Well beautiful people, you have been diligently inquiring as to the success of my trip to the Southland. I am happy to report that good times were had, and there are many stories to tell. (I’ll save some for later…)
First things first: Pee Wee was awesome. Fantastic. The whole gang was in attendance: Miss Yvonne, Chairy, Cowboy Curtis. Yes, Mailman Mike was there, and yes, he was hilarious. There was a cartoon short and some audience sing-alongs, and a whole bunch of “word of the day” (which was “FUN!”). For those of you who missed the LA shows, you’re in luck: I’ve heard a rumor the show will be moving to The Great White Way. (but so far it’s just a rumor…)
But now, I’ll get down to the heart of the matter: shopping in Los Angeles. Specifically, shopping the LA flea markets.
Every time I’ve visited, I’ve always managed to make it to some sort of flea market or swap meet — the hunting grounds are rich with the promise of old ephemera and strange paper stuff to use for mail art. This time was no exception.
Weather report? Gorgeous! None of that tired old LA smog for us. The Baron and I cruised out to Pasadena for the PCC flea. Far better than anything SF has to offer, this market conjures up images of my childhood — a time when you could still haggle with vendors and find a decent corndog for snacking. The PCC has well over three hundred vendors; a girl could easily spend a whole afternoon lollygagging about. However, we were prepared for a bargain safari. Armed with cell phones and sunscreen, we started our treasure hunt.
What is it about digging around in buckets of old photos that provides me with such a thrill? The same thing happens with stacks of old broken up books, musty envelopes, boxes of tiny shiny junk. At one booth I ran across a couple of old graphology manuals; another table offered up a box of hotel stationery from the 30s and 40s. I was in heaven. Underneath a rickety writing desk, I found children’s handwriting manuals from the ‘teens. At that moment in time, it seemed that all the promises LA offered were well represented at the PCC flea.
Then I met vendor Terry Russo. This man was a professional; I could tell. He was operating out of the back of his van, came prepared with a tarp to keep the noonday sun at bay. Everything was presented in trays and groups, but not in a fussy kind of way. In short, I felt comfortable digging around and spending time at Terry’s booth.
I fell in love with his old keys, bought a couple, thought I was done. But just as I was leaving, a pile of papers and scrap presented itself to me, by way of poking out from behind something else (in this case, a giant stack of 70’s fashion mags and a few road-worn technical manuals). Upon closer inspection, I discovered a handful of letters. And looking even closer, I saw the very thing that I was meant to find.
“Good Mail Day” touches upon V-Mail, and the role that it played during WW2. In short, a US soldier would write a letter home, and that letter would be censored and then photographed. Microfilm would be used to create a smaller, one page version of the letter and that letter would make its way to family or friends — reduced in size by 60% and weighing far less than the original.
Whenever I’ve come across original V-Mail, it has usually been at collector shops or philatelic fairs — the sort of situation where I can never afford that little piece of history. But once Terry and I got to talking, and it became clear that I was a big nerd for all things postal, he sold the two V-Mail pieces to me for a good price.
After that, my other discoveries were just icing on the cake — it was a truly perfect day from start to finish. I did have a corndog for lunch, and it was damn near one of the most delicious corndogs I’ve ever had. That night, the Baron and I saw PW, drank 18 year old Yamazaki at a swanky bar, went back to our hotel and basked in the glory of our vacation. It seemed nearly impossible that such a good time would draw to a close.
As for the V-Mail, it goes without saying that those two pieces have a place of honor in my collection.
(and many thanks to Mr. Russo!)