At I was out on the curb, shuffling bags of baby clothes and other stockpiled detritus from the couch in my abandoned office to tables set up in the driveway. I notice a light rain starting to fall. It was more of a mist, actually.
"The weather guy always lies," I grumble as I sort tiny shirts, pants and dresses and arrange them into lumpy piles. I leave some articles in the bag; they were destined for the trash bin anyway.
I hate yard-sale day. I hate feeling an obligation to purge my life of mistakes and recoup some of the misspent cash. I hate how the idea of it pulls me in with a do-it-yourself entrepreneurial air, but how quickly its atmosphere dissipates into something less desirable.
You can tell a lot about a person by their yard sales. Like that other roadside attraction -- bumper stickers -- yard sales are authorized biographies. While bumper stickers offer onlookers detailed tables of content, yard sales offer the annotated autobiography.
Both can tell you a lifetime worth of information in short order: Religious affiliations, favorite bands, who they supported in the last two elections, even what their kids are doing in school -- either they're honor students or they're beating up your honor student.
In my neighborhood the lives are fairly similar. We all have clothes we've held onto for sentimental reasons that wind up hanging from ropes when we forget what they were. You can find beat up toys and playthings that never got much attention; impulse buys that became instantly obsolete; exercise equipment picked up no doubt at last year's events, which will circle the block for at least a decade more; cassette tapes, sitting unused since you bought that new car with the six-CD changer six years ago, and mix tapes that might as well be torn pages from a diary. There is usually something that defies logic. In our case that something would be a half-dozen paper napkin dispensers.
I would wager there is also the something that its owners don't really want to sell but will offer up because they know someone will buy it. It's the loss leader: the item that makes certain that our sale -- when snubbed by the throngs of strangers who paw through our things with left eyebrow raised and upper lip curled in symmetry -- doesn't become a negative review of how we live. Of course, if someone does buy this once-treasured possession, we tend to mourn its departure from our lives.
On my hour off, I make my way to the farmers' market to buy Asian greens and soy beans checking out the sales in front of historic homes and manicured lawns along the way. I notice these sidewalk shops show the difference between us: Not as much impulsivity to the buying in these-here parts. I find antique baskets, with antique prices; etchings, prints and pieces of furniture that require houses with "libraries' (pronounced with an English flourish).
Even the Jones families on the side streets are keeping up. They offer designer clothes and tasteful handbags in their yard-front shops. There’s not a sign of kitsch anywhere; nothing that says "what one Earth possessed you to waste the kids' college education on that?"
Everything offered in these curbside boutiques is neat and tidy. You can almost see generations of children, sitting around a card table, sipping lemonade as they play the parlor games that are now gently worn and carefully stacked, awaiting new homes.
In a few hours I'll be bundling the remnants of our lot for Goodwill and wondering why I bother with this mid-step at all.
But by the time I get back with my bags of unpronounceable produce, my partner in slime has a full smile and is waving six dollar bills in my direction.
"Imagine that, hon -- I just sold all those napkin holders."