So I had a yard sale last weekend. My apartment is overrun with seven years of accumulated junk and I plan to move in a couple of months. Also, I lost out on a couple of days of work and was facing a potential rent check bouncing situation.
When I told my friend Gabe I had a yard sale she said, “Where? You don’t have a yard.” And she’s right. I don’t. But I live in an apartment with an underground garage full of other people’s cars, so I couldn’t have a garage sale. And it would have been weird to write “Driveway/Garbage Room Access Area on the Side of an Apartment Building Sale.” It would’ve taken to long to make those signs, anyway.
Is this an Ernest yard sale?
Ernest Saves the Yard Sale!
I planned ahead for the sale. I advertised on Craigslist, I made a couple of posters, I went to the bank and got fifty dollars worth of singles so I could make change for people. I spent the Friday night before writing prices on stickers and affixing them to all my items.
I had lots of cool things to sell.
A bookshelf, an old CD player, a 300-lb television, a bunch of clothes, a keyboard, an entertainment center. There was a classy terrycloth bathrobe and an vintage looking jewelry box that I probably could've taken on the Antique Road Show and made me a fortune.
There were some other less cool things too, like stacks of VHS tapes, a Snakes on a Plane t-shirt, and a box of napkins with “Fabulous Cocktail Party” printed on them.
Then there were the things that I thought were cool that no one else seemed to think were cool: margarita glasses with little 3-D Mexican men in ponchos taking siestas against the stems. A fully functional George Foreman Grill. A wine glass my friend Bert gave me in college that holds an ENTIRE BOTTLE of wine (it's real!). And tons of pretty clothes that I’ve bought over the years that cost me a fortune.
A classy ad for a classy product.
I had a sort of hazy vision of how the sale was going to go down. I pictured a few moments of initial nervousness as strangers pawed through my stuff. Then I imagined that I would be rather bored—sick of collecting money all morning and attempting to read my book while neighbors kept interrupting to ask how much this or that item cost. Constantly having to get a dollar out of my stack of fifty one-dollar bills.
The reality was somewhat different.
Here’s what I learned from having a yard sale:
1. Old people are really bored.
A few of my elderly neighbors stopped by to pretend to be interested in one or two of my items.
The first was Chinese man, a professor of philosophy who lives with his daughter a couple blocks away. He said he was interested in my electric keyboard and asked if he could try it out. Since there was no outlet outside, my neighbor Diane agreed to take over while I escorted Dr. Lee into my apartment on the second floor to play the keyboard.
He tinkered around for a minute, playing some partial chords and then randomly striking keys. Then he seemed to lose interest in the keyboard and started asking me about what I did for a living and if I had a roommate. I wasn't nervous, because he was frail enough that I could beat his ass senseless if he tried any funny business. So I answered the questions as politely as I could while gently guiding him out of my apartment and down the steep stairs. His cane slowed us down a bit, as did the keyboard and stand I was carrying. But we made it back onto the street where he hung around for another 30 minutes telling anyone who looked at the piano that it was out of tune. Thanks, Dr. Lee.
Then we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to talk soon, but only because he doesn't do email--his eyesight isn't what it used to be.
There was a bit of overlap between Dr. Lee and Gigi, an elderly Filipino woman wearing a floppy-brimmed, black hat. In fact they spoke to each other for a few minutes giving me time to walk away and pretend to do something else for a spell.
Gigi started every sentence with, “Listen, honey…” but she said it like she was a tough cookie from Bronx, even though her accent was distinctly Pacific Islander. She just seemed to want some good conversation; she told me all about her neighbors, her gay landlord, his sugar daddy boyfriend, her daughters and her youthful appearance. Then she asked if I had a bathroom scale, pretended to look through my clothes, and told me I had really pale skin. Then she continued on her way. Thanks, Gigi!
2. Some people are really cheap.
No one wanted to pay full price for anything, even if the listed price was already one eighth of the original cost. For instance, one woman asked me how much I wanted for a sweater for which I probably paid $25.00, brand new.
I told her, “Three dollars.”
She said, “How about one dollar?”
I said, “How about two dollars?”
She said, “No.”
And she left! But I couldn’t believe that my sweater wasn’t worth a measly two or three freaking dollars! Or that she was so cheap she couldn’t spend two dollars. If I ever found a sweater for two dollars, I would buy it even if it was the most hideous sweater in the world because TWO DOLLARS IS FUCKING CHEAP!
3. Having a yard sale is pretty dull.
I invited all of my friends to come visit me during my yard sale. Only Laura and Bryan showed up. They stayed for about twenty minutes before the boredom was more than they could stand. I don't blame them.
When customers are there, it’s a little bit easier to pass the time. You make conversations or quote prices. But when there’s a lull, you just feel like an asshole sitting in a pile of garbage that nobody wants, waiting for the day to be over.
4. You have to have thick skin to have a yard sale.
When people are going through your things and making faces, or when someone refuses to give you two dollars for a perfectly good sweater, you start to feel rejected. I mean, this is stuff I paid FULL PRICE for! So how do you think it makes me feel when you act like none of it’s good enough for you? Huh? How do you think that feels?
5. You don’t necessarily make a lot of money having a yard sale.
I had visions of hundreds of dollars dancing in my head. I thought about paying off some debt, getting a leg up on some bills, maybe even going shopping. I’m not going to lie: I thought I was going to make about $600.
I made $125 and had to leave the entertainment center outside for someone to take for free (also humiliating, though it did go fast once I put a "Free" sign on it).
I don’t regret having a yard sale. For one thing, I was scared to do it and it’s always good to try things that scare you (except heroin and cliff diving).
What I am upset about is the large amount of crap that’s now sitting in my garage. Oh sure, I gave a lot of the unsold items to Out of the Closet, but there was stuff in there that I still want to sell, dammit! Expensive stuff for which I expect to be paid hundreds of dollars!
I’m already envisioning a bigger, better-planned, elaborate yard sale in which I offer shoppers champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and sell my big-ticket items auction-style for HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS. But I’m guessing that I will still have boxes of crap sitting in my garage on the day I move out of this apartment. Thus defeating the basic purpose of the yard sale and mocking me every time I park.
And I ended up having to take 49 one-dollar bills back to the bank.
*Please attribute the title of this post to Miss Katherine Brooks in Kevin Sullivan's Anne of Avonlea. I started muttering this under my breath after the sweater incident.