I LOVE YOUR NEW WINDBREAKER, GUS!
As someone who’s never had a garage sale before, let me say that I learned two things from the experience. First, garage sales are a mutually beneficial way for people to clear clutter out of their homes and turn a small profit while allowing other people to purchase items they may need at extremely low prices. And second, people who go to garage sales are freaks.
The Early Bird. At 7:45 AM, as Drew and I were putting up our last homemade garage sale sign (oh, we had fun making those signs!), a woman spotted us, read the sign and followed us in her car back to my apartment. We were a little behind schedule, as we hadn’t even started setting up yet. But she didn’t mind. She got out of her car and waited in the driveway outside my building while we brought down boxes from upstairs, one after the other. We’d bring down a box, she’d rifle through it. We’d come down with another box, and she’d be waiting for us. From the amount of stuff she set aside, we got the impression she was going to buy everything. She practically did. After ten or fifteen minutes of pawing through our things, she had stacked up about fifteen CDs, books and videos, which we sold to her for twenty bucks. Freak rating: 6.
DVD Guy. A leather-faced older man with a goatee and a gruff voice, clearly from years of chain smoking, he was one of our earliest customers. He wobbled up with a cigarette dangling from his lips and inquired, “Ya got any a’ them DVDs?” I told him no, but at that point, we were still bringing stuff down from upstairs. So he didn’t believe me. He kept looking through what we had, searching through each new load we brought down as if I might have been lying to him. “What’s this?” he asked. “That’s a Playstation game.” “I don’t want that. I’m just looking for DVDs.” “Sorry, we don’t have any.” He walked over to Drew. “You got any DVDs?” “No, sorry.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Everyone loves them DVDs.” Yes, that’s why they keep them for themselves, rather than selling them at their garage sales. He finally left. But an hour later, he drove up again, smoking another cigarette. “I just wanna see if you brought down any DVDs.” Freak rating: 9.
Knife Guy. During our first big rush, which started about five minutes after we were done setting up, a really creepy-looking guy with one eye that stared right at you and one eye that was rolled back in his head picked up a handful of the knives I was selling and asked what they cost. Having no idea what a knife was worth, I shrugged and told him they were a dollar each. He said he’d only pay fifty cents, and I declined his offer. (I was a hard bargainer.) But he didn’t put the knives down. He stood next to me, holding them up and, while I tried to deal with other customers, kept saying, “Fifty cents! Fifty cents!” It suddenly struck me that I was haggling over an item I was planning to throw out anyway with a cockeyed weirdo who was brandishing knives. He got the knives for fifty cents. And I got to live. Freak rating: A solid 10.
Ebay Vultures. We got at least 3 or 4 of these guys. All of them were guys in their 20′s and 30′s, and they would show up, stack the CDs, videos and video games in one big pile and say, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for all of these.” We turned them all down, and when they couldn’t get a ridiculous bargain, they snorted and walked away. It didn’t matter, because we sold all our CDs and videos anyway, individually to good homes. Yes, even Jesus Jones. Freak rating: 3. Loser rating: 10.
The Wacky Gay Neighbor. One of the three groups heavily represented among our many customers was Older Gay Men. It turns out the building next door to mine has its own Mr. Furley, a flamboyant older man who jogged up the sidewalk toward our sale dressed in bright 70′s pants and a new agey-looking pajama top. He said he was planning on having a garage sale, too, but since we had already set up, would we mind selling a couple of things for him? This will make no sense, given what a hardass with the knife psycho, but I gave right in to Wacky Gay Neighbor. He brought down a Tacky Lamp and a Tacky Painting. We sold the painting for $28, and he gave me a $5 commission. Nobody bought the lamp. Freak rating: 2.
The Wacky Russian Neighbor. Since I live in a heavily Russian neighborhood, one of the other groups represented in bulk among our customers was Russians. Many of them speak little or no English, including the guy who lives downstairs from me. Apparently, in Russia, when someone has a garage sale, you just walk into their home and point at the things you want, because that’s what Wacky Russian Neighbor did. As Drew and I were setting up, he followed me up the stairs, walked right into my apartment and pointed at my couch. “Hyow… myuch?” “Not for sale!” I said, and wheeled him around and escorted him outside. Apparently, he had done the same thing to Drew two minutes earlier, and Drew told him to get lost. Freak rating: 4.
Early Riser. The third heavily represented group was Mexican Men. A very nice Mexican man wanted to buy my Saved By the Bell clock, which a friend of mine who worked on the show had given me as a gift. (I hope Julie doesn’t read this blog.) I had priced it at $2, thinking that someone who liked the show might buy it for kitsch value. I’m pretty sure this guy had never heard of Zach and Screech and pals. He just needed a clock. “Does it work?” he asked. I explained that it was a wind-up clock. Very old school. It worked, but you had to wind it every day. I even demonstrated for him. Crank, crank, crank. See? “But it works, yes?” He clearly had no idea what I was talking about. “Well, technically, yes, it works, but–” He pushed the clock in my face. “Can you set it for 5:30?” I took the clock and set the alarm for him. “I get up at 5:30,” he said. I thought about this guy relying on my piece of junk clock to get him up for work in the morning, and I couldn’t bear it. I tried to talk him out of the clock. I offered to sell him a nicer, Mickey Mouse clock, which actually worked, for the same price. “This one works better,” I assured him. “And it’s got Mickey Mouse!” “No, I like this one better,” he said, pushing Mickey away. Then, he handed me two folded-over dollars and started to walk away. “It’s set for 5:30, right?” “Well… yeah.” “Good. I wake up at 5:30.” And he climbed on his bicycle and rode away. This one will haunt me forever. Freak rating: uno.
John Hughes Boob Woman. I can’t decide whether this woman’s defining characteristic was her nostalgia for the 80′s or her enormous cleavage. She told us she was glad to see us because she just moved to the neighborhood and she was starting to think there were no young people around. She went through all our videos, many of which dated to the 80′s, and shared her memories of each film. “Pretty in Pink! I can’t believe it!” (I want to note that most of these videos were Drew’s and that he was parting with them only because he now owned them on DVD. I mean, who would willingly give up Pretty in Pink?) She was going to buy my George Foreman grill, but then she remembered that her mother was going to give her one for Christmas. She stayed for about half an hour and bought about ten dollars worth of stuff. Freak rating: 2.
People vs. Larry Flynt Guy. The second-most common mode of transportation that brought people to the sale was bicycle. (#1: pickup truck.) The guy who bought my Larry Flynt script arrived on a bike. When he opened the book, he saw the autograph inside. “Who’s Jerry?” he asked. I raised my hand. I then told him he could have the book for two dollars, but if his name was also Jerry, it would cost him five. He wasn’t amused. He gave me two dollars and proceeded to stand there and read the book for a good fifteen minutes before he hopped on his bike and left. Freak rating: 1.
The Clown Car. This tiny car pulled up in my building’s driveway, and four men with enormous asses climbed out, all at once. They were very methodical. They swooped over our goods, each of them bought one or two things, then they climbed back into their car and disappeared as fast as they had come, off, presumably, to the next sale. It was like a ballet, beautiful in its way. Freak rating: 4.
The Russian Brady Bunch. They came towards the end of the day. Mom, Dad and about sixteen kids. Almost immediately, they circled my dining table, which was the only “big” item (i.e., priced higher than a dollar) I still hadn’t sold. Most people throughout the day had been turned off by the fact that it only came with one chair. You would think for a family of eighteen, this would also be a problem, but apparently not. A teenage daughter, who had a very thick accent herself, stepped up to translate for her parents. She offered me $15. Earlier, I had been telling people I wanted $25, but since the sale was winding down and I was desperate to sell, I told them they could have it for twenty. “Syevuntyeen,” she shot back. No, twenty. She ran it by the parents, who said something to her in angry-sounding Russian. Syevuntyeen, she said again, more insistent. Nope, twenty. Was I crazy? Yes. Did they turn me down? Nyet. I got the twenty, and though he had about syevuntyeen helpers who could’ve pitched in, Dad lifted the table over his head and carried if off alone. Freak rating: 2.
Amazingly, we sold every single piece of crap I listed in my entry last week, including that leather strap of unknown functionality. (The only exception is Drew’s TV, which he decided not to sell after all.) The total take was over $400, which was about $350 more than Drew and I expected. I should be happy, but now that the sale is over, I have this weird feeling. I keep thinking about how my belongings are scattered around a hundred different homes in the Los Angeles area. I keep picturing that gross guy who brought my windbreaker. He’s wearing it everywhere he goes, and it’s breaking hiswind now. “Hey, don’t I look great in this windbreaker?” he’s saying to all his friends. “I got it at a garage sale for two dollars!”
And that gets me thinking about how I forgot to check the pockets of that windbreaker before I sold it. Maybe there was something valuable inside: a wallet-sized picture of an old acquaintance, or a winning lottery ticket, or another piece of crap I could’ve sold for a buck or two. I wish I had checked the pockets. I wish I had dubbed my CDs before I sold them. I got fifty cents for Jesus Jones, but if I ever have a craving to hear “Right Here Right Now” again, I’m going to have to pay a dollar to download it. And most of all, I wish I’d wiped my fingerprints off those knives. I got rid of a thousand pieces of junk and picked up a thousand little neuroses. But that’s just me.
My freak factor: off the charts.