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Trash talk |

For Men

Trash talk

- Scott R. Garceau -

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I keep reminding myself of this saying whenever I try to clean out my office drawer, and have to decide how to part with half a dozen corporate coffee mugs, free German postcards and assorted ketchup packs from Shakey’s. It should be easy to get rid of all the junk in our lives, but the DiResta brothers, who host the Discovery Channel program Dirty Money, do the opposite: they collect junk. Then they fix it up.

Then they sell it for a profit.

They’re pretty good at it, and were happy to share some of their funniest adventures with media phoners from around Asia recently. John and Jimmy claim to have “the sickness” — that is, a compulsion to scour flea markets, yard sales and even dumpsters for things that people might ordinarily call junk. Yet, like Michelangelo seeing the figure of “David” trapped inside a chunk of crude marble, they look past the shabby surface to spot true beauty.

PHILIPPINE STAR: How did you guys get started with all this?

JOHN DIRESTA: Our dad was a big flea market addict. My dad has what’s called the “sickness”: it’s the love of other people’s junk. It’s not hoarding. Hoarding is for weirdos. This is more — we just like old vintage stuff. 

As kids we were taken to garage sales and flea markets every weekend, up and down Long Island, Queens, New York City, and eventually we started to notice, if you buy something for a dollar, and you sell it for $10 or $15, there is a nice profit involved. We’ve upped the ante now after doing it our whole lives. We like to spend $10 and then sell something for $150 to $200. We’ve been doing it on and off for about 30 years and we have a real good time when we do it.

What’s the process like? How do you spot it, fix it up, sell it?

JIMMY DIRESTA: The process is — you have to be very inventive. We find anything. Whatever it is we find, we let the product decide what it wants to be. In some cases, it’s really just a fix-up of something that already exists. If it’s a sign, then we just make it a sign and sell it again as a neon sign. But sometimes we’ll find a door, for instance, and I’ll make the door into a table. Or we’ll find an old chunk of wood and we’ll turn that chunk of wood into some furniture. Or we’ll find a car hood, and we’ll turn that car hood into a piece of furniture. It really is a case-by-case basis. I would say a big part of the process is having the experience and the willingness to just experiment.

What’s the difference between flea markets, yard sales and garage sales? And can you tell after a five-second glance that “This one’s not worth getting out of the car for”?

JOHN: Oh, without a doubt. I’ll give you the rundown. Flea markets are obviously more fun, festive. There is food, lots of people, a lot of variety. However, you’re buying from people that usually know what stuff is worth. At a garage sale or a yard sale, the husband may have passed away. It might be a divorce. They don’t know what things are worth. You can get some kind of power tool that might be worth $200 or $300 for $5 or $10. 

And yes, if you get good, you can do a drive-by. A drive-by has nothing to do with shooting somebody in South L.A. A drive-by is, basically, you scope out the garage sale or yard sale and you don’t even get out of the car. You just drive real slow and zero in. If you see nothing but baby clothes and baby carriages, you just make no eye contact and you take off.

Do you consider what you’re doing art? Does the final result need to be a transformed piece or just a fix-up?

JIMMY: Some things deserve to stay what they were originally intended for, like a Victrola (old phonograph) we fix up in one of the episodes. Whereas we might find an old car hood, take it away from the car and turn it into a whole new piece of furniture. It is a case-by-case basis. I have respect for old products. I don’t want to damage or destroy something that has become a relic. I like to maintain the relic.

JOHN: Again, my expertise is I like to find old wood and turn it into benches, desks, shelf units, coffee tables. Now it’s an artistic functional item. It’s kind of two for one. It’s something that’s cool to look at and funky, yet you can sit on it. And then it sells both ways. You have twice the chance of selling an old, cool, rustic desk because everyone needs a computer desk, but if it happens to look like it was from Abe Lincoln’s garage sale, that’s a plus.

What’s the weirdest commission you’ve accepted from somebody?

JOHN: About a year ago, I made a coffee table for a guy and the big four-by-four legs had to come out, slip out, and then they were hollowed out for him to hide his contraband. I never asked him what it was.

This past weekend — since I make these really old-looking tables, some people say I make them look downright creepy, I can make them look like a torture act — and somebody told me there is big money in S&M furniture. All you got to do is put a couple of latches for the handcuffs and the straps and you can double your price.

Has anyone ever told you that your creations are junk?

JOHN: They are junk. They started out as junk and now they’re classy junk.

Why do you think the show strikes a nerve and is so interesting for viewers?

JOHN: I think for a few reasons. The relationship between Jimmy and I is legit. It’s funny. It’s interesting. We have no scripts, no writers. And then I think the catch-all is that people get to see the product from a dumpster get filtered through our workshop, and then sold to a guy that can’t reach into his pocket quick enough and pay $600 or $700 for a few seats that may have been in Shea Stadium where the Mets played.

Have you ever sold any items to celebrities?

JOHN: I know that when I did the flea market in L.A. a few times, (comedian) Louie Anderson bought something. Hillary Swank stopped, didn’t buy. Maria Bello, she was going to buy a table with her husband. (Comedian) Andy Dick looked at a table and he got distracted and walked away and it made me sad because he had the money out. 

JIMMY: I was going to say, a lot of times a stylist will walk by. A stylist might walk by and she will buy something for a celebrity, but you don’t necessarily know who it’s for. Tommy Tune’s personal stylist came and bought a lot of things from us on the show.

JOHN: Can I take that one further? If you’re interested in hearing the list, we have a list of famous people that we know have “the sickness.” We know, between L.A. and New York, maybe 10 or 12 very famous people that like going to flea markets. I could rattle them off. James Gandolfini from The Sopranos. Tony Soprano is a flea market guy in New York. Alice Cooper, the old beat-up singer; he has the sickness. Billy Gibbons, the guitarist of ZZ Top. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen in my whole life that comes with a negotiator. He whispers in her ear and then she negotiates with the vendor. And, like I said, Hillary Swank. Do you know who was at my booth the other day and didn’t buy anything? Taylor Swift.

* * *

Dirty Money debuts on Discovery Channel this month and is shown every Thursday at 9 p.m.

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