Todd bends over poster board laid out on the kitchen table, a black sharpie in his left hand. He marks the letters E, L, A, S working backward to ensure he doesn’t smudge the ink. I come into the kitchen and look over his shoulder. When Todd steps back to evaluate his work, I see it. There is going to be a YARD SALE!
He has four more signs to go and a limited amount of days left until show time. In anticipation of Memorial Day weekend, Todd has created a mental game plan with drill sergeant like precision. The intensity I come across this morning signals the commencement of his production.
Over the fifteen years we have been married, I have learned not to roll my eyes, tease or indicate that enjoying a yard sale makes him genetically inferior. This is the one time of year we both wonder how our relationship could be sound when our fundamental identities regarding the yard sale class system could be so different.
I have softened to my husband’s exhibition of our belongings. Whatever elitism I had shown in the past must be suppressed. So when I see Todd recoil from the poster board with an audible grunt, his frustration fills me with empathy. His left hand once again smeared his lettering. Offering to complete the signs for him, he surprisingly agrees. Todd is not one to delegate, but being that he is a lefty and pressed for time he lets me have a go at it. He is pleased with the outcome by the way.
There are two types of people, those that like yard sales and those that don’t. Todd is in the first camp, I am in the later. One spring night I was sitting with Todd enjoying a cocktail and casual conversation. His iPhone sounded an alert and his attention was drawn to the screen. Without so much of a word, he was quickly in his Lexus pulling out of the driveway. Ten minutes later he returned with three used snowboards and some glassware. One of our neighbors posted a curb watch on Facebook. The whole block was putting out used items for the taking before recycling pick up.
Todd has in fact mastered the art of the yard sale. He is an amalgam of the traits necessary to pull off a good one. He is gregarious, has a good work ethic, is fastidious, systematic and frugal. Todd is father reduce, reuse, recycle.
While I finish the signs, Todd moves on to collect his repurposed street finds, past garage sale purchases and furniture no longer worth restoring. There is the vintage art deco toaster he wired to become a lamp, the distressed drum tables he painted white, the worn desk he shored up and refinished, the twin bed he found on the street and breathed new life into with a good sanding and a coat of cobalt blue paint. Todd will pick through a mound of discards, but only walk away with something he has vision for in the future. If he can’t see it, he doesn’t take it.
Todd has an eye for found objects, the way some people do for fashion. He is often teased for his predisposition, judged as thrifty and mistaken for a hoarder. Over time those very people who mock Todd stand over one of his reconfigured street finds and scratch their head with admiration. Soon people want to commission replicas, urging Todd to consider their tastes on the next curbside recycling night. Todd is humble as is the nature of his dharma, so he is neither deterred nor bolstered by his followers. He simply does not have the confidence or the will to make a business out of it.
The morning of the sale, Todd wakes early, doesn’t linger over breakfast or spend extra time on the toilet. He fills his travel mug with coffee, sets out to the garage and begins staging.
Todd’s process; step one: preparation of the site. Erect the sawhorse tables and cover with attractive tablecloths (not for sale). Lay out rugs and mark which ones are for sale and which are not. Float furniture pieces away from the house and in groupings, taking care not to obstruct traffic flow. Hang artwork from the garage door. Arrange all items by category, size and color. Display tableware, dishes and platters using varying height with the help of risers. Mark boldly the free pile and position it toward the exit.
Todd’s internal rhythm prohibits assistance. His son who wants to help is given his own station to ambassador. The little advice he imparts, “Keep your pricing system simple and if you price it too high your stuff won’t sell,” will leave an impression on his child. In the future he will either hold elaborate yard sales himself or publish sardonic stories about them.
The previous day Todd has strategically posted advertisements leading toward our house. NO EARLY BIRDS is marked boldly in red warning shoppers that this behavior will not be tolerated. Still there is always one. Five minutes till nine Todd marches down the driveway, his final sign in hand. No sooner does the YARD SALE HERE TODAY poster get driven into the ground than the first car appears. People who came the year before are the first to show up a year later. Todd’s exhibitions are renowned after all.
Todd is ready for the crowd, ready to reveal his structured, creative, mayoral character for the entire world to see. Meanwhile I stand in the wings feeling uneasy with my life on display.
First comes the antique dealer, followed by the auctioneer, the curious neighbor, the neighbor who scored big the year before, the van of Russian strangers that appear and reappear throughout the day, but never purchase anything and the Brooklyn hipster who asks Todd if “he could do any better” on a five dollar item.
It doesn’t take long for Todd to declare that people piss him off, but quickly reminds himself that he is getting paid to get rid of stuff.
Again, I am not a yard sale person, but show my support by periodically delivering Todd food and beverage. At ten am I come out to refill Todd’s coffee and serve a snack. The wad of cash bulging from Todd’s front jean pocket is remarkable from just an hour of activity. Some new unbridled feeling of excitement is awakened within me. Without further ado I run back into the house and return five minutes later carrying a box filled with any old thing I no longer feel attached to.
Todd is a fair guy, but if pushed, a situation might look something like this. Two young Japanese women take a fancy to a pair of antique wooden shoe molds. They walk up to Todd and one asks, “How much are these?”
Todd continues to fill new gaps on the table, “They’re marked, five dollars each.”
“I’ll give you six for the pair,” the girl states.
Todd computes, “I could do eight for the pair.”
“Six for the pair” the girl spits.
Todd fixes his eyes on her for the first time. “I’ll give you one for six.”
“What? -- Wait they’re five each.”
“Now their six.”
“But I only have six.”
“Then take one.”
Those that don’t negotiate he happily throws in a wooden spoon or a CD for free. And if you don’t think he is fair you should see the free pile, it is a generous offering of cables, appliances including a wet vac and other useful tools for those that have foresight. Todd’s only request of those who don’t make a purchase is they take something from the free pile. Judging by Todd’s limits in negotiating, if there is a social class hierarchy in yard sale status, he has ascended to the top.
Eight hundred dollar richer, Todd and I feel satisfied and cleansed drinking our bloody marys. I appreciate Todd’s command of the day’s success, but yearn for a deeper understanding of him and his love for a yard sale, which really represents so much more, doesn’t it? “Todd, what is it you love so much about a yard sale?” “Getting paid to get rid of stuff.” He realizes this isn’t going to cut it so he continues. “I like that things find a new life. I always remember finding a skateboard my brother made. It had an elaborate design -- it might even had his initials on it. Maybe ten years later or more I came across it at a yard sale and I didn’t buy it -- there it was. I figured someone else was going to buy it, but I think back to that and I regret not taking it.”
We finish our bloodies and exchange the more humorous stories of the day. I go to bed romanticizing that there is an art to a yard sale and that Todd has artistry in it. The next year when Todd takes out a Sharpie and pens E L A S, I am the first to start a collection.
- Beth Cramer
Beth Cramer is an accomplished editor and director of independent films, commercials and music videos. She is the author of WHY DIDN'T I NOTICE HER BEFORE? Irreverent, painfully honest and often hilarious, Why Didn’t I Notice Her Before? is a beautifully observed memoir that finds courage and humor in the face of undefeatable odds.
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