Tevlin: Petters’ garish goods auction

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2012 - 7:28 PM

The last vestiges of the Tom Petters legacy, the bric-a-brac of audacity and rapacious desire, were shuffled off in the discount bins of a cluttered hall just across from the Polar Lounge and down from the Shangri La #3 Chinese restaurant in North St. Paul.

Intermixed with the detritus of more normal lives (pot head plants, 1960s ash trays and neon beer signs), were the lesser fruits of Petters' cardboard empire, evidence of a life lived garishly.

Behold the framed leather jacket, just inside the door, with the logo of the real airline nearly decimated by the fraudulent capitalist. A model airplane with the Sun Country tail was affixed to the jacket next to an article from this newspaper with the headline: "Sun Country's new owners plan growth."

Nearly everybody believed it, and they believed nearly everything. Until they didn't.

Baseball great Whitey Ford believed. Item number #76: "All the best Tom Petters on your new venture, Red Tag Outlet."

Former football great and now talk show host Michael Strahan believed. Item #25: "Tom, from one champ to another."

Former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard believed. Item #4: "Best wishes Tom."

But the Petters juggernaut was all a ruse. He's in prison and all the houses and cars are sold off. These are the last shreds of the stuff he strove so hard to accumulate, here for people to paw through and mock. We all pray that when we go, we don't leave much behind to be ashamed of, but few of us will.

Behold the two paintings, still lifes of bottles of wine featuring a picture of Marilyn Monroe. Check that, Marilyn Merlot.

Why is it that great wealth earned dishonestly is nearly always inversely proportional to taste?

On Monday afternoon, before the auction, a few older people picked through the junk silently. None of them looked like the type to buy a Peter Max mixed media artwork called "Angel with Heart." Nor the Rolling Stones poster from Nov. 18, 2005, that says: "Satisfaction is Yours."

That would have been the year Petters Worldwide bought Polaroid for $426 million in stolen money.

How much money gives a man satisfaction? When does the ceaseless accumulation become meaningless? When did he tire of the fake adulation of sports stars and celebrities? Did the fourth signed football bore him? The 10th?

A guy who robs a bank because he's got a drug addiction doesn't intrigue me. I know why he does it. But the millionaire who continues to steal? To buy crap like this?

I don't get it.

But then, I sold the house and most of its contents a few years ago. The only things I really like to buy anymore are books and bourbon.

I don't get it.

A few people at the counter were talking about the strangest item of all, something everyone called "the money dog." It was a cement sculpture of a dog, yay high, with real dollar bills sealed onto it.

"You think someone will get it for the kitsch value, or what?" asked one woman.

"They say the artist gets thousands of dollars for these," said the other woman. She raised an eyebrow. "We'll see."

Across the street a sign was offering tap beers at the Polar Lounge for $1, tangible refreshment. I couldn't help but think that if you could pull him apart, very gingerly, the little dog could buy a round for the whole neighborhood.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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