A woman plucks up three jugs of cleaning products in the low-rent section of the garage sale.

A woman plucks up three jugs of cleaning products in the low-rent section of the garage sale.

"How much?" she asks with a sharp look.

"A dollar fifty"/ "Three bucks," my wife and I say.

We all eyeball each other to see who will blink first. That person will be the little drama's loser.

"All that stuff is a dollar," I say.

"They're half empty," the woman says.

One is half empty. The other two, one of which sports an original $10 price tag, are full.

It's the shootout at the OK Garage Sale. The cleaning-stuff woman turns to my wife and repeats the half-empty slander in a blatant end run around the money-gouger.

"A dollar fifty," my wife says, as if she's the final arbiter, which come to think of it, she is, since if you haggle about your own prices in front of the customers, who they gonna hear?

I am toast. I am Shylock up against Portia. I am John Cleese as Basil in "Fawlty Towers," a foolish little man facing two strong women and not realizing what he's dealing with. There is the tink of quarters and the bustle of the sharp dealer decamping with her loot.

As my wife reminds me, a garage sale is not about the money. It's about making stuff go away.

Which is exactly what I had in mind when I spent the day before the sale going through a garage that looked like Walmart's warehouse for rejects, digging out and sorting through years worth of stuff. Out it poured: a circular saw last seen in the second Reagan Administration, forgotten kitchen gizmos for slicing and dicing, a silver figure of a woman holding a cup given us by a divorced friend shedding old wedding gifts. Orphan bits of hardware, nuts and bolts and gazingas and whozises set aside because they were absolutely essential to, er, something vitally important.

Can we actually live without this junk?

Americans have so much stuff they fill the garage when the house is full, and when that's full, they fill a storage unit. When that's full I guess you start renting PODS and paying to have them hauled off and stored.

According to the Self Storage Association, a trade group, the United States now has 1.875 billion square feet of storage space in nearly 40,000 facilities. It's a bigger industry than Hollywood, and it doesn't have to deal with Lindsay Lohan.

I consider hauling all the small stuff off and donating it rather than dealing with it piece by piece. But other items should fetch a pretty penny: a student desk, an antique mirror, a steamer trunk, a loveseat, a four-drawer file. My inner capitalist is counting the riches.

The big day dawns. People show up in droves. Some are hard-core yardsalers. Everybody dickers and — excepting only the half-empty sharpie — seems to be having a good time. Typical is the old gent who looks inside an ice chest marked $1 and says in mock surprise, "Where's the beer?"

In the end, nothing I thought was hot gets any action. And the stuff I'd have hauled off? Var-ooom! Outta here piece by piece, people pouncing on that one knickknack or doodad they must have.

We figure we'll sell the big stuff through the paper and Craigslist. Or donate it. As for the stuff left in the driveway, a day later a man comes by and offers to haul it off for free.

His timing was exquisite. We might actually get two cars in the garage. What a concept!

Call reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.