To the Point for 3/23/05


ONE MAN’S TRASH…. This Saturday is the annual “Communitywide Yard Sales” in Switzerland County, and even if you’re not exactly a yard sale shopper, it makes for a good day to just wander around town.

I’ve always been amazed at the types of things that people have for sale. Sometimes they are very typical and mundane items, things that someone had a use for once, but now it’s merely just taking up space. Baby room furniture and equipment are part of this, as are old glasses and dishes from someone’s kitchen.

Other items are so bizarre that you wonder why the seller had them in the first place. Over the years I’ve seen some of the ugliest pieces of artwork on the planet — some so ugly that it makes you wonder how someone ever got paid for painting it. You will also find the occasional lamp shaped like a banjo; a pea-green bedspread; or an eight-track stereo system in the shape of a giant turtle.

Then there’s the stuff that’s just plain junk.

Buckets with holes in them. Sweepers that no longer work. Lawn chairs with broken strapping. To me this is the most amazing of yard sale products, because basically people are just wanting someone else to haul it away so they don’t have to use a 75-cent Vevay trash bag.

There’s one other category, and that’s the “they don’t know what they’re selling” find.

Walk around enough yard sales, and eventually you’re bound to run across something that you consider valuable at a ridiculously low price. Notice that I didn’t say that it was valuable — just that you consider it to be. Those are the times that you pause to thank the yard sale gods for the bounty that you have uncovered, and then try and negotiate an even better deal.

As an observer at Saturday’s yard sales around town, the merchandise and the seller are great places to focus your attention — but don’t forget the buyers.

I love watching sellers. I can’t help it.

They, too, fall into different categories:

First, there’s the looker. They will patiently sift through an entire hay wagon of clothing, methodically refolding each item as if it were made with gold strands. After what seems like hours, they eventually just wander away to the next yard sale, usually looking back over their shoulder at some selected items as if they were leaving an old friend behind.

Next, comes the bargainer. Now I’ve never been much of a yard sale seller, but on occasion I’ve had to hold down the fort while my wife and her friends are away. When I’m left to mind the store, the bargainers always come by.

You know them — maybe you are one of them. They can’t stand to pay the marked price on anything, so they begin the “act” to get you to come down on your price.

First, they examine it like they work for the Smithsonian. Commenting on flaws just loudly enough that they know that you can hear them. Sometimes they shake their head in disgust just for dramatic effect; and those who are the best at it will set the item down at least once and walk away, only to return and start examining it again.

Finally, they make their move. Walking over the folding car table with the cigar/cash box on it, they begin talking to the seller like they’re negotiating Middle East peace.

“Well, it’s got some flaws on it, but I’m a little interested. Is the price on it your bottom line, or would you go lower?”

“It’s a coffee mug and it’s a dime,” is my response.

“Would you take seven cents for it?” comes from their mouth.

It’s a dime, people. Saving three cents will not allow you to retire a year earlier.

It’s a this point that I politely say “no, I won’t,” and then take the coffee mug from their hand and throw it on the driveway and break it into a million pieces. I lose the sale, but maybe my wife won’t leave me in charge anymore.

My favorite is the multi-family yard sales that my wife is sometimes a part of. This is usually when I get left to mind the store along with my buddies while the women go off to other yard sales in order to replenish our junk supplies. On these occasions, I consider it a good day when the sales outnumber the purchases.

Another buyer is the professional yard saler who has a yard sale of his own every weekend. His main mission is to cruise other sales for the sole purpose of buying stuff that he can sell the following weekend.

The best I ever saw was a guy who didn’t even wait for Rick Weales and me to get stuff unloaded from the back of a truck early one morning.

“I’ll give you $50 for everything.”

Sold. We simply moved it from Rick’s truck into his, and off he went. The sale hours hadn’t even started yet, and we were through.

By the way, the first thing that some yard salers should seek out and buy is a watch.

Yard sales advertised to start at 8 a.m. should start at that time. As a buyer, you don’t need to be sitting in the driveway before day break in order to be the first ones in line. Let the seller have the chance to actually get the items out in the yard before you start bargaining.

So those are my yard sale thoughts. This Saturday will be a day with hundreds of them all over town. If your a buyer or a looker or a bargainer, it’s a great day to get out and do some “people watching.”

You might even find a velvet Elvis painting that you just can’t live without.