Marsha and I just spent an evening tagging stuff for our garage sale next weekend. In years past, garage sales made me uneasy. I’ve gotten over that.
They now fill me with terror.
The history of garage sales should read like the bedtime story Calvin’s dad read to him in an old Calvin and Hobbes strip: “Once upon a time there was a little boy who needed to go to sleep. The end.”
Unfortunately, I’m no salesman. As with rugby, politics, and open heart surgery, with sales you’ve got to enjoy getting down and dirty, really wallow in the blood and mud, to succeed. I wallow poorly. It comes from not being allowed to play in the rain as a kid. I couldn’t go near a puddle without Mom hurling soap at me. I was the only kid on the block with a bathtub ring in my driveway.
For one thing, I bargain about as well as a state trooper. I figure, if it’s in good shape and the price is fair, why stand gassing about it? This is decidedly at odds with the garage sale ethos, namely:
(1) There is no relation between a customer’s net worth and an item’s price. You can count on the driver of a crew cab dually 4 x 4 with stacks and detailing to pull up, examine the tool box priced at three dollars, and promptly offer half that.
You: “Well, sir, considering it was owned by the Astors and insured by Lloyd’s of London, I was kinda hopin’ for at least $2.50.”
He (adjusting Oakleys): “Nah, too much.”
You: “Tell you what: For $2.25 I’ll gladly rotate your tires and lick your running boards clean.”
He: “Sounds good. I’ve also got this zit on my back I can’t reach….”
(2) As hinted, blue book values do not apply here. Even brand-new items will be treated like landfill substrata. I recently sold a commercial riding mower with more new components than Cher, the closest thing to a top fuel dragster in lawn care. This thing will climb trees with the right octane. But from the offers I received, you’d have thought I was pushing an ox cart, minus the ox. I practically sued prospective buyers for defamation of character. The guy who finally bought it paid the asking price as long as I agreed to bring him breakfast in bed for three years if it ever failed.
Which brings up another crucial point of garage sale dynamics: guarantees.
People who shop at garage sales remind me of that fishing camp story about the old squaw who sat on her cabin porch all day, toothless, unwashed, and dribbling tobacco juice down her chin. When asked why he kept her around, the owner said, “Boys, when she starts looking good to you, it’s time to go home.”
The difference here is that, unlike fishermen, the buyer will be departing with the squaw and still expecting her to deliver like Beyonce when he gets home. You may be in Chapter Eleven, owing money in twelve states, and he will still expect a lifetime guarantee, especially when he shows up again the next day with his trash-talking spouse.
She: “That toaster you sold Merle: It ain’t workin’!”
You: “It worked yesterday. He plugged it in over there!”
She: “Yeah, but that’s your electricity!”
I have no stomach for this jive.
Unfortunately, Marsha and I have no choice in the matter. We must have a garage sale every year, or sleep in the tool shed. Because the previous owner and builder of our house had fewer possessions than Gandhi, he didn’t believe in storage space. A lunchbox has more storage than our house. This is especially troublesome if you have a growing child with doting grandparents who believe her digs should resemble F. A. O. Schwarz.
Most of the stuff in this year’s sale is, in fact, Anna’s, including the specialty items that provide its theme. Every sale should have a theme. It makes you think you’re mounting a Broadway show rather than cleaning a stable. Our theme this year is Things We Amputated Toes On. They include baby gates we didn’t quite hurdle, a stroller I never got the hang of folding, especially in flip-flops, and an expensive Japanese-made high chair whose legs reach from our kitchen to Tokyo. Stuff like that makes garage sales seem healthy.
I better start learning to wallow.