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7 Fantastically Weird and Terrible Things I Saw at an Indoor Flea Market in New Jersey (Part 1)


July 12, 2013 by J.C. Lillis

It doesn’t look like much from the outside. A long, low white building with many identical doors. It could be a school, a bingo hall, a deserted skating rink with faded confetti-print carpets. And yet it yielded such a bumper crop of weird, this sprawling labyrinth of an indoor flea market, that I have to split this post into two entries to properly document it all.

Seven curiosities now. More later, once the nightmares stop.


1. Betty Boop isn’t really inherently creepy. Or maybe she is and we’re just used to her, the way the feral children accept their grody foster mom in that Mama movie (which I totally want to watch because NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU but totally can’t because I’ll be sleeping in the bathtub with the lights on for three months).

Anyway, we’re used to Betty Boop looking like a playroom experiment where some budding sadist shoves a big baby-doll head onto a twiggy Barbie body. Her essential Boopiness depends on these odd proportions. So when this happens:

. . .it is incredibly disturbing. It’s like that time they sewed Grey Wind’s head onto Robb Stark’s body, except replace “Grey Wind” with “freakishly large Betty Boop carnival doll” and “Robb Stark” with “your college roommate who was really into flirtatious aprons.” I feel like if you turned her around, there’d be a taunting note from a serial killer pinned to her back. “You have twenty-four hours. The next victim’s head will be replaced with Tweety Bird.”


2. Okay, here’s something I didn’t know: in south Jersey, vacuums with a special devotion to Mary sell 35% faster.

A period of intense veneration had just started when I arrived at the scene. A cluster of vacuums pointed their handles at Our Lady of the Sacred Hoovers, praying for unclogged hoses and powerful suction and a nice family to adopt them and take them home. The one in the lower-left corner, staring at the wall with his hose akimbo and a $39.95 discount tag slapped on his back, looked especially in need of divine intervention. Remember him tonight when you’re warm in your bed, deciding how many decades of the rosary to say before drifting off to sleep.


3. Speaking of sleep. If this doesn’t disturb yours tonight, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am:

The implied question, of course, is who would voluntarily adorn her head with the tattered pelt of a Portuguese water dog. The mannequin head isn’t sure either, which is why she’s given up hope. She’s thinking back to the days when she was fresh out of the box, before her lips and eyelids were chipped, when she modeled the finest human-hair wigs known to humanity and people said she looked like Joan Collins instead of a reject from Princess Mombi’s Hall of Heads in Return to Oz.


I don’t write tragic poems about mannequin heads very often, but if I ever get the urge again, it will be called “Closeout.”


4. Remember the days when airbrushed t-shirts were joyous and sweet? When they existed just to celebrate your first love while you waited in line for the Tilt-A-Whirl with your hands in each other’s pockets?

Those days are long gone, apparently.

I’m not sure what exactly this is meant to accomplish. It seems too ghoulish and manipulative to be a straight-up memorial, and there’s a weird passive-aggressive undercurrent to the mawkishness. “Look at little Kayden crying, Nana. I bet you feel like shit for dying now!” I won’t speculate about the artist’s true intentions; I’ll only say that it’s the worst thing I’ve seen in a while, and it looks like Calvin mourning Hobbes after dyeing his hair for the Witness Protection Program.

It bears mentioning that the t-shirt sample under it was this one:


5. You can’t fully appreciate how massive this Scarface painting is from the photo, but if you were to put it beside a “You Hafta Be This Big” sign at an amusement park, it would definitely be tall enough for the DeathCharger 3000.

If I hung this in my writing room during line edits, I bet I’d spend a lot less time tapping my chin at a single word, trying to choose between “meticulous” and “fastidious.”



QT: [looks up from screenplay about Amish MILF turned ninja assassin who travels back in time to assassinate Thomas Edison] Five seconds, Alex. Go go go!

ASSISTANT COSTUME DESIGNER: We found The Shoes. For Scene 17.

I hope they come in Uma’s size.


7. This one isn’t creepy, but it warrants discussion anyway. There are two possibilities here. It’s either a simple typo, or a neat little self-reflexive joke: i.e., butts can certainly be rude, but they are also reliably funny.

Which is your favorite pin? I like the penetrating insight of “all I want is a little more than I’ll ever get,” which inspired seven full minutes of soul-searching by the hot-dog stand once I let it sink in. I also like the directness of “UP YOURS,” especially since it’s printed on a helpful arrow lest anyone suspect the insult is purely idiomatic.  But I might have to go with “I feel great and I don’t kiss bad, either.” I’d like to tack it to my bathroom mirror for that part of my morning routine where I make eye-of-the-tiger faces at myself and throw phantom punches.

(Also, I really, really hope “I Love Orders” is a motivational pin for customer service reps, and not some depressing regressive Fifty Shades of Grey horse puckey that’ll make me want to sit my six-year-old down and show her a PowerPoint on Why Controlling Assholes Aren’t Hot.)


Anyway. That’s enough for now, right? More to come in Part 2, including a plastic chicken that makes me uncomfortable and the saddest coin-operated kiddie ride in America.





  1. And here I was, worried about losing productive time due to the need to sleep! #1 cured me of that, all right, since it looks like a sex doll gone horribly, horribly wrong. I’ll write that next book in no time.

    I remember those airbrush stands as being the Trapper-Keeper of T-shirts: you’d get an image of a metal unicorn flying through outer space, for example, or an image of your favorite hair band. Depressing rip-offs of Calvin and Hobbes, not so much. I must wonder if these are the same air brush artists, depressed over never achieving the popular recognition they deserved, their current offerings a desperate cry for help?

    • J.C. Lillis says:

      Anything to boost your productivity. (I’m assuming I get a mention in your acknowledgements? :-P )

      Totally remember the unicorn shirts. The airbrushed vanity license plates were big, too — remember those? I want to look them up now, but I’m trying to edit this chapter and the last thing I need is to flush 20 minutes down the Google Images hole.

  2. Lauraadriana says:

    LOL This is amazing!

  3. [...] my friend reminded me the other day that I’m a slacker and never finished Part 2 of this post about all the weird shit we saw while thrifting in New Jersey. It’s partially because I’m a [...]

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