Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yard Sale Stories

This weekend was the city-wide yard sale in my town. (It's more of a town than a city, but we have a population sign, a council, and a mayor, so we're technically a city.) Saturday, with all the parked cars and wandering pedestrians, my street looked like a redneck mall. There was everything from giant shop fans to delicate antiques on sale in yards, garages, and driveways, and I was one of the vendors, my carport packed with stuff I didn't want to ever bring back inside the house.

It's amazing what clutter one accumulates in a few short years. When I first moved into the house, after Dad and I and a few others did major renovations to what had been a rotting structure, the place echoed, it was so empty. But then folks started giving me kitchenware, dust-catchers (the givers called them decorations), and furniture -- often items they didn't want but didn't want to throw away, and mostly justified by the notion that "a single person must need this."

But I'll be honest: I've acquired a whole lot of stuff all on my own.

So, for the past week or more, I sorted and debated, eventually filling the dining room with piled boxes and furniture destined for the yard sale. I felt good about my decisions.

Then, Friday, there was rain. And more rain predicted for the weekend.

Knowing the fickleness of weather, I prepared for the sale anyway. With the carport as shelter, I could still have a sale -- and probably be the only intrepid soul to do so on my street -- so I hauled out the heaviest items, and parked the car so the driveway was blocked against possible pre-sale scouting. (Ahem, thieving.) By the time I finished the signs (I'd forgotten about them earlier in the week), prepared the starting money (forgot about that, too), and finished an inventory and price tags, the time was 3 a.m.

When the alarm blared at 5 a.m., I was so groggy I felt ill, so I reset it for 6. As a result, I was still finishing the set up when the first customer arrived around 7 a.m. He helped carry out the last piece of furniture -- an antique dresser that customers commented on, admired, stroked, tapped, examined, wanted for dirt cheap, but never purchased. It was the last piece put out in the sale, and the last piece returned to the house.

Aside from a few sprinkles mid-morning, the weather was perfect.

Not being a very social person, the sale forced me to be outgoing -- to chat. That's an uncomfortable exercise with strangers, but in an Arkansas town, just about everybody knows everybody, even if they met two seconds ago. People asked who my daddy was -- "Oh, yeah, I know him! Nice fella" -- and why there was a For Sale sign in the yard, where I worked, how much I'd be willing to take for a duffle bag, what was the story behind the little wooden table.

A tattooed, pierced, skater-goth-hip hop young man in a sideways ballcap and saggy black denim shorts -- he lives a few houses down -- stopped on the edge of the grass and yelled a question at me that I couldn't quite hear over the other conversations.


"Got any old science fiction books for sale?"

"All those are still in the house, on the shelf."

"In that case, I like you. You're cool. Never sell those books."

And he walked up the street.

In another incident, a nice lady bought a couple of old, glass-paneled exterior doors that Dad and I had modified to use as bedroom doors. However, they're a little too unconventional for most home buyers, so they had to go. The customer fell in love with them as soon as she set eyes on them. Her truck, however, was piled with a large cooler, a tall Christmas tree, a folding lounge chair, and several other items. When she tried to back into the driveway, she ran into another customer's truck.

She didn't hear our shouted warnings or see our waving arms. Her tow hitch slid right under theirs, and the bumpers kissed, but no harm was done. The other customers laughed, and ran to help, and the trucks were parted without a hitch. (chuckle) The lady, however, was distraught.

As a way to calm her, I talked about the old doors, and why I am nervous around too-perfect things. "I'm afraid to touch them or use them, and I just can't be comfortable--"

"I'm the same way!" And she ran with the conversation while I loaded the doors into her truck, in the end assuring me that they would have a good home inside a house filled with other old and imperfect things that she loves.

During the course of the sale, I met a grandmother who was raising her grandchildren, and needed a bed so they didn't have to sleep with her anymore. I had just the bed she needed. There was also a Korean War veteran who found just the right flat-billed ballcap in the box of free stuff; a young family of four who bought the dinnerware -- I tossed in the box of drinking glasses for free; a boy who wanted a stuffed bear but didn't have the money for it -- I told him to take care of it well; a woman on her way to work who saw some bowls she needed, so she had to stop before someone else snatched them; a mother and daughter shopping for items for a newlywed couple on a limited budget, and my solid-wood file cabinet was the right price.

Despite lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of the finer conversational skills, I had a good time. When I finally shut down in the middle of the afternoon, there were only two bins of items, the television, and the antique dresser to return to the house. The place feels almost empty again, and some spaces echo.

Breathing room.