Saturday, September 16, 2006

YARD SALE - The unauthorized autobiography

At 7 a.m. I was out on the curb, shuffling bags of baby clothes and other stockpiled detritus from the couch in my abandoned office to tables set up in the driveway. A light rain was falling. It was more of a mist, actually.

"The weather guy always lies," I think as I sort tiny shirts, pants and dresses in lumpy piles I don't even wish to sift through. I leave some articles in the bag, they were destined for the trash bin anyway.

I hate yard-sale day. I hate the feeling of obligation to purge my life of mistakes, and recoup some of the mispent cash. I hate how the idea of it pulls me in with a do-it-yourself entrepreneurial air, but how quickly its atmosphere dissipates into something less desirable.

A half hour ago I was in my kitchen, killing time over a cup of coffee, reading e-mails and catching up with Jon Carroll, hoping for a torrential downpour.

It was going to blow over. Darn.

You can tell a lot about a person by their yard sales. Like another roadside attraction, yard sales are authorized biographies in much the same way bumper stickers on our cars offer onlookers detailed tables of content to the people inside. Both can tell you a lifetime worth of information in short order: Religious affiliations, favorite bands, who they supported in the last two elections even what their kids are doing in school -- either they're an honor student or they're beating up your honor student.

In my neighborhood the lives are fairly similar. We all have clothes we've held onto for sentimental reasons that wind up hanging from ropes when we forget what they were. There are beat up toys and playthings that never got much attention. Impulse buys that became instantly obsolete. Exercise equipment, picked up no doubt at last year's events, will likely be circling the block for at least the next decade. And cassette tapes (dare we include mix tapes) that might as well be torn pages from a diary now sitting in a box, unused, since you bought that new car with the six CD changer years ago. And there is always something that defies logic. In our case that something would be a half-dozen paper napkin dispensers.

I would wager there is also the something the owners don't really want to sell but will offer it up merely because they know someone will buy it. It's a loss leader. The thing that makes certain that our sale - when snubbed by the throngs of strangers who paw through everything with left eyebrow raised and upper lip curled in symmetry - doesn't become a negative review of how we live.

On my hour off I make my way to the farmers' market and the sales that line the route past the historic homes and manicured lawns. I notice the sidewalk shops show the difference between us: Not as much impulsivity to the shopping around there. Antique baskets, with antique prices; etchings, prints, pieces of furniture that require houses with "libraries' (pronounced with an English flourish). Even the Jones families nearby are keeping up. Designer clothes, tasteful handbags. No sign of kitch anywhere, nothing that says 'what one Earth possessed you to waste the kids' college education on that?"

Everything is neat and tidy. You can almost see generations of children, sitting around a card table, sipping lemonade as they play the parlor games, now with only worn corners to show age, neatly stacked and awaiting new homes.

In a few hours I'll be bundling the remnants of our lot for Goodwill and wondering why I bother with this mid-step at all.

But by the time I get back with my bags of unpronounceable produce and a book snagged from the church tag sale, my partner in slime has a full smile and is waving six dollar bills in my direction.

"Imagine that, hon - I just sold all those napkin holders."


Andrea said...

It may be cheating, but every year, my sister-in-law has a family wide yard sale. Her neighborhood has a huge coordinated sale every year to get attract larger crowds than one sale can do by itself. She has everyone in the family bring over their stuff, all priced and ready to go, and she offers up her driveway and yard and her time. She also handles the money for who sold what. All she asks is that we help her set up and tear down. We haven't contributed much to this yard sale in the past because we're mostly hanging onto the baby clothes and toys for the next child. But I imagine that in the future, we'll be contributing pretty heavily. When that happens, I'll be thinking about this post.

Plus, buying from yard sales can be gold mines.

Be Still said...

Every December, we inventory all our donations using software by Intuit. I go for the tax-deduction instead of the cash. Saves me time and allows me to perpetuate my anti-social state of being!!