August 4th, 2020

The Village Idiot

I brake for junk

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published Sept. 4, 2015

Over the years, we've all collected stuff that we are ashamed to have in the house. Stuff that is too ugly to keep, too expensive to throw out -- unfortunate Christmas presents, out-of-date furniture, ultra-wide paisley ties I foolishly think might someday come back into fashion.

So what should we do with this stuff? Take it to the landfill? Drop it off at the Goodwill? Make a trip to the recycling center? Not a chance. We'll spread it out on the front lawn and put prices on it.

We will have a yard sale.

It sounds like such a good idea. A way to get rid of six-pound wooden tennis rackets, dented chafing dishes, vinyl Carpenters' albums, ancient eight-track tapes, battered recliners, unused fondue pots, obsolete Dictaphones, coolers in the shape of giant beer cans, beat-up copies of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," embroidered linen pillowcases and stacks of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

Unfortunately, it's the exact same junk all our neighbors are trying to get rid of. That's why lawn sales are held on the weekend, so the entire mess won't be confused for garbage and accidentally collected.

Me, I don't just have yard sales; I go to them, too. I don't go because I think I will find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden behind a $2 picture of dogs playing poker. I stop because I'm a snoop. There's nothing like pawing through a table full of personal effects in the hot sun to learn how your neighbors spend their time and their money. Junk on a folding table in the driveway speaks to me.

One silver teaspoon. Did someone steal the other seven, or did you always just have one? Or do spoons in a dishwasher disappear like socks in a dryer?

A cross-country ski machine for 50 bucks. They twisted their ankle trying to learn how to use it the day it arrived, and then gained two pounds convalescing. Here it is, out in the front yard, making them feel guilty every time they look at it. "Buy me!" it screams. "Get me out of their life."

Lawn sales are full of kitchen gadgets that are so specific no one ever uses them. A left-handed, deep-fat frog-leg fryer. A waffle iron in the shape of Emeril Lagasse. A kiwi peeler, still in the box. A machine that boasts it'll let you "Grill Fish In Your Hotel Room!" Where do these people stay? Motel 666? I don't ever want to be in the room next to them.

Wooden skis, wheelchairs that were old when FDR was a boy, hurricane lamps, roller skates, TV tray tables, baby clothes. You rarely find good collectibles at the yard sales selling baby clothes. You can either have children or you can have nice things, as my mother used to tell us -- every day. The fact that I had seven brothers and sisters probably had something to do with that, but it's not the kind of thing a 6-year-old would snap back to his mom.

And golf clubs. There are always golf clubs at yard sales. I saw a beautifully balanced putter at one sale, and the lady said I could have it for a quarter. I told her that brand-new, it probably cost $120. She said she was glad it made me happy, "because it never made Hank happy."

"He doesn't play anymore?"

"Not so much since he died."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"I'm not," she said.

I asked Sue if she'd sell my golf stuff after I died.

"Are you kidding?" she said. "What makes you think I'll wait that long?"

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."