We were trying to clear some space
, carting enormous boxes of usable goods to various charities and thrift store
s. We held yard sale
s where confounded strangers would be told to determine the value
of the object and pay what they thought it was worth. They would stand around, afraid to call out a number, sometimes giving me ten times the value I expected. Or else they would say nothing, look away. Move along, thinking I must be a nut to ask them what they thought it was worth to have that homegrown
hand tied sage stick
with a picture of The Fonz
in the left corner of the top drawer. I kept pointing that out as if it increased the value. I finally hauled in five bucks from a guy who was truly tickled by the Fonz and happened to need a dresser.
Really, I would tell them, you determine the value. I want you to have this. If you are really going to stand there, contemplating the tie-on Ozzy leg banner, for ten full beard fondling minutes, you may as well own it.
Aside from some play money, the real and best part of any yard sale is the interaction with strangers who laze about poking through your least favorite belongings.
What was up with the old women that pulled up in front of the hill and would not get out of the car and, instead just sat there calling out requests, “Gottny quilts? How bout a grill? Any crafty stuff? Whassat, up on top of the hill? Could you bring it down here? We can not get out of the car.” And so for about five minutes all the goods on top of the hill were described, brought down to their car for inspection and clucked over, then refused. They bought nothing. I wondered if they conducted their whole life that way. If I did have knitting supplies would they then go and park somewhere and get started on a big sweater? Or perhaps a car cozy with a chicken head and side wings, the kind old women are fond of using to hide their unsightly toasters? When I got to pondering their toilet I was glad to find a distraction in the form of an odd looking woman, lurking about the yard.
She was round and blond with a wide moon face. Her glasses were tinted gray, which matched the duct tape holding them together in the center. She walked around for almost an hour, touching and sniffing everything, like a dog looking for a good place to pee. I watched her careful movements, wondering what she would buy. She sniffed at a basket filled with fake flowers I had rescued from my mother-in-laws basement. She carried it around with her until she found a shapeless black hat. She sniffed it and put it on, tried to catch a reflection of herself in the screen door. She sniffed many objects, but was finally captivated by a ratty old accordion file. I had debated even putting it out because was in pretty bad shape. But had I set it out anyhow, and now there it was, having its moment of greatest glory, being sniffed at by the weirdest woman on the block.
She cast her myopic gaze up at me, like a mole peeking out of a dank little tunnel. Her eyes were huge under the lenses, blinking moist and suddenly fierce, like she was embarking on the deal of her life. She WOULD have that accordion file!
She approached me and asked a price, and knowing that she needed that initial step I said, “I dunno, how about fifty cents?”
“Will you take ten?” She said chest puffed up, chin suddenly appearing, jutting out in defiance.
“Yes.” I told her, greatly amused.
“Will you take nine?”
I took nine. She thanked me, and the proud little peacock strutted off down the steps, accordion file flapping in the breeze of her own jaunty little steps.
No, thank you, you surreal little apparition, you animal menagerie, you crazy little wonderful human being. Go home and get organized.
And then, just as I thought the day could not have yielded more gold, along came a little blond boy. He was maybe seven and very shy, with hair that would not stay tucked behind his ear. He wore dirty knee jeans and a pullover and had Converse hi-tops. He hung around listening to grown up talk. Pretended to be very interested in a book about marine life. But what he really wanted was a box of plastic gears and wheels, with little cranks and a million little parts, which I was selling for two bucks because I did not want my toddlers choking on the itty bits. It sat there most of the day, and the boy would come and stare longingly at it, then stuff his hands in his pockets and saunter off, only to come back an hour later and stare at it some more. Finally I asked him if he wanted the box and he said, “I don’t have enough money, only seven cents.” Of course, when I told him that was just enough he smiled so big I could see all his missing teeth.
A yard sale patron told me that with my crazy attitude I could never run a business, but he was handsome and had a great smile. He wore a T-shirt that had something to do with his Philosophy degree, so I led him to some books, spread out on the lawn. Take them, I said. They are yours for pennies apiece. He told me I suckered him because of the shirt, but he left with books. The price of that handsome smile, that breezy flirtatious exchange in the sunshine? Fifty cents.
So I never thought of myself as a businesswoman when I spread my stuff out on the hill. I knew some money would go into my pocket but really did not care how much. I was more concerned with having an interesting experience, more concerned with giving things away for their fair value. It was more like a great way to clear some space, have some interesting conversations, meet some colorful neighbors, stand around in the sunshine, imagine funny stories. What is that guy going to do with the Iron Maiden patch, the Barn at Twilight puzzle, Buns of Steel and an ashtray? Will anyone really pay a quarter for a Max and Erma nametag that says “Asshole Geek”, which was worn every day by my friend who washed dishes there and named himself? (Short answer, no)
I may never know what happened to all the junk people carted off my lawn. But I still remember the time they did, which lends more importance to those silly objects than they may ever have enjoyed otherwise. And I wonder about that dimpled philosopher, wonder if the mole woman got herself some new glasses. Wonder if those old women ever got out of their car, or if that little blond boy will become an engineer. But the most burning question of all, did anyone ever actually achieve Buns of Steel?