Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Garage Sale, pt. 2

Our "garage sale" was supposed to be an outdoor affair. But an August monsoon kept us prisoners of the garage. At 7:30 a.m., a pair of early birds tramped across one of the folding tables we were still struggling to erect. Jane and I raised eyebrows, but didn't begrudge their rudeness. True, these folks had belittled Jane’s knitting machine and sulked over the lawn mower that wasn't for sale. But they also had come to our stupid garage sale on a morning when most rational people were busy building arks. For the privilege of scoping our junk, they had just about swum up our street.

By 8 a.m., even amphibious creatures had had enough of the wet. A fat bullfrog came slapping up the driveway and into the garage, begging for mercy. He hopped out again, disdainful, when a woman joked that she would buy him for a quarter.

I’ve told you that I hate selling, but that I don’t mind garage sales. That’s because the latter occupy a category all their own, one better suited to the proclivities of a humanities major. People shop garage sales for bargains, sure. But, in my experience, they also shop for stories. If you have enough good ones, your garage sale is apt to be a success.

“No way,” Jane said. “That might have worked for you back in Lake Wobegone, but people in this town don’t go in for that shit.”

Was she right? Jane almost always is. For a while, we had too few people to test. It didn’t help that I will gladly slash prices on stuff that I never expected to sell. Why not? The person leaves happy, and I make a little cash on an item that it didn’t seem anyone else could love. (I told you I had no instinct for sales.)

Then came an opening. A man carried up a framed print and asked what me what I thought of it. This was my cue.

I did not invent. I did not embellish. I just picked up the print and free-associated. “This was a lithograph made by my great-aunt. Funny – she numbered it, even though this is only print number six of eight. The image has become seriously warped, and so it needs to removed from the frame and flattened. The date says 1982, and the title is “Trust.” If I remember right, this was a gift to my parents for their tenth anniversary. (Pause.) I’m frankly kind of surprised that they handed it over to sell at this garage sale.”

I looked up, embarrassed at the last statement. But the man reached out and took the print again. Staring at it fondly, he asked me if my great-aunt were still living.

“Oh, yes. She lives in New Jersey. Monmouth.”

“And is she still an artist?”

“Digital photography is more her thing these days.”

“Really?” The man was beaming now. And still talking to the print, rather than to me. He reached for his wallet. “How can I not buy a piece that has such a lovely story behind it?”

Was the story all that lovely? It was blatantly unsentimental, really. My parents decided to get rid of a work of art that was supposed to represent their love. My aunt has abandoned charcoal drawing for digital photography, largely because the latter was easier for her after her mastectomy. (Note that I didn’t introduce that maudlin detail.) But a few scraps of association were enough to make the man go ape over a damaged picture.

The same was true with other items. People like board games that were originally purchased for my students. They favor hats acquired at Philadelphia street fairs. And, although you might not expect it, they adore stuff that once belonged to my ex-husband. They get downright conspiratorial over that stuff, and may even offer backslaps and high-fives as they walk off with it. It’s unsettling, but I do thank them for helping to erase the material traces of my ex.

Meanwhile, the man with the "Trust" print found its story lovely. In fact, it left him craving more stories, which he got. He left with some Christmas ornaments, a set of napkin rings, two trays, many books, and a glass cardinal.

For the glass cardinal, I honestly had no story. I told the man so, and he laughed.

“I just like him because he’s red and chubby,” said the man.

“Me, too,” I smiled. And I handed him a second framed print. On the house.


At 11:35 AM, Blogger Professor Dyke said...

Clearly, you have a decided flair for storytelling! (I SO enjoyed this post.) :)

At 4:05 PM, Blogger anbruch said...

I loved the story. Thanks for sharing it!


At 1:07 AM, Blogger Benedict said...

Trust me, I have no instinct for sales.. Truly, you are a great merchant among humanities professors, all the more so because you chose a soft-sell approach.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Manorama said...

What a cool story. I am inexperienced at yard sales/garage sales. Maybe I will try your approach when I have my chance :)


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