At a yard sale, a man's junk is just that - junk

September 28, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

Our neighborhood just held a community yard sale, an extravaganza at which folks demonstrate their community spirit by trying to dupe others into buying all the useless stuff they've been trying to get rid of for years.

The yard sale was held on the grounds of the local elementary school, and by 8 a.m. the place looked like the midway at the state fair.

Having participated in a number of these - although not this one - it occurred to me that there are a number of eternal truths that apply to any yard sale:

The weather is always iffy - 90 percent of the time there's a threat of rain.

You know those areas of the country where they're always having prolonged droughts? Forget about seeding the clouds or piping in water in those places.

All they'd have to do is schedule a yard sale and - Boom! - it would start raining.

If you're a seller, your odds of parking close to where you want to set up are inversely proportional to how heavy and cumbersome the stuff is that you're selling.

For instance, if you're selling a set of weights with 200 pounds of plates and a small refrigerator, the nearest parking spot will be four blocks away. And you'll end up with a hernia from lugging your stuff back.

Whereas if you're selling Tupperware or your egg-shell-art collection, you'll find a parking spot directly in front of where you're setting up.

The dog nuts will always take their dogs. OK, what's wrong with this picture?

You've got a community yard sale going on, right? Big crowds. Sticky weather. Confined space.

Moms and dads pushing babies in strollers. Little kids walking around clutching hot dogs or ice cream cones. Elderly people who maybe don't walk as steadily as they used to.

And now you throw a bunch of dogs into the mix?

Hello? Is this really the place to take Fido for a walk?

No matter how low you price your stuff, people will always want you to go lower.

If you mark something for 75 cents, someone will say: "Will you sell it for 50 cents?"

If you mark it for 50 cents, someone else will say: "Will you take 25 cents for it?

And if you say no, they make a face.

Like this is the biggest rip-off they've ever seen.

It's unbelievable how cheap people can be at yard sales.

If you're a seller, a yard sale brings out all your latent insecurities.

If you're having a slow morning, but the people on either side of you are doing a brisk business, you'll begin to brood.

What's wrong with your junk? you'll ask yourself over and over again.

How come their junk is selling and ours isn't?

It makes you question your taste, your lifestyle, your upbringing.

I know people who leave yard sales and go home and pull the covers over their heads, they're so shaken.

The only thing worse than having people not buy your stuff is having people ask dopey questions about it.

At a yard sale some years ago, my wife and I were peddling our usual assortment of junk, including an old gumball machine we'd bought for one of the boys when he was in grade school.

The gumball machine had been crammed into a crawl space in the attic for years, and now it was dented and partly rusted.

No one even looked at it for the first few hours of the yard sale. Then a guy picked it up and began studying it intently.

Great, I thought. I lug all this stuff up here and spend four hours in the blazing sun, just so we can make 50 cents on a gumball machine.

Suddenly the guy turned to me and said: "When was this made?"

The question was so astounding that I wasn't sure I'd heard him right.

"You mean ... the year?" I said finally.

"Yes," the guy said, as if this were the most normal question you could ask. "What year was it made?"

I don't know, I wanted to say, why don't you call Fisher-Price or Hasbro and have someone in their gumball machine division track down that info for you?

When I told the guy I didn't know when it was made, he continued to peer at it intently.

Then he asked: "Where could I get gumballs for it?"

Look, I wanted to say, do I look like I own a candy store? Do you want the gumball machine or not? If you want it, buy it. If you don't want it, move on. And take your dog with you.

But of course I said nothing of the sort.

"You could probably get them at Target," I said.

He gave me 50 cents for it. I made sure not to spend it all in one place.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/Cowherd

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