Too much of a not-so-good thing
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    Auction Finds

    I look good on TV

    How could I resist the questions, which obviously were playing to my vanity?

    “Are you photogenic?” “What would you look like on television?”

    As soon as I read the words on the small cardboard box I knew this wasn’t real. No way this Video-Scope Tele Test was going to magically show me how glamorous I would look as the new Oprah. But I was game, and I was curious. That’s one reason why I go to auctions: I’m always looking to explore.

    The Video-Scope Tele Test is a 1950s gag.

    And this box lying there on the auction table was silently but forcefully imploring me to come closer. So, I picked it up and read the rest of the  message. It asked me to count to five – I guess to give me time to relax, put on some makeup and get my glam face on – and then press a black button.

    I obeyed and there on the screen was not me but the rear end of a donkey. I could read between the lines and I chuckled. Just as expected, I’d been had but it was in good fun. Here’s a demonstration I found on the web.

    A view from the rear, on the Video-Scope screen.

    Later, I was near the item again as I stood talking to an auction regular. He told me that he had tons of those things at his house. This one came from a magic shop, he said.

    Every now and then I stumble onto magic items at auction. Last week at this same auction house, one man paid about $85 for a magazine from the 1920s with an article by Houdini exposing fraud by some magicians. One of my most intriguing magic finds was a pencil that was once handed out by a female magician named Dell O’Dell, who was famous during the 1940s.

    I found out very little about the box on the web, only that it was a 1950s TV gag joke. One sold on eBay two months ago for $12.50 and drew 85 lookers. Another with some nicks on the surface couldn’t get any takers at $4.95.

    The one at the auction wasn’t very popular, either. It sat throughout most of the auction ignored by the staffers who were toting items up to the auctioneer for bids. Near the end when we were asked to pick out items we wanted to bid on, one regular chose the box.

    A full view of the Video-Scope box.

    The auctioneer talked it up, and then started the bidding at $5. The man countered with $2. At least one other person was interested, too, and he accepted a $3 bid. The first man backed off; I’m sure he found the box amusing but not that amusing.

    The box reminded me of another experience I had about a year or so ago of peering into the unknown and not knowing what to find. I was attending a poetry and music event hosted by one of the city’s renowned storytellers. At the end of the event, she passed around a box (I recall it was a box) and asked us to take a look inside where we’d find hope or inspiration or something to that effect. It was a positive message.

    As each person opened the box, they all broke into the same expressive smile. Not one of them, however, revealed or indicated what was in the box. It finally dawned on me that they were looking at themselves in a mirror. I whispered it to a friend who had accompanied me.

    When the box finally got to me (I was near the back of the room), I opened it and inside was, indeed, a mirror. What a neat exercise, I thought, and I’m sure it gave us all a lot to think about – unlike the television test, which actually did serve one purpose.

    It made laugh, and sometimes that’s just what we need.

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