Monday, August 9, 2010

"This Suitcase Contains . . . "



This weekend, The Girlfriend and I embarked on another project from our list of things we've talked about without ever making definite plans: A Yard Sale.

I brought a spacious one-bedroom's worth of things when I moved in, most of which went directly into our storage unit or remained littered about the dining room, bedroom, and car until this weekend. We slapped price tags on these unwanted goods, set out two camping chairs and sat in the perfect Saturday morning, drinking, smoking and reading as strangers went through our things.

Being people who would list their yard sale knowledge at expert, we knew those pitfalls to avoid with a sale.

The first is to keep yourself behind the fence. People don't like coming onto private property. Even on first dates and shit, it's always weird to cross that threshold of where the public belongs and where the residents keep. So ours was right off the path and visible from the bustling traffic a block away.

The next was to come-up with makeshift tables to keep out wares off the ground. Nothing is more of a detriment to sales than people having to squat or bend down to look at those goods piled atop a sleeping bag. I'd found chairs and boards which I laid, one atop the other, to provide a waist high suspension for our wares. There was no awkward squatting, our customers deserve better than that.

I think the most crucial component was our seller's composure. We kept our noses buried in our books, looking up only at to take a drink or pull a drag off our cigarette. Nothing is worse than being watched as you silently judge a person based on those belongings to help get rid off. Or when you touch an item only to hear the owner tell you how they acquired the item and why they're selling it.

Actually that's wrong. The Girlfriend manned-up and made some forty brownies for the sale. One free with purchase.



Our low-key approach worked wonders as a good half of our items were gone by mid-morning. Of special note was the cumbersome furniture that I would have rather set afire to than have to relocate. When we set up shop, we noticed a yellow moving truck parked in front of the building. We worried that it belonged to a comer-or-goer who would be moving stuff directly through our sales floor. Turns out that the truck had been emptied out the night before and even better - this new addition to our apartment bought all of our furniture as we were setting it out.

It's so hard not to look at someone as they stop before an item. What of yours could the be interested in? You guess at what they see and are almost bummed when they put it back. Stupid rejection.

My CD collection drew the most conversation from patrons, as those in my age group had the exact same albums and bought them wistfully remarking on their first year of college - or the record store they once worked out. One stated that there wasn't a single album here that he didn't have in high school. Another girl who passed through later in the evening screeched with delight as she picked up every Vagrant records release from the labels peak (a two-week period in 2002).

My VHS collection was probably the hardest to part with. Most of the movies I'd already re-purchased in DVD and downloaded those not worth the investment - but it's the trailers that make watching a VHS fun. More often there from movies you don't even remember being released and they're sloppily chopped together with generic action music from the studio library and the sound and video quality have deteriorated to the point that they're the cinematic equivalent to the animatronic greeter at Showbiz Pizza. After laserdisc, it's the second closest format to watching a movie on vinyl. Make that third. There were those weird videodiscs that came in a plastic platter so you could never touch the disc surface. So yeah, third.

Turns out, nobody has a VCR anymore. Some guy bought my copy of The Wrong Guy (a terribly overlooked comedy written by Dave Foley). And I overheard someone remark that the movie collection was "good," but I was saddened that nobody wanted the thing that was hardest to part with. Right at close, a local staple in the Chicago horror community peddled up to see what we had. I'd recognized the guy from countless horror-movie screenings throughout Chicago, as well, The Girlfriend and I had seen him on the IFC series Film School a few months earlier. SO here he is going through my VHS collection and the attention he paid to the titles and bought eight of them was sort of the best compliment of the day.

Those titles that didn't sell, I though about holding onto - or giving them to a friend who I knew would appreciate them. But in the end, I knew I was done with them and threw them in the back of the car where they were donated at the Brown Elephant.

As the top photo illustrates, I got rid of the box of pr0n. Every guy has one. Mine had grown obsolete, what with the internetz and all. So I drew up that sign and set it out. Anytime anyone walked near it, the corners of my eyes would turn and I could feel The Girlfriend's doing the same. An older woman who bought a copy of Yahtzee! (we had six) mentioned that she was curious and made a head nod towards the case, throwing us off as we looked to wear she nodded and saw only the porn and thought that couldn't be right. But know - she was interested - just a tad too scared.

I went inside to get some more stuff I forgot to put out and when I returned the box was gone. She was smiling at me. Some older guy had been scouting the table and read the suitcase. Asked if it was real. Then took said, "I'm happy to help," and walked off into the sunset. Truth is, the porn in that case would have been deemed shitty by a fifteen-year-old.

One of the things with a yard sale is that you have to deal with your neighborhood crazies. Two ladies just came and hung out with us. Like they weren't shopping, they just sat around and kept asking questions in fractured English and all we could do was nod and start talking about something near to where they were. After they left, one returned an hour later to ask for the recipe to the brownies.

There seemed to be the career yard sale-ists who seemed to know one another from the other sales. Their routine is like this: They wake-up. Check the Craig's List postings and embark - out to hit up the sales. Their wardrobes are all ill-fitting garments which were most likely acquired at like sales. They buy books and media in bulk and I can only assume their walls are lined with such. Yet - they're normal and they're nice. The woman who bought several of my books and scoured through the clothes before finding a top that wouldn't fit around her thigh - she was genial. But she wore a pair of khaki shorts that wouldn't button yet still wore them around with a four-inch gap like a man returned from a steakhouse. There were a few free items I had laid out for the taking. Most of them were loose CDs, burnt DVDs, and empty cases. People spent twenty and thirty minutes going through these stacks and stacks of discs. A Chinese woman came and simply took all of them. Eh. It was late in the sale and I would have had to toss them out had she not taken them. Then she offered a dime on a 25 cent coin purse. Then kept picking something up before asking us why we are selling it. Fucking neighborhood crazies. God bless them.

And that was the yard sale.

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