Okay, I admit it. I was hooked. I was addicted. I couldn't help myself. I'd see one and it's as if an uncontrollable urge took my steering wheel and steered me into it. I'm talking about, of course, yard sales.
It all started so innocently, just a few years ago. I was a successful bank auditor for a national chain of savings and loan associations. (Right there, you could see I was heading for the down slide. ) Married. Two kids. Beautiful home in the upper echelon neighborhood. It was Friday. The end of a particularly difficult week. I was on my way home in the “Beemer" when a neon colored sign, attached to a telephone pole, caught my eye. On the next corner, there was another one. On this one, I could almost make out what the Magic Marker scribble said on it. In large bold letters it read, “Yard Sale. " Having invested in several pieces of real estate, I decided to check this out.
When I arrived at the address written on this slip-shod excuse for a sign, I couldn't believe my eyes. Instantly, I thought to myself, “No wonder this poor soul can't sell his property. He's got junk strewn all over the yard. " Then I noticed a group of people looking down at all this junk, picking some of it up and inspecting it as if it contained the meaning to life. The way these people were looking down at the ground I could only assume that someone had lost their contact lens. So, I joined in.
I asked this nappy looking gentleman, dressed in an old flannel shirt and jeans rolled up three times at the cuff, what the attraction for this particular piece of property was. That's when he informed me that the property wasn't for sale, but all these used, sometimes dirty, but always unattractive belongings were. “You have got to be kidding, " I chortled.
As I was leaving, shaking my head in disbelief at these poor, unfortunate wretches, feeling sorry that they didn't have anything better to do with their afternoons or money, something caught my attention. Something that tossed that particularly difficult week I just had to the back of my mind. Something that flashed me back to a more innocent time in my life. A time when my most absorbing decision was what game to play after lunch.
It was a cookie jar. A cookie jar that, by today's standards, would be stereotypical and controversial. It was a cookie jar that was in the shape of a heavy set black maid wearing a kerchief on her head and ankle length petticoats. An image not unlike that of Mammy in the movie “Gone With The Wind. " An image that reminded me of a wonderful time in my life when all it took was a lift of Mammy's head and, inside her body, find a delicious surprise that my mother always kept filled.
I had to have it. The masking tape price tag on it said, “Five dollars. " I quickly pulled out my wallet and handed the woman holding the sale the exact amount. My nappy looking friend told me as I was exiting that paying full price at a yard sale was the sure sign of an amateur. He told me that bargaining for an item was as standard practice at a yard sale as wearing an old flannel shirt and rolled up jeans.
The next day, Saturday, I was spending quality time with the wife and kids, by taking them rollerblading in the park.
On my way home, I couldn't believe the number of neon colored signs posted on everything from telephone poles to street signs. I just knew there were memories of my childhood at each and every one of them. But if I was going to rebuild my youth, I was going to need a plan. So, every Friday I would pick up the newspaper and find the section that listed the yard sales in my neighborhood. I would circle the ones I wanted to go to and number each one in the order of the farthest to the closest. I kept finding things that reminded me of my youth; little green army men, 45 RPM records and a first edition Jeopardy box game.
My fascination became an obsession. I couldn't wait until the weekend and my weekly scavenger hunt. I traded my “Beemer" in for a van, because my treasures began getting bigger.
Then, one day, “Nappy" told me something my ears couldn't believe. He asked me if I had ever been to a flea market. I had heard of them but always thought they were very tiny King Kullens.
In no time I was attending every yard sale, garage sale, flea market and Chinese auction within a hundred mile radius.
Eventually, my wife divorced me.
I hit rock bottom when I was picked up for vagrancy. In all truthfulness, I was merely camping out on the lawn of a yard sale the night before it took place. Rumor had it that these people were selling a classic G. E. washer with electric wringer.
As I spent the night in jail with a drunk who reeked of stale beer and a teenager who bludgeoned his parents with three feet of number two garden hose, I realized I needed some help.
The judge looked at me dressed in my flannel shirt and jeans rolled up three times at the cuff and sentenced me to one year at “The Home for the Chronic Bargain Hunters" in Wilma, Iowa, where the people of Wilma have never even heard the words yard sale or garage sale.
I am proud to say that I am nearly recovered. I can tell. The home set up a mock yard sale last weekend to test our discipline. We drove by and stopped in a company bus to see who couldn't resist the temptation of getting off and clamoring through these apparently false reproductions of genuine yard sale trinkets.
We all passed, except for Oliver “Ollie" Parker, who leaped from the bus, dressed in his double knit suit and paid full price for a fifteenth edition of Jeopardy. I just smiled and chuckled to myself, “Amateur. "