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  • Lessons in small-town yard saling

  • I invented the yard sale.
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  • I invented the yard sale.
    No, seriously, I should have applied for a patent for franchises back in the day. At age 12, I set up a card table where the dinosaurs wouldn't knock it over in our yard in Phoenix, Ariz., and spread it with toys I'd outgrown. I recall the day, because our skinflint neighbor lady with five little kids for whom I sat (she always stiffed me until days later) became irate when she learned I'd sold her Timmy a comic book for a nickel that I'd gotten free at the local Bob's Big Boy Restaurant.
    So?
    Having enjoyed the glory days of hosting yard sales (as with eBay), I've given them up. One can't go back. But I do make a walk-on at my friend's sales and sometimes haul a box of high-class goods over just to remind myself that, oh yeah, you can't get more than a quarter for anything, even a diamond necklace, so don't try.
    I was an obnoxious visitor at her recent sale.
    She elbowed me as some regular customers moseyed up the driveway, as if we should get excited and maybe throw out a used red carpet. Anyway, after years of raking it in during the good old days, I'm quite familiar with regulars. They are ambling, talkative fonts of knowledge covering anything and everything you have for sale. They used to build them. They never actually buy anything. Your heart swells when they ask the price of something. It's the only time all weekend that your heart rate rises above 80 beats per minute. The lure is a nice office chair, completely adjustable.
    "Ten dollars," my friend quotes. Unbelievably, he keeps walking, hands in his pockets. We can assume he has hands. No amount would be low enough for us to see them holding a wallet. I feel like suggesting 50 cents just to see if he'll flinch, but it isn't my call.
    Yard sale observations in my neighborhood:
    The homelier an item, the more likely it is to be the first thing off the lot, so you'd better move quickly.
    The driveway becomes more of a merchandise runway, starting with big-ticket items near the street, such as a Muppet bean bag chair or exercise bicycle. Futons work well here too, preferably with the aforementioned hideous item atop. These coerce the casual driver to slam on the brakes and park in front of a fire hydrant or someone's driveway. After all, they can't turn around.
    It's possible to forecast the weather by the number of boxes stationed next to the bridge — hub of sale freneticism. A two-box day with dripping arrows means you best grab a slicker because it's raining. Four to six boxes during summer could signal a scorcher on the way. An eight-plus box stack-up means sunshine and slow drivers ahead.
    Then there's what I like to call the Woolworth yard sale. That perennial sale that tries to pose as new. "SALE TODAY," the sign may say boldly, when you know good and well it's been going since the Clinton administration. You're sure because of a crust of dried mud on the shoes, fading pantsuits, and the tell-tale warping of the Myron Floren albums. But there will be good deals to be had.
    The getting-to-know-you sale is for neighbors who've lived next door to each other for 18 years and don't know one another's names. It's an opportunity to reach out in friendship and score some rain ponchos, as I did recently. Then you can shake hands until someone has another sale.
    My friend enjoys having yard sales. She swears it's worth rising with the sun and kissing off the weekend. She visits with friends, munching muffins and drinking coffee to remain upright as the "shoppers" come and leave empty-handed.
    As I prepared to escape, her friend and neighbor came along with an elderly dog who lifted his leg on a couple of the driveway highlights, thereby reducing her inventory and providing the ideal visual metaphor for my feeling about ever hosting another sale of my own.
    Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.
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