June 27, 2012

Yard Sale Chronicles

"This is so exciting," my husband says, pulling a large table onto the driveway. He throws a red tarp across the top of it and starts adding assorted knickknacks, books, and movies. "You are going to have so much fun."

I drop my box of Deal-a-Meal cards and look at him - a long cold stare. "You have never run a yard sale before, have you?"

He flinches. Just the previous evening he had boasted that he had run dozens of yard sales, hundreds even. In fact, in some areas of the world he was known as The Yard Sale King. But under the intense scrutiny of my gaze, he fesses up. "No. What gave me away?"

"The word fun."

He returns to his task and I feel a bit guilty. Maybe I was hardened. I had run my share of yard sales and I have never thought of them as fun. You plan, price, advertise, and pry old toys from children's hands for weeks, only to have strangers tell you that your stuff is crap and that they found that same shellacked  Elvis plaque at a yard sale down the road for half the cost. Having a yard sale is like going to church - it absolves you of your creepy past but you don't want to give up your Sunday to do it.

We continue our work silently, pulling out lamps, old games, and clothes we may have purchased at a previous yard sale. At 7:05 a car pulls into our cul-de-sac, circles twice, and speeds away. At 7:10 a similar vehicle follows. The drivers look to have some crude type of communication devices. Maybe walkie talkies.

"Who are they?" My husband asks, bringing out the Dorf videos and the Magic Bullet purchased one drunken Saturday night.

"Yard Sale People, I whisper. "Or YSP as I call them."

"What are they doing here now?" He checks the time on his cell phone. "The sale doesn't start for another hour."

I shake my head. My husband, growing up in small-town Montana, is still naive to the ways of the world. "Honey, Yard Sale People aren't like normal people. They are the bleary-eyed, sleep deprived, dark underbelly of suburbia."  I nod towards a woman who wants to get a better look at our stuff by pretending to be a garden shrub. "They spend endless hours honing their craft, and they use it for three things: to intimidate, negotiate, and shame."

"But there are so many of them," he says, noting the bicyclers and stroller-pushers who are ambling towards us. "Where did they all come from?"


At 7:55 an enclave of navy cavaliers assemble, lining the opposite street. The drivers are equipped with binoculars, Ipads and cellphones, watching intently as we set a chipped Precious Moments nativity scene on the ground. My husband looks at me. "More YSP?"

I shake my head. "I don't think so, honey. Yard Sale People are small time. Locals. Nope. These guys work for the professionals?"

"Professionals? You mean..."

"Yes." I swallow. "Goodwill and Ebay."

At 8:05  we are swarmed, overrun by the hordes. "Can't these people read the price tags?" My husband gasps. "They are all trying to talk me down a quarter on everything. Even the things that cost a quarter!"

"Try talking in a made-up accent. Eventually they give up and pay full price."

My husband sighs and I can feel his resolve begin to melt. I understand why he had high expectations for the day. Yard sales look like fun on sitcoms. But the reality is different. Gritty and stark. People of all ages, shapes, and ethnicities invade your home, trying to buy everything on your lawn except for what you are actually selling. "I'll give you two dollars for that coat you're wearing. Twenty-five dollars and I can take that Prius off your hands." It takes someone of supreme fortitude to withstand the constant barrage of penny pinching, negativity, and criticisms. It takes a woman.

Preferably one who has been raised by my mother.

"Go inside, baby." I say. He smiles gratefully and disappears into the house, shutting the blinds. The soothing sounds of Sports Center emanating from beneath the door tell me that he is going to be okay. Now to save myself.

"Okay, people," I say, bringing out the ice box full of sodas I had purchased from Costco the night before. I heard that the big bucks in yard sale profits was in playing the Snack Market, and I intended to win. "It is noon and everything is now half-priced." There were cheers from the crowd but I didn't have long to savor their reverence. Another whole fleet of cars flooded our driveway. Word had gotten out fast.

"No!" I yell, pushing them back with an old pool stick. "You are going to swamp us!"

I watch as my past is stripped from me, and though I should feel cleansed inside, it feels more like a violation. Voracious shoppers carry off used diaper genies and cracked computer monitors. Two women get into a fist fight over a one-legged Barbie. My items disappear and the crowd along with it. By sundown, most everything is gone.

That night, I wake up, covered in sweat. Dreams of nickels, dimes, and SUVs haunt my sleep.

"Whats wrong?" My husband asks, rubbing my back. "You okay?"

"I think Im suffering from Post-Traumatic Yard Sale Disorder," I say. He laughs and I glare, wishing he could see my face in the dark. "It's a real thing!"

"Oh, honey. Don't worry. We got half the stuff sold. Now we just have to clean out the rest of the garage and sell the other stuff tomorrow. One more day."

One more day. His words make me cold. I crawl into the fetal position, cuddling up with one of the Snuggies I managed to wrangle back from an old man who said it would be perfect to use while watching his homemade adult movies.

One more day. I just had to get through one more day.

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