[Recession Guide]

Only a pawn

How to pretend you’re beating the recession by hocking everything you can

Abe’s in need of some extra beer money.
Illustration: Jerry Miller

Okay, so I decide to pawn earrings that were given to me as a gift, which makes me feel a tad seedy, even if pawn shops are as well-lit as grocery stores and the gift-giver was a distant relative who surely forgot she even gifted them. The earrings are lovely: emeralds and diamonds set in gold. I never wore them, wary of overstating my good fortune. So, hoping to find them an owner who would love and care for them, I take them to EZ Pawn. I figure I’ll pay some bills, or buy a dinner fit for the bejeweled, and assess the viability of pawn-shop hocking as my next career.

After getting out of my car in a strip mall on Horizon Ridge, I’m nearly trampled by a woman and her offspring carrying in boxes of electronics. Sign of the times. I hold the door for the toddlers toting in DVD players, and then proceed to the sales counter.

An employee wearing the polo-shirt uniform and a big grin takes my earrings, squints at them, and then disappears toward some kind of jewelry-verifying machine in back. While I wait, I spot a beautiful, beat-up violin hanging on the wall: $89. Love it. Maybe, I think, I’ll take my jewelry loot and buy that, along with some violin lessons and a tent.

She returns: “These are gold, so we’ll buy them by weight. These stones are green and white, which aren’t worth anything to us.”

“Green and white emeralds and diamonds?” I ask.

“No, they’re not emeralds and diamonds. They’re just green and white.”

Crap. “Well how much are they worth, then?”

“Well, I’ll bring it in anyway.”

“Ten dollars. We’ll just melt the gold and buy it by weight.”

I do a mental inventory of everything in my jewelry box at home, trying to think of hefty gold things I can sell. Then it occurs to me that perhaps I should shop around, see if these really are diamonds and emeralds. Right? Who’s the fool now?

I go home and pick up another set of earrings—tiny diamond chips set in gold—and a small gold pendant. This time I head over to Super Pawn on Decatur. The place is packed. While I’m waiting for the clerk to assess the items’ value, I hear the guy at the counter next to me say to another clerk, “I want to get my gun back.” His booby girlfriend in tight sweats is giving everyone in the shop a wink and nod while he haggles about his weapon.

“Ten dollars for these,” the clerk says about my emerald and diamond earrings. “Fifteen for the diamond earrings, and 10 for the pendant.”

What the hell? It’s obviously a conspiracy to undervalue my precious stones.

“I’ll take it.”

She proceeds to enter into her computer every last bit of personal information I can recite, including my Social Security number, driver’s license number, address, phone—for the police, she says. In case it turns out that these $15 earrings were stolen in a great heist at a mansion in Bel Air, or in case the green and white ones turn up at the crime scene of a dead leprechaun.

I get my cold, hard $35 and leave, happy as a criminal. Even though the cash isn’t going to buy me the much-coveted, three-stringed, used violin, there’s a bit of a rush that comes from this shedding of my affluenza for walking-around money. I go home and scour the house for other things to sell.

I decide to give appliances and office equipment a shot, because the rest of my jewelry is silver, which will have to wait for a different recession. So I pack up a blender and a printer, the book-ends of my life. I have several of each. I head up Eastern to Super Pawn. Hardly anybody here at noon on a Monday. A long-haired, expressionless woman behind the counter stares at me when I walk in.

“Do you take blenders?”



“Yes, but we don’t give much.”

So I haul in the printer from my trunk. It’s an HP, with a copier/scanner, nice and compact. She—the boss, it appears—assigns a junior clerk to size it up. He types the model number into the computer and says quietly, even though there’s really no one around, “It’d only be $5.”

“I’ll take it!” I say, a mere matter of seconds from a noontime Subway footlong.

He plugs the printer in and pushes the power button, and nothing happens.

Let me note here that it’s not exactly my printer, and I didn’t check to see if it worked. I assumed it worked. But I didn’t think it wise to say, in a pawn shop, as it dawned on us both that I might be trying to hock a piece of shit, “It’s not mine. I’m just selling it, but it’s not stolen or anything, it’s just that—”

He wiggles the cord and plugs it into another socket and manages to get it working. Then, he gets some paper and something to copy.

Yes, all this for a potential five dollars. T-h-o-r-o-u-g-h.

The paper feeder works, but nothing is printed on the sheet when it comes out. “Must be low on ink,” the dear boy says, because he feels sorry for me. In fact, I think he wants to give me $5 from his pocket to spare me this humiliation. A guy walks in with a slick electric guitar and amp. The clerk tries the printer again, and nothing prints, but he says okay and goes back to the computer intake anyway, asking for all of my personal information, checking my ID, preparing to fatten me up with a fiver. His boss comes back and tries to print something, and when nothing shows up on the paper, she opens its hatch and finds no ink cartridges.

She looks at me like I’ve just tried to sell a kidnapped orphan.

“It has no ink cartridges,” she says, eyeballing me. I shrug. “Let’s pass on this,” she instructs the young man.

I’ve rarely felt this shady in my entire life, and that includes many times when I was really shady.

He repeats it to me softly. “We’ll have to pass on this ... sorry.” Then he wraps the cord nicely and asks, “Do you need a box to carry it out?”

That’s the end of my pawn career. I take my blender and someone’s inkless printer home and hum a sad violin tune while making a quarter-foot-long peanut-butter sandwich.

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