Notes from the Front (Yard)

A day-long study of the frugal Yankee in his habitat - a yard sale

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

Many weekends my neighborhood resembles a discount strip mall. It’s yard sale alley. I’ve generally avoided participating in this great New England pastime, but a while back we jumped in for the communal event. When asked to join the fray, my first thought was of hauling out pounds of junk only to have to drag it back later. My wife saw it as an opportunity to continue The Great Cleanout. This crusade had resulted in the cleanest basement we’d ever reigned over. Thankful to her for helping uncover tools I didn’t know we had — and with the promise that nothing return to the house — I went along.

Besides, I wanted to observe the frugal Yankee in a natural habitat. This would involve sitting on the front porch and doing some of that other great pastime: people watching. Who would show up? What would they want?  We had a strict two-bit policy — nothing over 50 cents. The more sold, the less I’m hauling to the dump. The Saturday morning arrived and I sat back and got comfortable with my cup of Dunkin’ Donuts and sunglasses. Two hours in, the crowds started coming. It’s here that I first note what is to be a trend: Massachusetts plates on minivans.

An older couple pulls up; she jumps right out, he lags behind. Shuffling through some trinkets, the woman never looks up, never says a word, even after a greeting from my wife and her sister. Disinterested husband looks as if he’s late for brunch and eyes over a factory stereo from 1990. My brother-in-law leans over and suggests we throw in a Hootie and the Blowfish cassette to close the sale. Seems to me we should pay him to take it. They leave without a thing.

"Nothing over 50 cents. The more sold, the less I’m hauling to the dump."

A neighbor walks over. Within three minutes he’s bought a CB radio, the car stereo and some other things. He hands my wife five bucks and ignores his wife’s rolling eyes. She tells us he re-sells this stuff down in Massachusetts. I envision a world where my ancient CB is sold over and over to flea market scroungers, each one believing someone will eventually use it. It will probably see more of the country than I ever will.

Older minivan pulls up. There are now three other vans in front of the house, so it pulls up on the lawn.

Fifty-something woman gets out. All business. Two minutes and she’s collected all she can hold. Notebook folders, crock pot, foot massager and my electronic Pac-Man game. She then picks up one exercise roller, but refuses the matching unit. That should be an interesting workout routine.

So it went. By 1 p.m. things quieted down and I took a stroll around the block. Everyone was dragging old baby toys, bicycles and torn recliners into the garage. Some were just hanging up “FREE’” signs and going in. At home we helped pack up my in-laws’ car. They made little cash and took most of their stuff home. We threw out a few plant baskets and made about 30 bucks. It bought some cold beer and a clean basement.

I wonder who’s got that CB. After three beers I wanted it back.

10-4, good buddy.

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