By most accounts, the term "flea market" stems from the name of an 1860s Paris market, the marché aux puces, where rows of previously valuable wares were peddled with the inclusion of pesky dog biters. American ingenuity added the air of low-culture entertainment that decorates the weekend events, things like livestock, country music, funnel cake and those little barrettes with feathers hanging from them. It's evolved into family fun with a dash of armpit stink, and the only thing not up for sale is pretentiousness. You bring your own.

Fortunately, I didn't skimp on that, preparing for a high-tailed journey into consumer abandon at the mega-institution of trash, Flea World in Sanford.

"Yes, Flea World is Open!" and "Now with air conditioning!" said the signs, both of which I know already because I watch too much TV. In order to best fortify the experience, I compile an imaginary list of things I'd ideally like to find on my trek all the way to Sanford: a pocket watch, a macramé miniskirt, some fleas.

But before I can really get the list going, I'm driving by a series of brightly colored corrugated walls. It can get a little confusing differentiating Flea World from the adjoining Fun World, both physically and emotionally. "Ask about our $1.50 birthday parties!" read the signs.

No, thank you.

Once inside, the anxiety sets in. It's caused not just by the quality of merchandise being hawked – faux jewelry, knockoff fragrances, etc. – but by the maze-like presentation of it all. Here at Flea World, there is a caste system for vendors involving the availability of air conditioning. A series of Public Storage-style hallways are blessed with air conditioning, but a large majority of lower-rent T-shirt stylists line the main midways without any circulation at all, save some poorly placed fans tucked up in the rafters pushing the smell of rotting pizza past your head and into your heart.

First impressions are everything. A lone T-shirt hangs from one vendor's air-free booth, offering a slogan of no small sociological implications. "My Kids Think I Have Money Coming Out My Ass," it reads, except the "Ass" part is an illustration of an ass with a bill pouring out of it. Simple realism at its best, and worst.

A balding comic strolls by, fearlessly brushing against my shoulder. His red shirt reads "Freak," except the "A" is replaced with the old Atari symbol. More genius understatement.

I set out to explore the fineries offered in never-ending density before us.

"Please Come In. Movie Swords. Throwing Knives. Throwing Axes," offers a sign overhead. Impulse buys abound.

I sidle up to The Antique Watch Man and peer into the scratched Plexiglas case for what might be the buy of a lifetime, or something to throw away tomorrow.

"I can pull anything out," crows the Watch Man. "Anything in the case, that is."

Ew. A giant iguana glares from a nearby aquarium. A sign on his tank reads, "Very Tame, with Tank: $200." Yeah, pull him out.

"How much you want for both of these?" haggles a sad old man to my right, pursuing coins he can put away in drawers. "You know, minus my 10 percent discount. Heh heh."

And just then a pall of sadness passes over everything. You can see it on the angry faces of teenage dads with unruly children, in the T-shirts that say "Jesus is My Homie," in the Squeem body-shaper corsets, in the chance to win an airbrushed mural for your child's room. For every Bingo opportunity, there's a waterfall wall hanging ($129). For the two people on the Fun World go-kart track, there are the hundred not spinning on the inoperable Round-Up.

Overhead, the radio blares some country dirge, interrupted by the quizzical page, "Theresa, please return to Candy Land for a cleanup." For no reason, I purchase files to sharpen my own knives (for a scant $3) from a pimply teen with pizza in his mouth. On the way out, I pass the Juvenile Detention Center, and wonder where it all leads. Bring on the fleas.

Flea World
4311 Orlando Ave., Sanford,
(407) 330-1792

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