When my sister-in-law, Elena, bought a new house down the street, she announced a concurrent culling of personal possessions. She’d move her stuff over to the new place, she said, but not all of that stuff would make it inside. It was time for a yard sale.
I’ve always viewed yard sales as a kooky exercise for people who feel they missed out on the barter economy. I mean, I’m no Downeast Dickerer, but both sides of the yard sale crowd seem mutually deluded. Sellers think their trash is a valuable commodity, and buyers are sure they’ll find a Picasso among the piles of Tyler Perry DVDs.
Since we’ve also accumulated a fair amount of junk—valuables!—over the years, I load up a trailer to haul over to Elena’s flea market. I’m pretty certain that this is a waste of time and I’ll be hauling it all right back afterward. I’ve never stopped at a yard sale in my life, and I feel that in most respects my judgment is sound and represents that of the masses.
Apparently I’m in the minority when it comes to yard-sale enthusiasm, or lack thereof. When the signs go up, people begin arriving immediately—two days early. I guess pickers love a good jump, but it gets annoying. One woman stops by three times, including at 7 am the day of the sale. I’m over there unloading the trailer when she pulls in and asks if Elena has any jewelry for sale. Or iPhones. Or laptops. “You’re killing me,” Elena says. “I don’t have any jewelry. Maybe at the next yard sale.” The woman asks if Elena could call her about that hypothetical future sale. Elena says she doesn’t want to take her number because she’ll just lose it. “Oh, well then, can you text me?” replies Yard Crasher. Elena explains that texting is the same as calling in terms of the losing-the-number problem, so no. That seems to satisfy the jewelry hound, and she drives off, never to return. Apparently her excitement lay entirely in showing up too early. She probably left to stake out a good spot for Black Friday.
She isn’t alone in her strategy. Although Junkfest ’15 is slated to officially begin at 10 am, by 8:30 there’s a healthy crowd. We resign ourselves to the fact that it’s on. Our stash includes a turkey fryer, a mini fridge, a rickety glider chair and assorted random garage detritus. A kindly octogenarian emerges from his Subaru Baja and grabs a set of mountain bike tires. “What size are these?” he asks. “I’ve never seen this size before.” I reply that they’re 26-inch tires, pretty standard for most bikes in the known universe. He’s trying to soften me up, driving down the price by implying that my tires are some strange dimension, metric maybe—perhaps he’d have to have them altered by the tire tailor. What I know, and he does not, is that I don’t care even a little bit about these tires or how much I get for them. I’d be happy enough just to get them out of my garage and onto whatever penny-farthing this guy thinks they’d fit. “How about a dollar?” I propose. Sold.
It will not be the last item on the dollar menu. Elena’s boyfriend, Louis, is sitting near the garage when a guy walks out with a broom and a toilet plunger. “How much for these?” he asks. Neither item is actually for sale, but Louis calls an audible and sells them for a buck each. After that, though, he starts writing Post-its denoting the items that are not for sale—a fan, a table, the dog.
Most shoppers make off with an item or two, but a select few quickly identify themselves as the whales, people willing to spend $200 or more on curios and tchotchkes. One woman fills a minivan with $250 in Christmas paraphernalia. Another guy makes multiple visits during the course of the morning. He’s obviously a yard-sale regular, versed in the art of the haggle. He looks like David Koechner—Champ Kind from Anchorman.
“Well, this guitar has a broken string. I don’t know how I’d fix that,” he says with a tone of sad resignation more appropriate to an astronaut staring at a broken carbon-scrubber on the International Space Station. Heather tells him he’ll fix it by getting a new string. She refuses to budge on the price. He grudgingly hands over $30 and immediately tries to sell the guitar to someone else in the driveway. He also buys my mini-fridge and the turkey fryer. Turkey fryers are a great way to cook delicious turkey while spending $100 on oil and possibly burning down your yard. As he’ll learn.
By the end of the day, most of our stuff is gone and we’ve made $339. I was wrong. People love yard sales. Next time, I’ll bring the toilet plungers.