and other bargains

When Vicki McComas and Susan Milukas are on the hunt, no yard-sale treasure goes unnoticed.

May 05, 2002|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff

Every Saturday morning at 7:45, Vicki McComas hustles from her Fells Point rowhouse down through her storefront and out the door with map in hand. A brown metallic Mercury Pacer pulls up, and Susan Milukas, her blonde hair still disheveled from the bed pillow, honks. Neither woman has had coffee yet when Vicki squeezes into the passenger seat and Susan drives off, their adrenalin pumping at the thought of what they might find.

They were in their early 30s when this Saturday routine began 16 years ago. Vicki, a potter, had just opened her Aliceanna Street junk shop, Saratoga Trunk, and when her husband balked at taking her shopping, Susan volunteered. Yard sales were not trendy, the way they are now, and it was a lot easier to find good stuff.

Susan still drives, Vicki having never earned a license, and Vicki navigates, her free hand on the door handle, ready to pounce.

The first stop one Saturday is St. Brigid's Church in Canton. The evening before, Vicki had called the rectory and learned people were already setting up, so they pay $2 to browse an hour before opening.

Within seconds Vicki is holding a floral candy dish in one hand and a green breakfast cup-and-saucer in the other, and her eyes are fixed on turn-of-the-century pictures of Jesus and Mary in black and gold frames.

Disgust registers on Vicki's face when she recognizes a dealer helping the church women unpack boxes and hears him, too, ask about the religious pictures. He's right up there with her yard-sale nemesis, a man she refers to as "the black-haired guy."

They consider it tacky to knock on somebody's door and wake them up. They never arrive more than 15 minutes early, unlike the "black-haired guy," who has a scorched-earth policy. Vicki gets so mad when she sees him buy up everything that she stops shopping.

"I just can't imagine what they're like in their personal lives," Susan says supportively.

Ten minutes later, without the holy pictures, they are back in the car headed to the next stop.

Susan talks as she drives. Vicki doesn't respond. Her head is buried in the map. She sighs. Should she have chosen the annual Anneslie yard sale instead of indoor venues? She was convinced it would rain, and Anneslie is work. They would have been walking all morning.

"You'd think this kind of job would not be stressful," she says. "When your husband has the regular job and health insurance, it's not supposed to be stressful."

Before she met Susan, Vicki went to yard sales with a friend they refer to as "Alice from Dallas," because she lives on Dallas Street. That continued until Vicki became so upset by her behavior she feared that one day she would knock Alice over. "She'd be next to me, and I'd have something in my hand, and she'd say, 'Can I see that?' and then she'd buy it. Or, I'd be looking down at something, and she'd pick it up and buy it. She did that to me five times."

Vicki and Susan met at Birds of a Feather, a bar on Aliceanna Street that sells 150 different single-malt scotches. They were customers. At the time, Vicki was cooking lunch at Martick's and baking for Bertha's in addition to working in clay. The bar's owners, Alicia and John Horn, loved her food and started a cooking club, including Susan and her husband. The friendship was cemented when Susan bought one of Vicki's clay pieces, a sheep dressed in a gray poodle skirt and wearing pearls.

Back then, Vicki used to "cha-cha" dress. She packed herself into her clothes like Madonna, put on rhinestones and makeup and was set to go. Susan changed Vicki's style to be more like hers, natural fibers and unstructured clothes. Now, whenever Susan puts together a box of clothes and shoes for the Goodwill, Vicki goes through it first.

They turn onto Homeland Avenue in search of a multifamily yard sale. At 8:40 a.m., they are not too early, not too late. But with rain predicted, Vicki isn't sure the sale will be on.

"Look they've got their pink sign up. Yes! Yes! That means they are going to have it," she yells, "and that guy's still back at St. Brigid's."

Seconds after Susan parks, Vicki has walked up to a table to find a 3-inch mammal on a marble base. "This is the first time I've seen a duckbilled platypus at a yard sale!" she exclaims. Minutes later she nabs an unopened Madame Alexander doll for $6. "It's a collectible," Susan tells her triumphantly.

They shake their heads as two cars fight for a parking spot.

Susan finds a $7 Mummy card game, the perfect thing to bring the 7-year-old Egyptologist she baby-sits. Susan, who has stepchildren, is the more maternal. Vicki would never baby-sit, but she's been broken in by two neighbor children she invites over for "stampathons" with her rubber-stamp collection.

At the next house, Vicki spots a beautiful Chinese plate, bowl and pagoda with a lid. It was a wedding present, the seller explains, from a good friend, too, but it doesn't fit their decor.

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