Confessions of the World’s Third Oldest Profession
By Christina Zawadiwsky
Whether taking a one-eyed woman, The Monkey Girl, to a 3-D movie or educating us about Julian Eltinge playing a woman’s role opposite Rudolph Valentino in The Tide of Love or lampooning Donald Trump or commemorating Mr. Peanut, author Duane Scott Cerny is never boring! Everything springs to life before him as if he were the Creator himself.
I met Cerny at a book signing of his first book, Selling Dead People’s Things, at a vintage store in Milwaukee, WI where during his speech he read some of his own poetry—GOOD poetry (harder to find than a serpent’s tooth) endorsed by Gwendolyn Brooks herself as she dubbed him a recipient of a Northeastern Illinois Poetry Scholarship. Being a poet myself, how could I not resist asking him if I could review Selling Dead People’s Things? He agreed, and so I began to learn about his world.
«Things» are the objects of our desires and all the necessities that bear witness to our lives (remember the first couch you ever owned, maybe one that pulled out into a bed?) appear in both Selling Dead People’s Things (a common phrase in vintage resale) and now in his second book, Vintage Confidential. But both books are also Cerny’s all-over-the-place non-linear memoirs, organic as can be. Here we are shown the territory of his life—family (in this book lessening as many members die) and vintage resale, and the territory of his mind, as he recoils from suddenly being left by a therapist and leaves telling a joke about a lightbulb that “has to really want to change.” His inventive and ambitious spirit took him from a family where everyone panicked when the phone rang to being the proprietor of the successful Broadway Antique Market in Chicago and the owner of an apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village near the internationally known Magnolia Bakery.
During his work, Cerny meets people, lots of people, influential people like The Mad Hatter of the Midwest and Raymond Hudd who was milliner to Phyllis Diller. He also meets Joan Crawford, Barbara Eden and a host of other celebrities like Paul America, one of Andy Warhol’s famed group with whom he had a distinctly close rapport. He meets people through their “things” via the estate sales he buys in order to resell, even though they’re now deceased, like a gay male and a straight female who keep a glass and Lucite love nest in Chicago to use when they’re in town that’s filled with unconventional furniture. Cerny meets two young (still alive) brothers whose now deceased father bought them every board game made during their childhoods who now carry the burden of an unusual secret. And the ghosts of George and Evelyn of A Village Thrift who left behind an unbelievable array of “stuff.” It’s work, but it’s fun, and it’s always a mystery. What will happen here? What has been left there? Vintage Confidential shows us innumerable sketches of people and their lives, enough to keep someone like Tennessee Williams psychologically busy for a great number of lifetimes. Cerny also includes two comedic short plays of his own.
Cerny doesn’t just view these people the way you’d watch characters on a television or movie screen. He interacts with them. He cares and empathizes with them. Beneath his run-away raging humor and his always curious demeanor and while encountering everything and anything, often literally, there pounds a pulse of optimism and exhilaration about humanity and the human condition. Having been voted “Most likely to be Disliked” in high school, he’s now become a larger-than-life vintage resale celebrity. His life is ours and our lives are his life. We all fear. We all shine. We all take risks and we all love with Cerny as an identifying universal factor. Cerny has a mind large enough to embrace the importance of each of us, regaling us with the stories of Marge and Jack’s attempts to sell an Oscar. He expounds on UFOs and rummage sales or turning down major media exposure for his Market because of ethics. You name it. Every moment is a new adventure.
Whether or not you ever meet Duane Scott Cerny in person, after reading Vintage Confidential you’ll feel as if you’ve just made a new energetic and vibrant friend who offers the advice of “start by treasuring yourself so you can treasure others.”
Christina Zawadiwsky is a renowned poet and artist, a National Endowment for the Arts Winner, a former Literary Arts Editor, and was Producer and Host of Milwaukee Cable Arts Show “Where The Waters Meet.”