Michael Collins: A yard sale is fun, as long as it’s not mine

Apr. 14, 2014 @ 09:39 AM

Ahh spring.  

The daffodils are blooming and my beloved pear trees are bestowing their splendor on the community.  In the distance, one can hear the sound of lawnmowers cranking up two weeks before anyone else as the retired neighbors who have devoted their golden years to ensuring that their lawns look like they have been transplanted from the ninth fairway at Augusta shame the rest of us who are still trying to make a permanent end to the remaining fall leaves that we never got entirely cleared away before winter arrived. 

And, of course, spring means yard sales — how God would do retail if he had a garage smaller than infinity.

I am one of those rare men that’s secure enough in his masculinity to openly admit that I enjoy yard sales.  Let me clarify. Putting on my own yard sale is not dissimilar to having a limb amputated with a dull saw without anesthesia, cleaning the incision with turpentine and cauterizing the wound with a glowing cast iron frying pan filled with sizzling bacon grease.

Going to somebody else’s yard sale though?  I’m good with that.  

There are simply so many deals to be had – not to mention an endless source of entertainment.  

People at yard sales tend to be pretty pleasant on both sides of the transaction.  The seller is “getting back the garage” and the buyer is, generally, picking up something “gently used” at a price a dozen times lower than what they would pay at a discount store for a shiny new equivalent. 

Occasionally, I will see an opportunity to stir up some trouble.  I’ll find an unknowing child sitting with dad and looking sleep-deprived.  This poor kid has been awake since 5:30 a.m. hauling unwanted toys out from the garage and, even though in good spirits from the promise of shared revenues, it is clear that all cylinders are not firing yet. 

Inevitably, they’ll have one of those fancy electric jeeps in the garage off to the side that is obviously not for sale.  “Is $150 the lowest you’ll go on the jeep?” I’ll say to the dad, acting as if the child is not even within shouting distance.  The kid’s eyes will open wide enough that I sometimes grow concerned that the eyeballs might shoot from their sockets like cannon balls as the kid whips his head around at dad to confirm that he is, in fact, negotiating a price on the biggest gift under the tree just a few short months ago. 

If dad is as sinister as me, the response will be something like, “You know, little Joey hasn’t played with that thing since yesterday…”  We’ll haggle a bit, ignoring little Joey’s interjections that the jeep is not for sale until we have had our fill and let a very relieved Joey in on the joke.  Rarely, I will get the over-protective mom that curtly intervenes, “The jeep is not for sale,” while staring at me condescendingly.  No fun, mom.  No fun.

Yard sale hosts come in all forms, and I find them each equally entertaining.  Over the years, I have developed a classification system and can generally identify them in a matter of seconds.  It’s not unlike a butterfly collection.

There is the “Haggler” who greets everyone with, “Make an offer!”

There is the “Non-Negotiator” who doesn’t greet you at all but has numerous signs posted and the last thing written on each of them is the word “FIRM” in big, bold letters.

The Value-Retainer: “We paid $350 for that smoker six years ago and it has been used less than a dozen times and is garage kept.  I need at least $325 out of it.”  Occasionally, you get a Value-Retainer and Non-Negotiator hybrid wanting “$325, FIRM.”  

 The CSM (Customer Service Manager) who is smiling and yelling at you, “Let me know if you need anything!” before you have fully exited your vehicle.  A CSM will frequently sell freshly baked cookies and soft drinks for 50 cents each.

The Philanthropist: “Anything we don’t sell is just going to Goodwill, ya’ll.”

The Marketer: “Were the signs good?  Did you have trouble finding us?” 

Mr. Infomercial: “You might have a George Foreman grill but you don’t have this George Foreman grill.  Just look at the size of that drip tray!” 

The Planner:  The Planner has everything priced.  This person has spent literally dozens of hours tagging each individual action figure and tube sock.

The Panic-Attacker: After realizing that it is 3 p.m. and they haven’t sold anything, “Anything you can fit in a Kroger bag for $1!” 

Over the course of the day, a host can easily change from one category to another.  For example, a Non-Negotiator will almost always change to a Panic-Attacker.  If you have a real hard-nosed Value-Retainer, they might become a Philanthropist.  Every host will occasionally convert to the final category, which is where I fall….  The Agonizer.

The Agonizer hates being there – mostly because he should be at someone else’s yard sale shopping. The agonizer prowls like a predator waiting for the first guy with an empty pickup truck to pull up.  “Psst. Hey, buddy, I’ll give you $200 if you tell my wife you want everything left and haul it to Goodwill so I don’t have to.”

It’s spring friends and yard sales abound.  So get out there and hit them hard.  If you are up in Grandview, I hope you enjoy my pear trees.  Not a word about the yard, please, and I’ll have the leaves cleaned up soon.