Recently, I spent the weekend helping someone with an estate sale. There are companies that will do this for you, but when you learn the prices they charge, unless the estate happens to include a few Picassos or your fabulous collection of Fabergé eggs, you will probably find that after the sale, you end up owing the auctioneers. The only alternatives are a timely—and insured—home fire or you, yourself, sitting in a garage for a weekend while strangers hand you pocket change.
Besides the emotional toll of collecting, cataloging, and disposing of a loved one’s entire material and cultural history, estate sales are pure living hell. This is because you have to deal with the scum of the earth—otherwise known as The Public. (The word would be far more appropriate, and accurately descriptive, if they left out the ‘L’.)
People descended on that garage sale like sharks to chum. Like attorneys to a wreck on the highway. Like politicians to a playground. (If you don’t understand that last one, do a Google News search on ‘Oklahoma politician’ and ‘teenage boy’. Sure, they were just hanging out—doesn’t everyone hang out with minors in a motel room with illegal drugs?)
Geography had a lot to do with the reason this estate sale was unique. Though winter was only two weeks ago, this is the Southwest and summer has been in full bloom for the last week and a half. If we had the sale to do over, we would have worded the signs: “Estate Sale! 7:00 am until 100 degrees!”
Second, we could almost see Mexico from the house. (The neighbors down the street can see Mexico from theirs—Sarah Palin would be so pleased!). This means that most of the items we sold were loaded into vans and pickups and taken across the border, where within a week, they will be sold in giant flea markets to American tourists, who will bring them back across the border to their homes. Within a few years, this cycle will be repeated, again and again. Technically, this falls into the category of recycling.
Several pickup trucks were severely overloaded with Tupperware, mismatched pots and pans, and lawn furniture. As each hazard to public safety pulled away from the house, I was reminded of that old Texas Truism” “No truck is fully loaded until you run out of rope.”
This kind of sale is very popular, so people started showing up well before the sale was supposed to start—in one case, a whole day early. You might as well start the sale at dawn, because that is when people start knocking on your door. (And some of the earliest shoppers were the ones who bought the most items—in many cases, the most useless items. We sold items that I wouldn’t have accepted for free: lids without pots, obsolete electronics, rusty tools, and lawn tools that looked like they had been used to dig the Erie Canal. I sold half a can of Turtle Wax to a man who was driving a leftover from a Demolition Derby.
We sold old electric appliances to people who didn’t even want to plug them in to see if they still worked! Stranger yet, more than once, people came back an hour or two later, and bought more.
Some of the people, I suspect, didn’t even really want the things they bought, they just came to haggle over the price. People who wouldn’t buy four jelly glasses for a dollar would gladly purchase ten for two dollars. And more often than not, that $50 bill someone paid with was pulled off a roll as fat as the Sunday paper.
The strangest parts of the day, however, were the questions people asked.
“This 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in a torn box, which you are selling for a quarter, are all the pieces there?”
“I’m not sure, but feel free to count them if you like.” She bought it.
“Will you have another sale next week?”
“How often do you think one household can have an estate sale?”
“Will this $3.00 bug zapper kill mosquitoes?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, thinking it would kill an elephant if swung it hard enough.
“Will you take two dollars for this? asked the man who was holding an item clearly marked for one dollar.
“Why, yes, I will. And for you, I’ll sell you three of them for five dollars.”
“Can you hold this for me until I ask my wife if it is okay to buy this?”
“Why, certainly, I’ll hold that dollar TV tray in reserve, just for you.”
“Is this used?”
“Probably, this is an estate sale. But, if you want to be sure, you’ll have to ask the original owner.”
“Is this the estate sale?”
“Nope. This is an outdoor department store.”
No, I won’t sell the table holding all the items that are for sale. No, we don’t have any chain saws. Yes, everything is for sale. And so forth and so on. We ran out of stuff to sell before we ran out of buyers. If the neighbors had been on vacation, we might have extended the sale.
Halfway through the day, I remember thinking, “I’m not going to do this to my kids, I’ll organize my crap before I die.” Then I remember all the times they woke me up in the middle of the night just to tell me they had been visited by the dark angel of projectile vomiting. I remember the school meetings where a teacher had asked me why I was raising junior terrorists. I remember….
My new plan is to dent all the mixing bowls, chip the Pyrex, and start hiding cash in the spines of selected books. Anything that comes in a set of four or more, needs to lose at least one of the pieces. The Doc has promised to do her part by buying more shoes. My sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One, should not be denied the pleasure having of their own estate sale.
Note to my sons: A few of the estimated 10,000 books in this house—that you refused to read—are fairly rare first editions. Can you tell which ones?