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Scott Paulsen

Junk on the Walls

Junk on the Walls


Back in the 1980’s someone in charge of the restaurants decided the cool thing to do would be ransack every attic and barn in America, haul truckloads of crap back to the main office, distribute the crap to individual eating establishments and nail it all to the wall so we could all make small talk while we waited for our deep fried tater bites.

This trend got so out of hand that soon there wasn’t a dining room left that didn’t feature a plow, a rusted no parking sign and a canoe. Bens were left bereft. Attics empty. Junk stores junkless.

“Hey,” we’d say to each other as the waitroid fetched another round of Steak and Tater Finger Fajitas, “What is that thing? Looks like a corset. Nope. It’s a bean strainer. Wait a second. I think it’s a strut spring stabilizer from a ’47 Hudson. Gosh. Makes me hungry. Where’s my deep fried tater bites?”

The worst (or best, depending on your positivity factor and drug usage) place to gander at dusty old junk on the walls was (and still remains) Cracker Barrel.

I love Cracker Barrel, from its rocking chairs to its Nehi soda. There’s a store based on old fashioned values of food your Mom cooked to clog your Dad’s arteries. It’s a place I like to go when I want to rent some chicken for an hour or so, play that annoying golf tee table top puzzle, stare at bins of candy I thought nobody made anymore and buy an Amos and Andy cassette.

In addition to anvils, washboards and pages from Life Magazine on the walls, Cracker Barrel also features family photos. I don’t mind, and sometimes, frankly, enjoy seeing other peoples’ possessions on the wall as I’m choking down a stack of lard cakes and fat back.

For me, the line gets drawn at photos.

The dead people who once owned the Flexible Flyer sled, the Sambo doll and the twelve foot two man saw don’t give a hoot about me staring on as I sip my chicory coffee. However, I do get a feeling that, from the beyond, Great Aunt Irma does not like me slurping while ogling her seated portrait.

It’s just sad.

At one time, that portrait sat atop someone’s mantle. Now, after being snatched from the dust bin, it sits atop a chain store’s four-top, next to the corner booth, near the baby booster seats.

There is no factory turning out old looking portraits. They are real, old looking portraits. Those were people, once. They had lives. They had relatives. They had someone to give a wedding portrait. And, unfortunately those relatives eventually ruled that photo to be unwanted. It took up too much room. It got tossed.

And ended up next to a pair of 19th century snowshoes at T.G.I. Friday’s.

I was reminded of this creepiness this week when I came upon a story originally printed in the local Owensboro, Kentucky news. A waitress at the Cracker Barrel there was having one of those waitress days, the kind of day when babies throw up on you, old ladies constantly bark for more sweet tea and nobody leaves a tip. She was taking a break when the photo above booth nineteen caught her eye.

It was of a woman and a baby.

It was from the nineteen forties.

It was her Aunt and great Aunt.

The story of how the photo went from family possession to wall decoration in a chain restaurant was not passed to me via the internet, but the result of the waitresses’ keen eye was – she ended up taking it home.

Don’t worry. They’ll fill in that temporary hole. In the back room, where they keep the junk, there’s a shoetree, slightly rusted, not used since the Great War, ready to be of service.

The waitress claiming the photo sets a precedent, one I intend to test next Sunday, while I’m munching on some pepper onion popper tops at the local Swizzles Munchstop.

“Hey!” I’m going to tell my server. “See that sled up there? The one next to the Laurel and Hardy boxing gloves, down from the St. Louis Exposition pennant? That’s mine! And I want it back!”

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