced aplomb, he gracefully turned around and ever so slowly sauntered to that table. I walked behind him. No one would have had the foggiest idea we knew each other. I pretended to be interested in some bakelite jewelry at the next table and could overhear his conversation with the seller.

“I’ll sell it for $55,” I heard him say to Bob.

I lowered my sunglasses then raised them back up while still looking at the jewelry. That was my signal to go ahead and take it.

“Well, it looks like your wife wants you to take it,” the seller said, chuckling. “She did the sunglasses thing.”

And so, I want to apologize to all the people I have taken advantage of. If I could, I’d stand up in front of all of you and say, “My name is Saralee and I’m a flea market abuser. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. I’ve lied. I’ve denied knowing my husband. I’ve pushed people out of the way for the sake of winning. I’ve taken advantage of uninformed people. I’m here to tell you that’s all behind me now."

But I’m going to do this the right way – one day at a time.

On Mondays.