Saturday, May 21, 2005


Yard sale, 7am. To be precise, the front yard of my 4 story apartment building, 7am.

The ad called for an 8am start, but the buzzards appear early. This is the second attempt at a yard sale, we've had bulky items and assorted chachkes (hey, YOU try spelling it without using cyrillic) with masking-tape prices in the hallway for two weeks now. Last week was going to be rainy- Saturday night was a flood, all the weather outlets called for more of the same. But by Sunday AM the sun was shining and anyone driving past a sign saying "SALE CANCELLED DUE TO RAIN - COME BACK NEXT SATURDAY" framed alongside a brilliant cloudless blue sky must have questioned our intelligence, sanity or sobriety. Or all 3.


Tripping and piling and dusting notwithstanding, the sale is on. Back to 7am in my own front yard, dragging out tall thin grey shelves from Eileen, our friend across the street and partner in sale. They're the kind of thing you can find at any hardware store and are perfectly servicable in the back of a workshop, or in a garage, as long as you don't move them after they've been put together. When you do, they turn into a horrible, half twisted mess of cheap metal. We have 3 from somebody's storage locker and they're fine against a perfectly straight wall, but I lean them against our front tree and they become something close to Dali.

We sell them, 12 minutes later, to one of the first buzzards, a tall guy in his mid 40's who somehow manages to balance 3 of them precariously on his arms and shoulders and walks away. For 15 bucks, they're gone and so is he. By 7:15am, the sale proper is still 45 minutes away and there's a gaggle of around 8 people holding newspapers with red circles around the ads that interested them most, poking away at the boxes we're trying to unpack.

A few common questions, shouted out of idling car windows a few times:


"Got any stereo equipment?"
"Any watches?"
"Old cameras?"
"Old art books?"
"Any CDs or DVDs?"

These are all high-value resale items, if they're the right items. We have a few DVDs donated by a friend who said we could sell them and keep the money, since god knows he couldn't find anyone to take them. With 3 films per disc divided into such titles as CANNIBAL CLASSICS (featuring "I Eat Your Flesh"), BIKER HEROES (with Joe Namath), and "Tiger Woods: The Master of the Masters", I don't think they're going to go quickly. No offence to Tiger. Or to any cannibals or bikers. Or biker cannibals, since there must be at least a few. We've all gotta eat.

7:25 and all the stuff is on the front lawn. Big ticket items include an obscenely heavy butch block table, 25 bucks or best offer, a kitchen trolley/island for 75 bucks, and tons of assorted cups, plates, silverware, books, etc. Not a cornocopia of crap (a crapocopia?) but all the kind of stuff that should go quickly for those who want the kind of stuff that everybody already has.

For those who read the above statement and think "What the hell...?", consider this. A woman came by and had just broken up with her boyfriend of 10 years, in the kind of situation where obviously they did not sit around and divvy up the kitchen wares and cutlery. She came and bought a small set of dishes, some cutlery, butter dish, all the stuff that nobody ever buys because it all is somehow always 'there'. Until it isn't.

7:40 and most of the little kitcheny stuff is gone- serving spoons, assorted bowls, knives, cutting boards, mismatched wine glasses and mugs. Now, the bargaining starts, which is fine, I've done this before so I'm not surprised. There's also the factor that this stuff has to GO. The wide motivating reason is to clear out all but the necessary in anticpation of the baby, which is sort of like emptying the sea with a seive, but there's also the "I'm sick of tripping over this crap..." factor, and better to sell than to toss away. So, in short...

Example reasonable offer refused. And that said, the haggling from some people just feels wrong. An example:

"How much for the table?", asks the woman. The table is a long shelf over two grecian columns. Not exactly practical, but was a former fixture at trade shows.

"40 bucks."

"I can do $30.00 Throw in the pillows for free?"

$30.00 is fine. Even the $2.00 pillows (and a buck would have been peachy) is ok, but there's a momentum to her approach that pisses me off. She's not quite haggling, she's telling. Of course, this is a matter of the price of a chocolate bar. I could stand fast over a few bucks, but it isn't worth it at first glance. Her boyfriend/brother/buddy picks up a small clock, some antique glass bottles, a few paperbacks. They're putting everything into a bag, so I'm trying to count the items, see the prices as they're doing it.

Finally she says "Okay. I got these from the everything for a quarter box..."

I do a quick count. Her boyfriend says "And throw in the clock for free?"

"Pillows," I say. "The pillows are for free."

She says "Wanna do the clock and the pillows?"

"The pillows," I say, putting the clock in the bag, price facing upwards. I count everything and finally say "Okay, the table, the clock, those dishes, the books, books, the quarter items...all comes to $41.50"

She is absently holding a handful of bills and change. "Forty dollars is okay," she says, looking away.

It's not her call. I want the stuff out, the price is fine, but is this worth fighting over? Probably not. But I take 2 twenties and the twoonies from her hand, and say "$41.50, one sec, get you some change" like I haven't heard her.


She gives me a blank stare, a kind of unbelieving 'but I already said 40, how can you do this' look that I ignore while handing over the change. None of it matters- we both clearly agree on the whole 'it's just a few bucks' issue, but from different corners. She takes it and leaves and none of it's going to matter in ten thousand years, but we both must have turned to our respective others and muttered "Some people are rude..." at a safe distance.

8:00am and 2/5ths of the stuff is gone even before official opening. Few truly obnoxious people, save for one person who angrily suggested that the few videotapes for sale should be cheaper, since DVD has taken over the industry (both tapes and DVDs were a buck apiece). One older woman picking up a small cotton throw rug asked "How much?"

"Twenty five cents."

"Really? I'm not sure...does it wash?"

"It's been washed."

"So it's not new."

It's a damn YARD SALE I want to say...

"Not new. Just 25 cents."

She picks it up, folds it a few times. I'm trying to figure out if she's on a pension and 25 cents is really a factor. If that's the case, I'll hand it to her with my best wishes, and she can be on a pension with a small throw rug to go in front of her sink.

She buys it, eventually, forgetting the price I quoted her, paying my wife 50 cents for it.


A guy buys a steamer trunk with wooden trim. He asks the price, I tell him forty. He says, "That's a little expensive for my taste."

"Make an offer."

"Twenty is fine?"

"Nice chest, I can do twenty five."

His face falls. "That is also a little expensive for my taste."

I shrug. I don't mind taking 20 bucks for the chest, but a 50% markdown seems a bit drastic at 8:20am. He hems and haws, looking to cry poor having driven to this sale in a well featured mini-van with a dvd player and TV screen, parked in front of my building. I finally say "Compromise, $22.50?"

Another long pause. Maybe the knowledge that I'm more than willing to sell it to the next person who says 25 bucks. He finally takes it. A few items go that way, mostly the big ones, everyone thinks they have a deal.

There's a strange mist between past and present in it all. My wife is clearly pregnant so a lot of people look at her with the knowing "Gotta clear stuff out" sort of look, and most of those looks are warm and welcoming rather than the "If somebody had been a little more careful..." glare that my wife gets, since she can look 19 and pregnant without trying. And a lot of the materials at the sale aren't mine, they're Eileen's, somebody else's crap.


None of it bad crap. Most of it quite useful crap, in the right circumstance. Some obviously at-one-point-deeply-cherished bits and pieces that are going into somebody else's hand with the karma already infused. To find what new karma, if that's the phrase, or even if its just the phrase that will do?

And still, occasionally, something close to sadness floats in, even briefly, horribly theatrically. Seeing the dead isn't weird, in psychological terms- people look like people, right? You'll naturally find aspects that remind you. But my father drove past the building briefly today, and it's a sick-making, horrible sensation since it's ridiculous. The rational brain kicks in after around 3 seconds, the man in his mid-60's driving the Honda Civic, in the tan jacket and the paunchy neck and the sunglasses is not my father. My father is dead. The Honda Civic is ANOTHER Honda Civic. And don't you feel stupid for seeing him?


Rational and irrational brain fight it out, regardless of the yard sale and change making and do you have a box for this chaos surrounding. Rational brain says "There's dad, he must know about the sale, he's come by to visit. Maybe with donuts, it's something he'd do."

The irrational brain says "There. You thought he was gone. Here he is. You can be happy now."

The rational brain kicks back in with "You're an idiot. Here's the recent past," and flashes a sepia toned series of events behind your eyes, "let it go. Be a man. Grow up. Drop it. This should never have gotten so far."

So you have the unique sensation of feeling upset and ridiculous at the same time, and there's nobody to tell, nobody to explain it to that won't shake their head and find it either theatrical, quaint or rather sad. Or all.

The rest, however, almost erases this. Most items sold, a few others were packed up to another sale next week. An unexpectedly high pile of cash is divided 2 ways. Abby and I walk back into the apartment and find an echo in it that hasn't been there for months. The piles of 'this is for the yard sale' have stacked for a long time and they have disappeared. There is space, and pared down stuff. Its a living space again, rather than someplace to sleep between the piles of stuff. New stuff forthcoming, but, somehow, all can be well.


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