When I was 12 years old, Denio’s Farmers Market & Swap Meet was the place to go for adolescent necessities. Five dollars bought a year’s supply of eyeliner, a pair of fake Ray-Ban sunglasses and a poster of the rock god du jour to Scotch tape above my bed. With luck, I’d have enough left over for a soft pretzel and an Icee.
I haven’t lost my taste for budget shopping, but Denio’s has long since fallen out of my rotation. So when I recently visited the open-air market for the first time in 20 years, I was surprised to see how little had changed. Everything seemed familiar: the entrance sign welcoming me to Roseville—“the Hub of California”—and proudly proclaiming the market’s same location since 1947, the 50-cent admission fee, the musty smell of livestock, and the riot of merchandise competing for my attention.
Within 25 steps of the front gate, I had the opportunity to buy piñatas, churros, bikinis, plants, wind chimes, crucifixes, posters of professional wrestlers, jeans with sequined butterflies on the back pockets, barbecued meat and socks: “4 pack for $10.” All I really wanted was breakfast. I followed a sandwich-board sign to a kiosk promising espresso and baked goods, and discovered the only baked goods on offer were chocolate chip cookies. Now, I love cookies, especially ones involving chocolate, but not at 9 a.m. I scoured the many food stands for something remotely breakfasty and finally settled on a soft pretzel and an Icee. Old habits die hard. (In my defense, I ordered the confusingly titled “cappuccino mocha” Icee, which surely qualified as part of a nutritious breakfast.)
Sustenance procured, I was free to shop. Having passed the age when buying two-for-a-dollar cosmetics out of dusty cardboard packing boxes seems like a good idea, I desired only two items from Denio’s: a Boogie Nights DVD and a cowboy hat. I merged into the busy aisles, dodging families with small children and people wheeling tiny shopping carts.
I started on the outer stalls, where “one weekenders” offered random items likely culled from their homes. I was amazed at some of the things considered salable: a dirty one-eyed baby doll, a homemade cage large enough to trap a human, a dirty tub half-filled with cookies, a foil-backed tiger painting, buckets of mysterious auto parts, expired shampoo. The philosophy seemed to be, “You never know what might sell, so put it all out there.” My favorite was a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer supported by a plastic bust of Spiderman flashing the “hang loose” sign. A decrepit, decades-old tanning bed seemed a particularly frightening bargain.
There were plenty of DVDs on offer, but none featured Heather Graham on roller skates. Giving up on my first goal, I headed back toward the gate, where regular merchants sold new goods at bargain prices. I still wanted my cowboy hat and I’d also developed a sudden, inexplicable craving for a tank top with a sassy rhinestone phrase on the front. Alas, the two I found read “Baby” (too Dirty Dancing) and “Latina” (nothing wrong there, except that I’m not one).
As I continued searching for my bargain Stetson, I was astonished at the sheer amount of Scarface related merchandise I saw. Jesus, Che Guevara, and Bob Marley all had their swag, but there was no question that Al Pacino ruled the flea-market fashions. I spotted Scarface posters, comforters, towels, blankets, hats, shirts, and—the pièce de résistance—a framed airbrushed collage of eight scenes from the film. As a friend put it, “You could get one Scarface poster, but why choose?”
Perhaps it’s fitting that Pacino’s Tony Montana, who wanted “the world and everything in it,” should be king of the one place in town where everything is for sale. Even a $3 cowboy hat with a cheesy bucking bronco stenciled on the front, like the one I finally found at Denio’s last weekend and have been wearing around town ever since. It’s good to know that 20 years later, happiness still can be had for a fiver.