Perhaps, it comes from being a writer or perhaps it comes from my own nature, but I do perhaps reflect on experiences a bit overmuch. And have been accused of thinking too much in at least two, maybe three languages. But, there was something fascinating about yesterday’s yard sale, to me at least.
This was, to be sure, not my first yard sale. I had participated in one with the same friend who hosted yesterday’s just about two-and-one-half-years ago in the same place, only I then made half as much money as I did this weekend. Back then, I quickly gathered up a few excess possessions cluttering up my apartment, wanting to help this talented actress raise the funds to finance her head shots.
This time, I collected so much stuff that I barely had room in the car for the ice to keep our waters cold. My goal was to sell enough stuff so that I would only need the trunk to store whatever was left until I could donate that balance to a worthy charity. And there was room to spare when I left the sale–in a trunk which, six hours previously, I’d had trouble closing.
The first forty-five minutes was a madhouse. As I was unloading stuff, people were trying to buy. The word, “vultures” described a few. The better part of them were not buying things for themselves, but to resell at “swap meets.” For a moment, I thought maybe I could charge as much as they would earn as such “meets.” But, then, I realized how much harder they would have to work for that extra buck for every DVD they sell. They wanted to get what they could get from this sale before going on to the next sale and the next and the next. . . for the better part of the morning.
If I priced too high, they would just move on. And those who came later in the day might not be willing to fork out as much.
I just wanted to earn a little extra cash while getting rid of excess stuff. What was supplemental income for me may well have been “bread and butter” to them.
Later, when those vultures migrated to other sales, it calmed down a bit. They were replaced by determined immigrants, look for inexpensive clothes to send home to families in places like Guatemala (the native land of the woman who bought my jeans and hiking boots) or for furnishings to equip their homes here in LA. By the time, this crowd had left, it was barely past 9 AM, the sale having started at 8–and I had earned just over half what I would the entire day.
After that, the crowd ebbed and flowed for an hour or so. I begin to worry that I would not sell my stuff, so focusing on making the sale, not holding firm to a price. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get much for my “vintage microwave.” In the end, I took $5, the same price I got for my blue jean jacket. (It was one of the first things to go. The guy tried it on after we agreed on a price, so liked it that he wore as he “shopped” at the “stalls” of the others there. It had fit him perfectly.)
Having had to schlepp that heavy microwave down the stairs from my apartment and into the car, I didn’t again want to have to carry the unwieldly appliance. So happy was I that I gave the buyer free waters (we were going to try to sell bottles for 50 cents) and a baseball cap (he had been trying them on, but opted only to purchase one for his son even though I was selling them for just a buck a piece).
I was delighted that someone wanted to buy my cassette recordings of Derek Jacobi reading The Iliad and Ian McKellan reading The Odyssey. I had long since replaced them with CDs and was delighted that those readings caught someone else’s eye. (When he asked the price, I said $1 a set, almost because I wanted to encourage this man to listen to these great myths.)
One very maternal, avauntular (feminine of avuncular?) woman who bought most of the bed linens I was selling wanted to buy the two rugs I had recently replaced; I had been hoping to get $50 for the larger and $25 for the smaller. She offered me much less. I told her that if I didn’t sell it for the higher price, I’d be willing to bargain later in the day and invited her to come back. Seeing that the rugs for wool, she understood why I was so priciing them. She knew a wool rug was better than one made with that scratchy fake stuff. Another man did take an interest in the larger rug, but wanted to bring his wife by to check it out before he plunked down $50. Later, a younger woman looked at the smaller rug. I said the price was $25; she ofered $20.
I begin to feel that maybe I deprived the kindly older woman of something she really needed to spruce up her apartment. It as almost a relief when she came back before the other man had brought his wife. (He never would come back.) The day was beginning to wane and people were only beginning to trickle in. The ebb and the flow was gone.
She asked about the price of the larger rug. I said $20. She offered $15. Sold. It was almost as if the money I didn’t earn was a gift I gave to what this woman semed to symbolize, a kindly maternal nature. As we packed the rug up into a large plastic bag, I threw in the remaining sheets I had had to sell at no extra cost. And asked her to pick out a shirt for her son. She chose a blue shirt that had once been my favorite, but which I haven’t worn in years.
After that, I charged whatever I could get for things. When one guy was looking at the remaining button-downs I had, I told him the going price was a quarter a piece. As he began to sort through them, I offered him the entire stack for $3. He took it. I offered another man a baseball cap for a quarter (marked down from a dollar).
The sale organizer took $25 for an unused coffee maker which she had hoped would fetch $40. She realized she might be able to get the higher price online, but for that additional income would have to deal with the aggravation of needing to arrange the sale. (As we discussed this, I wonder at those who sell books via amazon for a penny. Is it worth the penny to have to go to all the trouble of packaging and shipping the item?)
In some ways, this was the free market at work, but the free market in a quite unusual situattion. Some people who come at the end know that those who organize such things are doing so to get rid of excess junk. And won’t be trying to hawk it again tomorrow–or even the following Saturday. (As would a thrift store.) They know we’re about to take our stuff off to Goodwill (or similar charity) as did some of the participants in our sale. So, we’ll take almost anything. After all, it’s better than nothing.
Quite a contrast in the two crowds, those who arrive early who want to offer enough so they get the good stuff before their swap meet competitors too. And those at the end knowing they’re competing only with Goodwill. As the day progresses, you start pricing to sell. The less stuff that is left, the less stuff you have to schlepp.
At one point during the day, I noted the irony of upper middle class artist types selling stuff to lower middle class blue collar folks. Perhaps they could use the money better than we, but as the organizer of the event reminded me, they would have paid more for the same stuff at thrift stores. They just had to do more work to find their size in traveling from yard sale to yard sale.
On the whole, it was fascinating experience, from going through my closets and getting rid of stuff, to dealing with the sale itslef.
And it’s nice to think that a rug which had begn to seem too red for me caught the eye of a kindly older woman. She’ll have a “new” wool rug in her home for less than the cost of a floor covering composed of those artificial fibers which irrirate bare of barely stockinged feet.