Here is Part 3 of my serialized novel "For Bidding For Love."
Across the Bay in San Francisco, the mood was considerably more ebullient in the tastefully furnished second-floor flat of Alexia Rudge, a.k.a. GreenDollGal. Arising from her chair, she lifted the hem of her red hibiscus-print muumuu and danced a gleeful jig on the burnished hardwood floor, repeating "Two cents! Two cents!" until her tabby cat Hanover must have doubted his human caretaker's sanity. A visitor might have reached the same conclusion, for her impromptu dance and ecstatic chant was sorely at odds with the somberness of Beethoven's Pathetique piano concerto which played softly in the background
Though the visitor might note the one characteristic shared by Ross's cavelike abode and Alexia's bright flat—hardwood flooring—their attention would undoubtedly be drawn to the many contrasts, perhaps starting with Alexia's swirling vintage muumuu and Ross's crumb-encrusted red Ohio State sweatshirt.
Where Ross's room smelled of musty paper—what else could a room stuffed to the ceiling with old catalogs and magazines smell like?—Alexia's flat was scented by octagonal bowls of aromatic pot pourris and the fresh salt air coming off the nearby Bay.
Where Ross lived in darkened troglodyte squalor of blocked windows, Alexia's expansive bay windows gleamed with white trim and natural light, affording her living room a nearly unobstructed view of the sailboats drifting across the quiet blue waters of San Francisco Bay.
Ross's room had no exposed walls, and hence no artwork; Alexia's cream walls displayed a cannily-placed assemblage of 20th century art: striking film posters, mostly Italian, a modern Japanese print of Ryokan's Mount Kugami, and a scarlet-hued roux of primary colors painted by a rising Chinese-American artist.
She'd been offered collectable Persian rugs, but declined for ethical reasons; having seen photos of indentured young women weaving the beautiful carpets, she would have nothing to do with supporting such servitude. She'd brightened the rich oak hardwood with a single cheap cream-and-coffee rug; the expanse of wood was easier to clean and suited her preference for spare simplicity.
While Ross's prized appliance collection was displayed on pine shelving in his cramped dining nook, Alexia's dolls were displayed in carefully arranged splendor in sleek Japanese maple glass-door cabinets which occupied pride of place in her sparely furnished living room.
Ross's standard meal of microwaved stuffed pita bread could be eaten while standing in his crowded kitchen, or even in the rooming house hallway; a world away, Alexia dined on a sturdy French Oak table in a tile-and-blond-alder kitchen designed for a no-nonsense cook who ruthlessly imprisoned clutter behind pantry doors. Dinner was home-prepared braised tofu and savory garlic haricots, not some microwaved junk food, and Alexia's slightly soft figure proved her love of butter-based sauces and desserts and a near-addiction to deep-fried Asian delicacies.
Her friends—yes, even her female friends—reckoned she wore the few extra pounds well, given her above-average height and bustline, and her glossy hair which matched the blond-alder of her kitchen cabinetry in color and highlights. As she bounced about her sparely furnished living room, chanting the praises of "Two cents!", an observer might have been impressed with the lightness of her movements; for walking to the small groceries in Chinatown kept her fit and her long years of arduous ballet classes as a youth had imprinted a grace unknown to the less disciplined.
The jumble of shoes won on eBay which would have laid instant waste to the living room's serenity was relegated to the second small bedroom, where it was sorted, catalogued and priced before being taken to her corner of the Union Street vintage-clothing boutique owned by her friend Katy. It was a mostly pleasant way of paying the mortgage; by specializing in smaller shoe sizes catering to the neighborhood's population of petite, high-earning Asian-American women, Alexia earned enough to pay the bills even after Katy sliced off her commission.
Small sizes were relatively rare on eBay, but Alexia had refined her skills such that many a pair of shoes purchased for a few dollars in a batched auction would fetch five or ten times' that sum in Katy's store, snatched up by a customer delighted to save half or more off retail.
To win an auction was always satisfying, but to beat out experienced competitors by a razor-thin two cents—it was a rare feat, akin to winning a lottery. She'd had even sweeter wins—the vintage film poster for Contraband, for one—but none that were closer finishes.
Basking in the glow of her victory, Alexia ended her spontaneous dance in front of her framed Contraband poster. It was the ultimate example of her collecting strategy: buy under-appreciated value in a well-established market.
Categories which had once been collectable by people of average means—vintage 1960s-era electric guitars, or Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, to name but two outrageous examples—had shot into the high firmament of millions of dollars in the boom years. Even as the boom disintegrated into bust, the values of these rarities remained far above the pocketbooks of most collectors. Original posters for films such as Casablanca had followed similar trajectories, and so Alexia had sought posters of lesser-known films with tie-ins to the highly valued collectibles clustered around such classics as Casablanca and Blade Runner.
The World War Two spy drama Contraband cast the German actor Conrad Veidt, famous for playing the evil Nazi in Casablanca, against type as the heroic Allied leading man. He'd been paired with beauty Valerie Hobson in a previous film, The Spy in Black, and Alexia had, after a long search, acquired an original poster for this film. Once she found another Veidt poster, then the sum of the parts would far exceed her purchase costs. It was the way collecting worked, and it was the reason behind her bid for the Sunbeam T-20Z toaster.
Her ex-husband Viggy—aggravatingly messy, hopelessly counter-culture—had given her two exceedingly valuable things: a stake in this San Francisco flat just off the tony stretch of Union Street, and a deep insight into building valuable collections.
His comment had been offered as a throw-away explanation of value, but it had remained lodged in the deepest recesses of Alexia's brain. "People want a story," he'd said. "If there's no story, a collection is just a random bunch of stuff. But if there's a story which weaves them together, then they become strands of gold."
The story wasn't the item's provenance; it was the invisible thread added by the collector which bound loosely connected items into a unity, and understanding this had enabled Alexia to assemble and sell various collections for very respectable profits.
Thus a small collection of vintage posters built around Conrad Veidt—an integral player in the Casablanca story—would offer excellent value to any Casablanca affectionado priced out of vintage posters of the film.
Her giddiness at winning the Sunbeam T-20Z toaster had a pecunious root, for the toaster was the linchpin of a carefully assembled "1940s appliance classics" collection which she planned to sell for a handsome profit at the upcoming collectibles extravaganza in Las Vegas. And if she could assemble and sell the Veidt poster collection before the end of the month, she would finally have enough cash for the Mother Lode purchase which could conceivably pay off her mortgage: the huge, uncatalogued assortment of vintage movie posters which lay undisturbed in her friend's attic.
Her pal's mother had worked in a theatre prior to marriage and collected the posters in packrat fashion, taking home whatever came off the theater walls. The elderly lady had finally relented to age and entered an assisted care home; now the daughter was selling off her home's extraneous contents to raise cash for her mother's care. Having seen Alexia's Italian film posters on the wall, her friend had offered her the attic collection for a modest price. But Alexia needed to act on the offer within the next three weeks, or her friend would give the posters to a dealer to be auctioned.
Alexia had taken a brief look in the attic, and come away with the conviction that the ragtag collection of rolled 60s film posters could be transformed with careful pruning and filling-in into much more valuable series. Auctioned individually, she reckoned the tattered, flyspecked pile might pull in a tidy sum in an auction; but massaged into tasteful stories, their value might jump considerably.
If that were possible, the proceeds would be enough to snap the shackles of the mortgage chafing her freedom. While ever-generous Viggy had deeded her his share of the flat, the mortgage still held her in dread bondage. If she could win the auction of the rare Conrad Veidt film poster The Thief of Bagdad, the future looked bright.
The auction expired tomorrow at 7 p.m., and Alexia allowed herself a deep breath of contentment. Everything was falling into place; once that poster was hers, she would a mere step away from a truly glorious financial freedom.
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