It’s one thing to talk about doing a yard sale and thinking that you’ve planned for every contingency, but no one can be truly prepared for the oddball occurrences connected to such an event.
For our recent neighborhood bazaar, my yard sale teammates and I wrote up a “five yards one sale” advertisement in the local paper and also made signs with our “Upscale Resale” slogan in black block letters on yellow corrugated plastic. “The Mayor” in our neighborhood directed us to all the appropriate intersections of our neighborhood at which to hang them.
We were ready to put out our goods the night before the big event, but since rain was in the forecast, everyone held off until the morning. At 5 a.m. my ambitious neighbors brought their sale items outside. And by 5:30 a.m. at least 100 vultures (in all probability dealers) had descended upon our neighborhood.
My neighbors across the street draped a yellow plastic ribbon across their driveway but that did not deter the true aggressives, who simply ripped it down.
By 6 a.m., I decided to go out for breakfast since the sale wasn’t set to begin for two more hours. One of my neighbors asked where I was going and, when I replied, I was told that I’d be missing the best buyers. Egads!
I returned at 7 a.m., opened my garage door and put everything outside on the driveway and lawn. Within 10 minutes I had made my first sale, a small clock radio from the 1970s with an alarm that could wake the dead.
The buyer gave me $5 and didn’t even ask if it worked. Some very unimpressive furniture from my college apartment, painted in a cheerful shade of aqua, also went for the asking price. A $5 print from college sold for $10 and a pretty wrought iron side table—which I found at the dump when I was ridding myself of other clutter—went for $30. What a coup!
With 70 cartons of books in my attic, many of which hadn’t been looked at in 25 years, I culled about 10 cartons to sell. Of course, the commentary on my selection was worthy of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
My collection of psychology and psychiatry books evoked a gasp from one bearded gentleman who, ironically, bore a striking resemblance to Sigmund Freud. When he uttered, “This is the same as science fiction,” my blood boiled until his wife told him that they were only out for the day and he was not allowed to bring anything home to the city.
A college student grabbed books on female sexuality and homosexuality written in the 1950s. She smiled and said, “I’ve been looking for these and can’t wait to read them.” Who knew?
Another man wore a curious smile as he went through boxes of books. I said, “I guess you can see what I studied in college.” He laughed. “Yes, one should really get rid of these immediately afterward,” he said, “or they’ll follow you around forever.”
A few minutes later the man appeared at the sales table with a pile of good reads under his arm and said, “I so enjoyed talking to you that I just had to buy some of your books.”
By the end of the day, I had made $50 on the books and took the leftovers to the library shop as a donation. Best of all, for some reason unbeknownst to me, all of the cookbooks sold, even the dreadful “Charleston Cookbook” from which one could not even make a decent mint julep.
Of course, the agonizers and hondlers showed up later in the day. A piece of costume jewelry with a $5 price tag caught the eye of a connoisseur. “Oh, I don’t know what to do, I have so many broaches. Will you take $3 ... The shell is cracked,” she said as she pointed to one of several plastic shells composing a flower that had a crack about a 1/32th of an inch wide. “Four and it’s yours,” I answered. The deal was done.
Even though I had hidden my wheelbarrow and hand truck behind the garage, at least half a dozen men asked if they were for sale. The vintage Raleigh bicycle that I had bought two years ago for $50 sold for $75. My neighbors scolded me later, “It’s $150 on eBay. You should have held out.”
The sale ended at 4 p.m. and I had plenty of time for a nap before the garage party started at Martin and Adrienne’s house across the street. An assortment of 16 friends, family members and neighbors arrived for a sit-down dinner to celebrate Adrienne’s birthday and the success of our joint venture.
Collectively, my neighbors and I hauled in $2,600 for the day. While we enjoyed our feast, we regaled each other with tales of what sold and what didn’t.
Kenny and Harriet had few items for sale but they had great provenance: a collection of costume jewelry used in daytime television on the soaps. Martin and Adrienne sold much of what had been given to them over the years. My garage has been freed up enough so I can now park a car in there without incident. JoAnne and Bob sold the majority of their enamelware, along with vintage antiques collected over a 30-year period.
Of course, The Mayor had the most amusing exchange of all when he was able to sell a traditional couch with velvet beige and black striped fabric from the 1950s that was in mint condition. “I was just dying to get rid of the thing for a $20 price tag,” he said with a chuckle.
A couple looked at the pristine gem and told him that they wanted to buy it because the husband loved the fabric. The husband whips out his 20 bucks and asks, “But does it have bedbugs?”
Even on “SNL” they could not have come up with that line.
Anne Surchin is an East End architect and writer.
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