Antiques Roadshow seems like a very simple premise: friendly, well-meaning people from all walks of life bring their knickknacks and heirlooms and trinkets to appraisers who tell them whether they've secretly owned something worth a small fortune this whole time, or if their imagined treasure is just a nice-looking object with no auction value. The people who appear on the program are perfectly ordinary. They tend to be on the older side, vary in terms of how informed they are about their antiques (some have done thorough research, while others can't tell you anything beyond "mother used this dish when we had company over"), and come off as politely enthusiastic.
But it's too good to be true. Antiques Roadshow asks us to believe that hundreds of thousands of dollars in rare items have come into the possession of blue collar folks through perfectly honest means. Inheritances, gifts, lucky purchases at garage sales - the stories all stay within in safe moral boundaries, and experience tells us that's not how the world works. There have always been swindlers and crooks, I believe the Roadshow is riddled with these thieves, and I intend to expose them using completely fabricated backstories.
Let's start with Gerald.
Gerald's come to Antiques Roadshow with a jug covered in scary faces. He claims he got it at an estate sale in Eugene, Oregon, where he found it inside a barn. The jug was covered in dirt, straw, and possibly chicken poop; despite this, Gerald felt he had to have the jug because it spoke to him, and so he paid $300 for it. How fortuitous for Gerald.
Frankly, I think Gerald's story is thinner than Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Though the following account has no basis in fact or even informed speculation, I believe it is
THE TRUE STORY OF GERALD AND THE FACE JUG
In the early 1980s, Gerald was indeed living in Oregon, working for the Clackamas County Division of Code Enforcement. He'd climbed the ladder quickly, plucked from the home inspection rotation and placed onto commercial structure assignments after only a few months. Most inspectors spent a year at least on residential duty; Gerald was so thorough that his bosses decided looking at the same three kinds of cookie cutter home built by one of the same three general contractors over and over again was a waste of his talent.
But what really made Gerald stand out was how comfortable he made property owners feel. Usually, when a county inspector showed up, the owners were on guard, expecting they were about to be fed a line of bullshit so some pencil pusher could meet a quota or angle for a bribe. Never with Gerald. There was something about him that put people at ease, made them believe he was doing this because he cared about their safety.
That was probably why Edna Rivington tottered off to the kitchen in search of lemonade, leaving Gerald alone in the lobby of the Crystal Skies Motor Lodge. Scanning the room, he wondered how wise it was to open a motor lodge these days. If plane tickets kept getting cheaper, who would bother packing up the kids into a station wagon to drive for the better part of a week? It wasn't that Edna and her husband hadn't put care and effort into Crystal Skies. More a matter of predicting demand.
And then he saw it, perched on a shelf to the side of the front desk: the face jug, its stippled surface interrupted by all those eyes and noses and gaping mouths. Something about it called to him, switching on a section of his brain that felt as though it'd been dark his whole life heretofore. This strange piece of pottery had uncovered a part of Gerald he didn't fully understand, both powerful and crippling. He wanted it for his own, but not in the way you envied a neighbor's new car. The craving was more raw than that, more hunger than avarice.
"I'm sorry, we only have iced tea right now. Frank must've taken the rest of the lemonade with him for lunch." Edna Rivington's words felt like a blunt object smacking into his neck, and he stood silent for what felt like much too long. "Are you feeling okay, Mr. Gerald?" she finally asked. He told her he was, that the heat was just getting to him a bit, and surely this nice glass of tea would do the trick.
Gathering himself, Gerald walked into the lodge's laundry room under the auspices of beginning the inspection. Slowly, he ticked through his checklist - adequate ventilation for the driers, drainage in case the washers overflowed, and so on. It all felt so cloudy, though, and Gerald couldn't shake the sense that the jug was still calling out to him through the walls. He noticed something amiss about the electrical outlets in the breakfast room, an odor that smelled like overheated wire. Gerald made a small notation in his binder.
They finished touring the property and returned to the lobby. "Does everything seem up to snuff?" Edna asked him. "Frank and I have worked so hard to get this place fixed up, but I want to make sure we haven't cut any corners." Opening his mouth to reply felt like a terrible strain, though all that came out was "everything looks just fine, ma'am." Over Edna's shoulder, the jug sat, its inexorable stare boring holes in his consciousness. Gerald thanked her for the tea and left.
That night, he couldn't sleep. The faces of the jug kept appearing, floating as though they were part of a sheer theater curtain that had been dropped around him and only him. Gerald pulled on shoes and a coat, got in his car, and started driving. Within minutes he found himself in a parking lot overlooking the Crystal Skies Motor Lodge. How quiet and still it looked that night, with neither guests nor hosts inside. He considered how easy it would be to just walk down to the front office, gently break the windowpane in the door, let himself in, and take the jug. The police would likely blame local vandals and tell Edna she needed a proper security system.
Something stopped him that night. And the night after that, and the night after that, until the nights started running together. He kept driving to the lot up the hill from Crystal Skies and waiting, though Gerald himself didn't know what for. The only things he brought were a thermos and a blanket, both purchased from the local Army-Navy Surplus. He knew the jug was there. He knew, even though the lodge had opened a week ago, the front office lay undisturbed all night, every night.
Gerald wondered if this was what it was like to defend some far flung border long ago, waiting for a signal that might never come in your lifetime. After a series of no-shows, he'd recently been fired from his county job, though this gave him no shame or anger. The jug was purpose enough, though he desperately wished that purpose had some clarity. Was he guarding it? Had he just lost his mind altogether?
And then the signal came. A plume of smoke, rising from a spot in the lodge Gerald knew was the breakfast room. He grabbed the blanket and began to walk down the hill towards Crystal Skies. The smoke blossomed and grew, as though the lodge was an octopus evading a predator. Gerald crouched lower as he approached the front office, the heat from the fire washing over his face. Guests began bursting out of their rooms in a panic, unconcerned for how underdressed they were. A fire engine wailed its way towards the building from a few miles out.
With one solid kick, Gerald knocked the office door off one of its hinges. There was the jug, just as he remembered it. The shadows from the fire made it seem as if the faces were talking to him, alternately screaming and laughing and whispering. Gerald wrapped the blanket around the jug and cradled it in his arms.
In the panic, no one had noticed the theft or, if they had, they had perhaps assumed Gerald was bravely searching the office for survivors. The firefighters were too busy clearing rooms to bother with him. His face slick with sweat and ash, Gerald made his way back up the hill, unable to suppress the ugly grin that had spread across his face.
Gently, he placed the jug, still wrapped in the blanket, in the passenger seat. As he looked back down at the burning lodge, he thought he saw one woman kneeling before it, weeping. Gerald wondered for a moment if it was Edna. He took a swig from the thermos, the cold iced tea calming his nerves.
And then he drove.