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Friday, June 10, 2011

Garage Sales or Garage Swaps?

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I blog about the blessings and absurdities of everyday life. I am a writer, a reader, a bike wife, a mom, and a music fan. They don't call me Aunt Blabby for nothing... 

Looks like spring has finally come to stay. The robins are chirping, the allergy-prone are sneezing, and every weekend the street corners in my neighborhood are blooming with garage sale signs, as households attempt to part with the detritus of another year of American accumulation.

I understand the concept of a good, sinus clearing garage sale, one that leaves the seller (slightly) enriched and clutter-free. It's just never been the outcome of any garage sale in which I've participated.

When I was growing up in suburban upstate New York, the Neighborhood Garage Sale was one of the social events of the year, a day where everyone sat out in their driveways in folding chairs and making change from a shoebox full of cash, all the while yelling affectionate insults at their neighbors about the quality of their items for sale.

On the appointed Saturday morning in June, nearly every driveway in the Virginia Colony subdivision was filled: racks of outgrown clothing, bikes with bent frames, boxes of books and record albums. Like lions stalking a slow-moving antelope, cars that we didn't recognize would cruise slowly up and down the streets before we'd even opened for business at 7:30 am, stopping with the wheels on someone's lawn to issue forth a passenger who would examine a floor lamp or treadmill before hopping back in to move on down the line.

My mother had a pricing system honed through years of practice. Each item had a little white rectangular tag marked with the initials of the family member who'd put it up for sale, and the price. The cashier on duty (also my mother) would take the buyer's money, peel off the label and stick it on the appropriate page in a wirebound notebook, one for her, one for my dad, and one for each of the three kids. Over the course of the day, as the hagglers descended and tried to talk us down on price for wilted stuffed animals and rickety chairs, I'd sneak a quick glance to see how much I'd earned.

That number in mind, I'd hop on my banana seat bike and cruise up and down our street trying to figure how I could blow my newfound fortune on something else. Maybe Carol Flannigan is selling her 10-speed, or Lizzy Cooper is finally parting with her Madame Alexander dolls! If there are parents and educators out there worried about the deterioration of a child's math skills over summer vacation, I heartily recommend setting the child loose on a garage sale with a budget of $7.89. They'll be doing long division and multiplication like MIT students in no time, figuring out how to get spend every penny of it (but not a cent more.)

The trouble is that as the day wound down, the parents began doing the same thing. Mom would stroll off down the street to see what was happening at the Melich's house, and when she got back she'd tell Dad to go take a look at the table that was still sitting in the driveway over at the Crane's, wouldn't that work better in the upstairs hallway than the one they already had? In the meantime Mr. Meyer would stop over and take a couple of swings with the aluminum tennis racket Dad was selling, mentioning how his old racket got broken when his son used it as a golf club. "Got change for a $5, Nance?" he'd ask, reaching into a worn out leather wallet.

By the time the sun set on our community garage sale, our neighborhood would have completed a massive transfer of goods, with a net change in wealth of exactly zero. It was Potlatch, Rochester -style.

Which is why I don't do garage sales. I can't afford that kind of de-cluttering.


Cheryl said...

Garage sales must be a right of passage kind of exercise. When you are either a child or an extremely budget conscious adult, you justify that amount of work for the $10.00 you may earn by turning you driveway into a pseudo Walmart when on any day of the week you can donate your stuff to charity and get more than the $10.00 tax credit. For those that think it is fun,,,I am baffled.

Teachinfourth said...

This post reminds me of the garage sales I went to as a kid; more often than not coming home with far more 'things' than I ever sold.

Beautifully written!

Wendi said...

Great essay.

Our last garage sale went off the rails when the Rodriguez gang, all 15 of them, showed up and swarmed us en masse. I'm not sure what happened, exactly, but after they left, half our merchandise was gone & we had a 10 dollar bill in our hands.

Donna said...

Well, I love our community Yard Sale! We look forward to the social scene and buying and trading each other's stuff. The kids run around; some sell off their old toys, some sell lemonade and cookies for their favorite charity. It's a time out, really, because once you set up your "store", you sink into a lawn chair and relax. Once a year, you just sit around and "hang out" which is such a rare occurrence in our society. Plus you turn your trash into cash even if it's only enough to take the family out to dinner that evening. Who cares? It is indeed a right of passage.

Anonymous said...

Been to many a garage sale in the past and you summed it up perfectly!


Lori said...

Loved this, Gerb. Perfect summation of old-time neighborhood yard sales, as we call them in the south. I hate not living in a neighborhood anymore--can't have them unless I pack up several car loads and cart it off somewhere!

Karen Peterson said...

I don't remember going to too many garage sales as a kid, but I sure remember having them. I never made much money because I just wanted to get rid of stuff. Except my Barbie collection. I'm still a little bitter that I was forced to sell that...

Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac said...

I long ago swore off garage sales and am now a big fan of donating our superfluous junk. That said, I have a very fond memory of one garage sale (age 25 and newlywed) where our final customer of the day, who had been lurking for hours, offered to buy every last remaining item. When we went to help him load his van, it was packed from floor to ceiling. We had to strap bags and car tires to the roof.

The Empress said...

This is why I laugh at Rummage Sales: the HIJINX that go on.

The haggling, the stealing, the complaining, the blog fodder!!!

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