Everything Must Go

I couldn't believe they were arguing over a quarter for a jacket. Part of me was tempted to tie them up and make them watch me burn it...But once you've taken hostages and started a fire, you've pretty much destroyed your marketing opportunities. -Jake Johanssen

I think I participated in my first yard sale when I was about six or seven years old. I'm still trying to suppress the memory. As I recall, it was held to benefit our church, Sacred Heart. For days, we were tagging merchandise, color-coding items by family.

It was our own little sweatshop. I recall a lot of "MA'AM, YES MA'AM!" and "YES, MASTER CHIEF!" And on the designated Saturday, we were all up at which point, we were summarily crushed by the thronging hordes of housewives done up in their Jackie Susann/ Pucci-esque polyester prints, desperate to beat their sisters to a pulp for the privilege of standing in line to pay a nickel for a discarded piece of tomato-stained Tupperware.

It was brutal to witness man's inhumanity to man (or in this case, woman's), and I knew then I'd never willingly expose myself to it again.

Of course, times change. Memories fade.

And recently, I was invited to go in on a Yard Sale. Perfect timing, since I was in the middle of my annual fall cleaning spree.

In fact, I'd been pretty embarrassed when Hop Sing had dropped by unexpectedly the week before, and I had to explain the varying piles of clothing strewn about the living room (most destined for the crematorium I intended to design from a makeshift kerosene-soaked oil drum which would destroy all sartorial evidence of the 80s). His sardonically arched eyebrow clearly communicated, "things ran SO much more smoothly around here when I was the manservant." (Which is true.)

So the opportunity to participate in a yard sale seemed fortuitous.

The first snag came when I started trying to find things that could or would sell.

For example, I have an inexplicably large collection of prescription drug samples, but on reflection, I realized that no matter how many doctors I've dated in the last two years, I am still not legally qualified to dispense pharmaceuticals.

I also have-easily-one of the best stocked liquor cabinets in town, with a wide array of premium brand liquors and exquisite wines. All were hostess gifts brought by thoughtful guests-who'd clearly confused my writing habits with those of say, Hunter S. Thompson. Because, contrary to rumor, I almost never drink. Sure, I entertain. And I definitely entertain a LOT of drunks, but there's enough booze in that sideboard to wipe out David Crosby's next three livers. The wingmen have been regularly siphoning it off, but more just keeps coming, and at this rate, they'll never make a dent.

Sadly, a quick glance at the websites of the AMA, DEA, ABC, and ATF confirmed that selling off most of the clutter in my kitchen and medicine cabinets would earn me nothing but a felony indictment.

It was time to lower my standards.

That's when I got into the spirit of things, while clinging steadfastly to my belief in truth in advertising.

I made labels in an earnest attempt to be excruciatingly helpful, yet honest. The inventory included, but was not limited to:

• box of worthless videotapes: a buck; feel free to tape over them.

• meaningless gifts from people I don't like anymore: a quarter each;

• unattractive but practical kitchen-ware: a dollar a box.

I showed up around 7:30, ready to greet the masses-only to discover that "the crew" had dwindled to me and one other brave soul. Virtually everybody had bailed. One woman had scored ballgame tickets at the last minute, and I think everybody else was sleeping off a hangover.

Realizing you can't be a drill sergeant if you got no troops (though I was still as bossy as I thought I could get away with without a mutiny), I relaxed and adapted to the mood of the day, befriending the customers.

One couple was rehabbing a house in the neighborhood, so we enjoyed a lengthy conversation that included the relative merits of a random orbit jitterbug sander in removing chatter marks and chicken treats in hardwood floors, along with the significance of bar-lock rebar couplers in any good masonry project.

Another guy ambled up with a basset named Doobie, which necessitated that we all take a break to play with his ears (the dog's, not the owner's).

I did run into an occasional language barrier, but it was easily overcome. One student, for example, said, "I like the thoroughly useless videocassettes. May I buy just one?" I said he could, but the price would be the same for the whole box. He pedaled off-beaming-with the box precariously perched on his handlebars.

Another customer wanted two books for the price of one. I offered a reluctant, Yesss... but only if he took the busted VCR that went with them. (Hey, I hated to break up the set.) He walked away with all of it-confused, yet satisfied he had a bargain.

Some of the honesty did come back to bite me in the ass. One woman, for example, wanted to buy the "hideously ugly Christmas ornaments." But then she seemed to feel compelled to offer her rationale for why they appealed to her.

I'm thinking: Hey. Lady. I'm selling junk on the curb here. Do I SEEM like somebody in a position to JUDGE you? I could practically hear the strains of the giant Sanford and Son harmonica in the background (wah wah wah wah whomp...)

At the end of the day, I think I cleared about 27 bucks (another seven went for lunch). But I wasn't there for profit; I was there so people could find space to sit down in my house. And now they can. Let's just hope they're all really thirsty drunks with mild substance abuse problems (NOT a difficult guest list to assemble).