At high noon the sky is cloudless, but the intersection of Broadway and Iowa is gray with exhaust. Jazz fills the inside of Blinky's Antiques and Collectibles, the tiny, cluttered space that Russell Scott, Denver' s beloved celebrity clown, has been renting from the Masonic Lodge above him for over twenty years. With bifocals, bad knees and a stiff back, the 83-year-old retired slapsticker is out of uniform from his television days -- he's now sporting, among other things, three silver-and-turquoise rings per hand, a dapper gray porkpie, a charcoal sweater and a long, blood-red scarf with matching socks.
Seated next to a wall sink (the only remnant from when this spot was a one-chair barbershop), Scott is surrounded by yesterday's artifacts: top hats, fly rods, Indian snowshoes, tin soldiers, rug beaters, toy robots, butter churns, sombreros, cuckoo clocks, war medals, trombones, autoharps, pocket Derringers, paper umbrellas, tube radios, Hummel figurines, rotary telephones, a Pee-Wee Herman doll, a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box.
"There's no one particular hot item," he says. "The rare stuff I've got, I could point out. But if it's too rare, I can afford to sit on it."
Besides the 1904 Victrola and a hand-carved bear that plays a marimba when the string is pulled, Scott seems most proud of the framed and autographed black-and-white photos that adorn the back wall: Tom Mix, the Cisco Kid, Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, one of himself in early clown regalia standing next to Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Scott's second cousin and then the husband of silent-screen legend Mary Pickford. "She took that one," he says. "I wanted her to pose with us, but she said she was too fat."
The door jingles open. "I'm looking for an air-raid siren," says a man who belongs to a classical-music outfit. "Hand-crank or electric."
"I haven't had one of those in years," Scott tells him.
"Know anybody who might have one?"
"No. I don't go in the other stores, so I don't know what they got. "
The man thanks Scott and the door jingles shut.
The old clown drifts into a breezy memory from the late '90s, when he confused visiting members of ZZ Top with street people -- until "one of 'em pulled out a roll of bills to choke a hog," Scott says. "They started buying everything in the store.
"I've had John Amos in here," he continues. "And Smiley Burnette. Played accordion with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. We called him ŒFrog.' He had a real deep voice."
The door jingles open. A muscular Hispanic guy makes a beeline for something in the storefront window. "Coca-Cola!" Scott calls to him. "That's one of the first bottles, by the way. See the straight sides? You have to be awful careful, now. That's authentic. I've got some repos back here -- they're not as old."
The guy doesn't respond. His back is turned; he's rummaging for something else.
"You collect toy pistols?" Scott asks. "You collect real guns, or toys? Lemme see that. Hand it to me."
The guy holds up two fingers, mouths something. He's deaf.
"Two? On the tray?" Scott asks. "Oh, God, I can't. I'll go two seventy-five, but I can't go lower. Paid too much for it."
Jingle. A white-haired man in a ballcap and fishing vest steps through the doorway. The room feels as crowded as a clown car. "I'm looking for old Christmas lights." "You can't find 'em anymore," Scott says. "I got a few little bulbs -- the screw type, but not the German hand-mold. They've been gobbled up. I have a lot of 'em at home." The white-haired man thanks Scott, and the door jingles shut.
"You looking for beer trays?" Scott asks, returning to the deaf guy, who frowns and points to a shelf near the ceiling. "Cans? The cone tops -- or the round ones? I had thirty of 'em, and that's what's left. I looked 'em up in the book. They're very rare cone tops." Scott gets out of his lawn chair, strains with a Nifty Nabber extension pole, snags a cone top. Then another. Then a third. Then a fourth. He's breathing hard. The deaf guy names his price, Scott shakes his head. They both seem insulted. The door jingles shut.
"That tray's worth three seventy-five -- he offered me to suck it in for two," Scott says, disgusted. "Bullshit artist. He's been in here before. Turns me cold when they're that rude. The guy that makes you get your pole and unhook four, five, six things is not gonna buy a damn thing. He is wasting your time. Price, price, price, price, price. Nickel-and-dime you to death. I get that every day."