Todd Walton: Yard Sale


From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
Mendocino

We just had a big yard sale to move along the myriad things we did not wish to keep in our new life in our new house. This was my fourth such undertaking and Marcia’s first time trying to sell stuff we no longer care to possess. I keep wanting to call the event a garage sale because the things were first stored in our garage, but the category heading in the newspaper where we ran our ad was Yard Sales, and the sale did take place in our yard, so…

Because the universe is mysterious and seemingly a bit sadistic, as well as loving and miraculous, Marcia came down with a bad flu cold a week before the event and was just starting to feel better as the blessed day dawned, whereas I was just entering Zenith Flu Cold Symptom Time as the alarm clock sounded at 6 AM on the dreaded day. Oh, joy. Had we not advertised the bloody sale in the newspaper I might have stayed in bed battling exhaustion and sleep deprivation and tides of snot, but such was not the case, the hordes would soon be descending, and so I rose from my warm nest and went out into the frigid dawn to help Marcia empty the garage onto our driveway.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the aforementioned possibly sadistic and certainly ironic universe had, just two days before the event, seen fit to break our two-car garage door, a folding fiberglass contraption running on Rube Goldberg-like tracks, so that after the cacophonous death of the machine, the bottom of the door was left hovering some four feet above the ground, which necessitated our doing variations on the limbo as we brought forth weighty boxes of goodies. And as we ducked and bent and schlepped, I wondered if I would live to see the opening bell—9 AM—without collapsing from over-exertion while under the influence of the aforementioned afflictions.

But long before 9 AM (circa 8 AM) the so-called Early Birds began to arrive, though we had specifically requested in our ad No Early Birds, Please. We should have said, Early Birds Will Be Shot At With Live Ammunition or Early Birds Will Be Attacked By Slavering Hounds, but we didn’t, and so they came, the first few deflected by our stern renderings of wishful thinking such as, “We don’t open until nine. Please go away,” and “We’re not open yet.” By 8:20 there were twelve of the patient scavengers—and for some reason I thought of the Disciples—standing on the very edge of our property, impervious to our entreaties to go away.

And then we came upon several Really Heavy Things in the garage and before I could censor my addled brain, I heard myself calling out, “Could a couple of you strong people lend us a hand?” and after that, what could we do? The sale began at 8:30, with several boxes of things still to be laid out on the various tables and benches and shelves we had assembled the day before, with Marcia still hanging clothing on the fence and I continuing to pile old tools on a big sheet of plywood straddling two sawhorses.

Two of the Early Birds were a husband and wife team desirous of books and CDs. In a matter of few minutes, they had set aside sixty-five books and a dozen CDs, which massive quantity (two-thirds of our stock) prompted me to hurry away from the tool table to inform them, “Books and CDs are fifty cents each.”

“Perfect,” said the wife, watching her husband swiftly examine the selected volumes. “We’ve got that covered.”

And as I watched the husband riffle through the pages and make sure the covers were clean and the spines intact, I realized these two were not buying books to read, but to sell. Indeed, we would eventually learn (from another husband and wife book-buying team) that those early bird book buyers had an online used book business, their inventory largely furnished by early bird assaults on yard sales. Thus books we had been unable to sell to used bookstores brought us pretty pennies thanks to the new reality of buying and selling used books online.

My favorite parts of the day were those glorious moments when shoppers found objects they had been wishing fervently to find, yet hadn’t (probably) thought they would ever find for a couple bucks at a yard sale. For instance, one of the items on sale was an electric shredder mounted on a wastebasket, something Marcia hadn’t used in a decade, a perfectly fine piece of equipment for small scale shredding operations. One or two people picked the thing up and pondered how their lives might be with or without such a device, but no one bought the shiny apparatus until the very end of the sale when I was overseeing the dregs and stragglers and Marcia had abandoned me to go play her cello at a wedding and make some real money.

A woman sped up in a little sports car, jumped out and pointed at the shredder. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed, “does that work?”

“Yes,” I said wearily. “For paper, not leaves or wood.”

“Oh my god,” she repeated. “I dreamt last night about getting a shredder and shredding all the piles of papers on my desk and on the floor in my office that have just been in my way.” Then she stomped her foot. “How much do you want?”

“Two dollars,” I said, though I would have happily given it to her gratis.

“Sold!” she cried, as her dream came true.

Earlier in the day, as I was beginning to despair of ever ridding myself of a massive black metal four-drawer legal-sized filing cabinet that had been my catchall and servant for thirty-five years—a slowly rusting object I had decorated in the style of De Kooning with shiny red paint to cover the rust and dents and scratches—another such cosmic collision occurred. No one, I repeat, no one had given that rusting hulk a second look for the first four hours of the sale; and then, lo, it came to pass that as I turned away from selling three old Frisbees to a very tall man (for a dollar), I espied a very short man with large biceps standing before the filing cabinet and frowning the frown of one who is trying to remember where he’s seen this very object before.

So I dashed to his side and said, “I decorated her with those red flowers to cover a bit of rust, but she works splendidly and I’ve left plenty of files inside each drawer.” I then demonstrated the silky ease with which the gargantuan drawers opened and closed, and watched with pleasure as the man tried each drawer, too.

“There is superficial rust here and there,” I disclosed, “but a light sanding and a little paint and…”

“How much?” he said, his frown deepening.

“Ten dollars,” I ventured.

His eyes widened and he nodded. “I take.”

Then I dollied the old thing to the tailgate of his pickup truck, he lifted her into the bed, handed me ten dollars, nodded again, and vanished.

Another high point of the yard sale was when Marcia sold (for only five dollars) a very nice and fully functional electric keyboard to a young couple with a six-year-old son who was literally hugging and kissing the keyboard and begging his parents to buy it for him. The husband was cradling their other child, a month-old baby girl, and smiling in wonder as his son danced around the keyboard.

“What a beautiful baby,” I said to him. “And what a handsome son.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said softly. “I have my prince, and now I have my princess.” He kissed the slumbering babe. “We stop at two so my wife can go back to school and we give them good life.”

At which moment, a crusty old man approached me with a big basket brimming with things he’d found to buy. “Good yard sale, man” he said, handing me a wad of money. “Really good.”

“What, pray tell, makes it so good?” I asked, marveling at the entirely subjective nature of reality.

“Good stuff,” he said, winking. “At fantastically low prices.”

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)
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2 Comments

This story is a monument to the incredible nonsensical value of stuff.

You said it. At one point, two men nearly came to blows over a funky old wooden light fixture they both just had to have. Fortunately, there were two such fixtures on sale (the second hidden behind a huge bag of old tennis balls (we sold for a dollar) so both men went away happy, sort of, and lightened our load to the dump. I ventured to charge them each three dollars (rather than one) because through their strong desire to possess the fixtures, they had endowed those disintegrating old things with extra value. Thus along with nonsense, metaphors abound at yard sales.

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