I’m living with my mom, and like a lot of roommates, we spend most of the time we’re in rooms together wondering out loud if the other one is not completely incompetent. Sometimes we help each other find our missing keys in the morning, but even then we prefer to ask, “When did you last have them?” rather than helping physically. I’m 28, and I do need to move out soon, but I’m broke, and it’s unclear to both of us when that will be coming to an end.
The other day I came home from work and my mom was watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS, and it made me feel so sad. She’s not fighting the aging process as hard as I think she should, and in my mind tuning into this show amounts to an all-out surrender to death.
If you’re not familiar with the show — for those who read books, or have cable, and don’t live with their moms — the premise is this: An expo center is rented in Mobile or Salt Lake City, and old people flock there with furniture and tchotchkes in order to have an antiques appraiser tell them how much they’re worth. As a bonus the old people get to be on TV. That’s the whole show, and it goes on for an hour. My mom tends to watch it with a goblet of wine and the volume turned up really loud.
So I was disappointed when I got home, but also tired from being disappointed by my own decisions all day, so I lay down on the couch and started to watch it with her.
On screen two people sat across from one another in front of a royal blue blackdrop. Between them a Kewpie Doll knock off stood alone. The collector on the left wore a Hawaiian shirt and a fully made up face. The expert on the right launched into an obsessive history of dolls which suggested a possible case of Asperger’s Syndrome.
This is the format of the show, and there is something comforting about it: The experts always know more about antiques than my mom and I do, and the old people always know even less about fashion then we do. We sit through the description of the object, whether it’s an antique colt revolver or hand-darned Civil War socks, and guess out loud how much the item will be worth. Usually one of us announces, “I wouldn’t take it if you paid me,” and the other one agrees. Then, after the expert has teased us with a long, drawn-out history of the object they say, “Now this has a lot going for it, but in this business condition is everything.” Finally they give an outrageous but fair estimate of how much the object will bring at auction.
Chimes sound and an Antiques Roadshow trunk icon slides across the bottom of the screen, leaving a dollar estimate in its trail. The segment climaxes and concludes with the owner’s reaction — no matter where in the country they’re from, and whether their object was valued at $500 or $50,000, they put their hand over their mouth if they’re a woman or rub their hands together if they’re a man and ask, “Are you kidding me?” Then they repeat “My word, my word,” to themselves as the show cuts to a new antique owner and expert.
So this night the Kewpie Doll knock-off with her impish mouth and big bisque head stood on a table without clothing, as if she was the star of the show. “Ug-ly,” I called out from under my blanket. “Not attractive,” my mom agreed, taking a sip of wine. The expert manhandled her pasty body as he explained where the markings and wings ought to be if she were a Kewpie Doll. Once he proved her to be inauthentic, he flipped her right side up and her eyes rolled back into her head and slightly to the right. Her disfigurement gave her the appearance of a chubby child rolling her eyes at the entire Antiques Roadshow.
“Any doll hospital could fix that,” the expert reassured the owner. “Now a toddler body is much more desirable than a baby body,” he said, the tension building, “so with a baby body she might fetch $2,500 to $3,500, but with this nice desirable toddler body she might bring $4,000.”
Without waiting for the Roadshow trunk to slide across the screen or for the doll owner to start her “My word, my word” reaction, I warned the lady on TV about what I would do. “I would so sell it,” I told her. “Sell it!” I called out.
Then, after a moment of staring at a shot of that mocking doll with $4,000 listed below her, my voice took on a note of hysteria. “Oh that baby needs to be sold.” I am so broke. “Goodbye, baby,” I called out. I can’t breathe in my mom’s house. “Good day baby!” I want to travel again. “Sayonara baby,” I stage whispered. “Ciao-ciao, thanks for the four thou baby,” I continued and looked back for my mom’s reaction.
“Enough, Emily,” she said, and turned up the volume on the TV. “My Lord. My Lord,” the woman on the Roadshow repeated. My mom shook her head back and forth while still watching the TV. She might have been impressed at what the baby could pull at auction, but I suspect she was more disappointed that I didn’t like her show. It’s entirely possible, however, that she was shaking her head out of a complete disappointment in her roommate’s character. •