The Garage Sale

Technically it's a front yard sale.

My son stops by to see what's going on, exclaims, "For sure you're going to blog about this!"

After the smoke clears and I have a little distance, weigh all the risks, the benefits, because who can move without doing that, it seems like a good idea. 
 Once I had a patient who worked for the stock exchange.  Or was it the commodities exchange.  In the pit.  Everything about it, he said, wreaked mania.  The sheer energy, the excitement, the thrill of buy-sell.   Of course, that was when the millennium was new, the economy flourishing.  Now we all feel a little older, slower.

I never knew it, but garage sales are the real American stock market.  It never grabbed me, however, the old furniture, old light fixtures, what people called OPJ, other people's junk.  Not that the show, The Antique Road Show  couldn't keep my attention, it did.  But it wasn't like browsing thrift stores turned me on, and I only bought a few things second hand -- winter jackets for the grandsons.  One was for girls, apparently, so that was a huge faux pas.  Some of us need more direction than others.

Like many immigrants who come to this country, my father, after serving in a world war, had to decide what to do with his life if he expected to buy property, support a family, that sort of thing. He started setting up windows in a jewelry shop and thought, How hard is this?  I should own the shop.

And without the Internet to guide him, without a degree in business administration, he and his brother set up a business or three.  They hired someone to fix watches and Dad watched carefully.  The modest idea morphed into a buying and selling obsession.

It is an obsession, I'm learning, one that is not in the DSM, yet millions of people have it.  Most are on Ebay.  They have stores and monikers and merchandise and self-esteem, pride themselves on their packaging, their advertisements, the text of the sale, the pitch.  For now, sales are primarily online. 

Selling online, as even my father could see, is replacing the store.    My father wanted to get into it, selling online, but his illness overcame him.  That and age.  At some point you really do stop retaining new information, even old sober sharpies like my dad. 

So when he passed on he left us a lot of stuff.  Things like china, stoneware.  Random gift plates and jewelry, ID bracelets, new, in cases worth at most, $18 bucks a pop.  Clock radios.  Wallets and lighters.  Cigaret lighters!  Most of the jewelry was neither hisht nor haihr (Yiddish for neither here nor there).  Meaning not very valuable, but it might be. You never know.

Perfect garage sale stock.  Your average buyer at such an event will embrace the prospect and think about the problem for as long as you keep the tables up, as long as you attend to them.
"Do I buy it or not?"  they're asking themselves.
Real pressure.  I had no idea that putting a few things out to make a couple of bucks for my mom would be so intense!  Each sale so meaningful, so important.  It's like me at the grocery store.  Do I try the generic?  I want to, I really do, but will it give me a rash?  Is it worth the rash to save a couple of bucks?  Probably not.  But it might be.  (Certainly the generic Pantene is fine.  At least for me.)

The heat at the garage sale, palpable.  Do I buy it or not?  Can I get it for less?  Why won't she come down.  And everyone calling my name, because I'm the one who sat down with my mother for days, went over the stock with the glass, weighed it, loved it.  All this work to set a fair price.

So it's the closest thing to a family manic episode, or to being at the stock exchange on cocaine (for it's quite common, or used to be synonymous, market and cocaine) or to working in a gift shop the week before Xmas.  And obviously, it is grief work. 

It was hot.  Being there was being in the hotbed of America.  The wonderful people of Chicago would have felt it anyway, the heat, 90 degrees in the shade.  This is an annual neighborhood gig, the neighborhood yard sale, and there are twenty-six other yards to pick over.  Why everyone seems to come back to mine is still a big mystery.

Of course there's much more story here, but it can wait.  Suffice it to say there was jewelry, and the thing that seemed to draw shoppers to the yard was the jewelry.  And Israeli coins.  Why, when we're in a recession that has affected every one of us in one crazy way or another is jewelry the hot ticket item at a garage sale, well, you tell me.  My hunch is that it is beautiful, and garage sales are synonymous with deals, and beautiful and deal, go together. At least that's one of the things I learned as a child.

Anyway, this event took some preparation, and you could say it was highly anticipated, we were all pretty pumped, looked forward to hanging out in the hood on a Sunday and divesting of the junk that had moved from my mom's basement to mine.  Had to get a city permit and everything.  This just felt important.

And we were mobbed.  All day long, the same people kept coming back.  I felt we were old friends by noon.

You'd have thought it was the California gold rush. They're squinting at things, peering through loops.  If I had sold nothing but jewelry loops, mom would have walked away a rich woman.  They're weighing little trinkets from one hand to the next. 

"Is it 14K?" Everyone wants to know. "14K? 10K? Any 18K? Can't you go inside and look for more? You know you have more! This couldn't be everything from the store!"

How do you tell people, Listen, my grandkids took all the good stuff back with them when they were here for the summer. They might be young, but they're not stupid. 

"What we have here," my standard reply, "you have to buy it at your own risk. This isn't what I do for a living."

Oy vey! Wrong answer. So what do you do?

Well, when you're caught off-guard and you're me, you're honest, and let's just say, . . . we're off.

But let's not talk about me. What's really interesting is that there is a garage sale culture, the ecosystem that has passed many of us by.  We can't do everything, can't have our hands in everything.  We have to miss, on occasion, an awesome ecosystem or two.

Sometimes people come to therapy and they haven't got hobbies, haven't got a social niche or a social system they're comfortable in, or haven't  things to do during their discretionary time.  Many people, these days have a lot more of that than they wish they had, discretionary time.  Discovering how to develop an interest in everything, maybe even old things, collectibles, or free things, like the exoskeletons of the cicada (see previous post) is the cure. It's called personal growth, learning who you are, what you like, doing it, and convincing others, this is good to do, this is good to have.

Who knew I would have liked the stock exchange?  Never in a million years would have thought such a thing.



Isle Dance said…
That's a lot of hard work. Good for you and for enjoying it, too. And YES, you just have to blog about stuff like this! :o)
Isle Dance said…
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Isle Dance said…
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Syd said…
I once sold my father's 38 revolver at a garage sale to a police officer, not realizing that doing that was against the law! Luckily, the officer didn't think that I was trying to get rid of a hot gun.
therapydoc said…
Oh, Syd. I have a sword. What in the world am I going to do with this?
Genevieve said…
A friend of mine recently had a garage sale for much of the stuff her mother left her. Her mother was the crafty type and she just hasn't followed in that tradition. Her garage sale managed to garner quite a bit of attention and she did actually start allowing people into her house to look at the items she chose not to put in the garage sale yet!

Anyway, I have a question I would like to pose if you could please email me privately.

Barbara Lee Pfendler Ruiz said…
Nice post- you are sounding better-Barbara Lee Pfendler Ruiz LCSW-R Rome, New York
Tzipporah said…
The sword? Goodwill. I had the same problem.

Unfortunately, too much discretionary time is NOT a problem, not with a small kid in the house.