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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Discoveries: Columbus and Me

I celebrated an age-old American tradition over the Columbus Day weekend: the yard sale.

My yard sale experiences are along the lines of Mary Tyler Moore's parties in that they never come off quite right. Last year I had one late. In fact, it was so late (in early November) that it snowed. As you can imagine, I didn't get the customer traffic I'd hoped for.

So this year I decided to have a sale on this beautiful weekend, when temps were warm and the sun was shining. Unfortunately, there are rules in the yard sale circuit, the primary one (I was informed by one expert in this area) being that sales are supposed to be held on Friday or Saturday, but NEVER on Sunday. Who knew? I figured with Columbus Day being on Monday, Sunday was the perfect day to set out all that stuff I no longer want and wait for the throngs to arrive.

It wasn't exactly a bad turn out, but it was a weird one. Most of my customers were men, and men shop differently than women. When a woman comes to a yard sale, she drifts. She goes from table to table. She picks up merchandise, studies it, ponders, and maybe puts it back, maybe adds it to her shopping bag. She usually comes with a friend. There is a fluidity to women at lawn sales. Peering through my kitchen window at women in my back fence perusing my now cast-off items is a bit like sitting on a beach watching the ocean: the ladies move in a wave, ebbing and flowing, gliding across the grass. As a woman, this method of shopping makes sense to me. We flit, running inquisitive fingers across old Christmas ornaments, baskets, glassware, and toys in something like a shopping dance. The yard sale is a treasure hunt, and we think maybe, just maybe, we'll come across a painting or a vase that holds value much higher than the twenty-five-cent price tag.

Then there are men. Men park their vehicles and march, determined, to the proprietor (in this case, me). Men don't shop, they arrive with a purpose, and ask purposeful questions:

"Do you have any windows?"
"Any mattresses back there?"
"Selling any mirrors?"
"I'm looking for fishing poles, got any?"

There is no drifting, no flitting, no hopeful expressions that treasure may be buried there under the leopard futon cover and the pile of sweaters. If I answered no to any of the pointed questions, the men, with few exceptions, nodded their heads, climbed back into their vehicles and drove away. Happily, I had plenty of items the men wanted, for the most part practical things like desks and tables. In spite of holding the sale on the wrong day and enticing mostly males into my cluttered yard, I made out okay. The men spent the "big" money: $40 for a lawnmower, $10 for the credenza, $3 apiece for windows. Bills were pulled from manly wallets and passed to my waiting hands. The ladies...well they tended to pay in change, with one nice woman nine cents short to cover the cost of her dollar item (I took the 91 cents and waved her on, wondering about the thought process of a person who goes to a yard sale with three quarters, a dime, a nickel, and a penny). In any case, it was an interesting day that featured drifting change-paying women and strong-willed men who knew why they came. Fascinating, that even in something so benign as the lawn sale the genders are so different. Discovering that, in itself, was worth screwing up and having my sale on the wrong day.

Of course, it wouldn't have been a neighborhood sale without the resident smart alec, who pointed at my sign reading "garage sale" and asked "How much is the garage? Hahahaha!" Even he didn't bother me. Sunday was a knock-out day, I sat on my porch and visited with friends who passed through my yard, drank iced tea, made a few bucks on things I was going to throw out anyway, and observed human nature as defined by the American yard sale. Not a bad way to spend an Indian summer afternoon.

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About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum