For the most part, people at the garage sale were lovely. They were odd, and they often dressed in ways that I would kindly describe as “several decades removed from modernity,” but they were all quite friendly and appreciative of our dollar-slashing pricing system.
All of them except for one.
A tall, beer-bellied man came by and took a long, hard look at a 1983 camcorder set. It was pristine, packed in its case with two sets of batteries, a strap, the manual, and a tripod. Did it work? Who cares, it looked awesome and the case alone would be worth something as a retro lunch box. My father had ambitiously priced the whole thing at $10, but if you read Wednesday’s post then you already know how the negotiations went down.
“How much will you take for this camera set?” he said, his voice surly and reeking of bitter loneliness.
“$5 and you can have it,” I said, assuming that it would be snapped up quickly and would then be one less thing to deal with after the sale was over.
Instead, the ugly man poked about in the bag for several minutes before wandering off to look at some discount pornography at a creepy neighbor’s table. He returned as the sale was wrapping up and we were packing up the boxes.
“So,” he said, trying to be suave but failing because of the greedy look in his beady little eyes, “what will you take for the camera now?”
It took me a moment to understand that he was implying that, because the sale was over, we were in desperate need of his money and willingness to take our old camcorder from us.
“You know what,” I said, “I don’t even care. If you give me any money for it right now, it’s yours, but I really don’t care if you buy it.”
So he handed me a loonie.
I was tempted to call him a dirty cheapskate that didn’t understand the basic principles of garage sale etiquette, but I was holding my month-old child at the time, and I didn’t want her to hear me swearing at a man that probably had a catalogued set of Penthouse magazines from the seventies at home. So I wished him a good day.
In order to balance out the order in the world, we tried to give away an entire set of steak boards to a nice middle-aged man that had previously bought a number of knick-knacky items from us. “But,” I told him, “you have to take the whole set, all eight of them, or else we’ll charge you 25 cents each.”
“I’ll give you a dollar for all of them,” he responded.
“Dammit! Listen, just take them all, and you don’t have to pay us at all. We just want them to go to a good home, and you’re a nice guy, and you bought a bunch of stuff from us already. It’s very important that you take them all.”
“Okay. Here’s a dollar.”
“No! Pay attention!”
This went on for a while until we finally just took the loonie and let him go, steak boards in hand.
I was feeling marginally better by this point, especially when a 13-year-old girl came by and bought an old tape-based Walkman from us.
“Thank goodness that someone your age can appreciate a tape system,” I exclaimed as I cut the price in half for her.
“Yeah,” her mother said, “she’s doing a project on the 80’s and she needs this as an artifact. How much do you want for this Polaroid camera?”
My joy deflated a little to hear my childhood decade being described as old enough for school projects to be built around it.
The sale finally ended around 1:00, 6 long hours after we started, and my brother and I happily loaded all of our unsold goods into the back of a massive trailer that was supposed to carry away all of the neighborhoods goods to a magical place where needy people could find cheap house wares and Christmas decorations. It had started to rain by this point so we were eager to get this stuff out of our lives.
As we finished, the man driving the truck shouted over to us, “You guys are going to help unload, right?”
I assumed this was witty banter, so I responded with a kindly, “Sure, no problem.”
“Great!” he said, brightening up. “It’s on 5th Sideroad. Just follow the truck and I’ll show you where it is. Thanks a lot, eh? I really needed the help.”
Heads hanging, my brother and I got in our car and followed the 50’ trailer into the rainy back roads of Brookville.
There is a place back there, well into the country woods and fields, where your discarded junk goes to die. I never knew where it was until that day. As the rain fell down upon us, we looked into the vast warehouse of garage sale castoffs, donations, and found items. Old exercise equipment, TV stands, moldering stuffed animals, bins of broken toys, and piles of stained linens that reached the rafters and clawed at the tin roof, looking for escape.
It was a frightening place.
My brother and I worked quickly to empty the trailer. At one point I was sure that I saw an old teddy bear waving at me from deep in the piles, a pleading look in its one button eye. I looked away, ashamed.
That night, the community celebrated. A local band set up in the middle of the cul-de-sac, right next our house, and they played covers of old songs as the people danced. I fell asleep to the baseline from “Sweet Home Alabama,” the image of a dying teddy bear waving at me in my mind.