The Garage Sale

I took an unusual vacation recently: I went to Los Angeles to help my parents with a garage sale. They're moving out of the house they've lived in for 26 years, the one they've had since I was 5 years old. It's easy to accumulate a lot of stuff in 26 years, and this was their first garage sale in all that time.

They needed help.

But I also sensed that selling off once-loved possessions, such as my Barbie doll collection or my brother's neon Bud Lite sign, might be emotional, so I thought I'd go help out with the moral support department as well. Plus, I wanted to make sure "Pretty in Pink Barbie" found a good home.

My esteemed editors graciously allowed me to take Friday off, so I spent it on the floor of my former bedroom with my mom, sorting through childhood treasures. As a child of the '80s, I had all sorts of embarrassing reminders of the decade and who I was during it. The Bananarama cassette epitomized this. There was also my old jewelry.

There were so many fabulously garish earrings and green-finger inducing rings that I decided to put each item in a baggie and charge a buck a bag. Some were even real silver, but still no person in her right mind would be caught dead in that crap (an incorrect assumption, as luck would have it).

Memory lane extended all the way back to toddlerhood when I saw my old stuffed giraffe Margaret, a 2-foot tall creature looking extremely worse for the wear. "I think there were some rats nesting in it in the garage," Dad offered.

"Isn't she cute?" Mom said. "Look you even dressed her in your baby clothes!"

The next day was Garage Sale day. Dad hung signs around the neighborhood advertising our sale, which was to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. But several of the other neighbors had decided that if we were having a garage sale, they'd have them too. The other sales started at 8 a.m., so as we were setting up around 8:30, the masses attempted to descend on us. "Do you have any toys?" a woman asked as we set up the 50 cent table.

"Yes, but we don't start until 10 o'clock," Mom replied sweetly.

A couple left the sale at the house across the street and started rummaging through one of our clothing bags.

"I'm sorry, we're still setting up we'll open at 10 o'clock," Mom said. She gave me an exasperated look.

Two burly men approached. "Any Star Wars stuff?" one of them barked.

"Ten o'clock!" Mom barked back.

Around 9:15 a.m., a heavyset guy was staking his claim on my former exercise bike by standing with a hand on it. He made it very clear that he would maintain his position until the opening bell at 10 a.m. He kept offering to pay for it so he and the bike could leave, and I finally said, "Just let him pay, Mom. Why not?"

She foolishly listened to me, accepted his $45 for the $500 bike, and the floodgates were open. The Garage Sale was happening whether we liked it or not, and dozens of experienced hagglers had at the rookies. Meanwhile, well-meaning neighbors took the opportunity to snoop through our belongings.

"Wow, someone likes to drink," one said snidely of my extensive shot glass collection, as a teen-ager holding an infant asked me if he could get four of them for a dollar. I slipped the greenback into my fanny pack as an older man exclaimed, "Barbies! Do you have any from the '70s?"

I followed him to the table where a 9-year-old Latina was lovingly stroking the hair of Western Barbie. I helped her fight off the creepy older guy, but he did end up nabbing Tuxedo Ken when I wasn't looking. I ended up giving her "Pretty in Pink Barbie"for free so that Barbie ended up with a little girl who would love her instead of a bargain hunter. The little girl's smile was the highlight of my day but unfortunately, the day was far from over.

I plunged back into the fray. Mom was selling a young couple a set of fondue forks for a dollar. "They were a wedding present 35 years ago," she explained to their delight. Less delightful was the man tugging at my arm and asking, "How much for the video camera?"

"Twenty bucks."

"Does it work?"

"Yeah, it's just kind of big." They don't make them that big anymore because people become top heavy and fall over while filming with such monstrosities.

"I'll give you 10."

I yelled to Mom to see if it was OK, and she said "sure" with a vaguely dazed look.

"Before I pay for the camera, do you have any computer stuff?" he asked.

We had a brand new CD writer for $35.

"I'll give you $10."

"No man, it's supposed to be $35."

He refused by snorting his disgust. Pouring salt in the wound, he thrust a $100 bill at me and tapped his foot while waiting for his change.

There was a momentary lull, and Mom asked me what time it was. She figured it must be almost lunch time.

"10:15," I said, and we burst out laughing.

The rest of the day was a blurred sociological experiment. A neighbor bought $60 worth of Smurfs, a 6-foot tall novelty baseball bat and the rest of my Barbies. A gangsta looking guy bought my "Fat Boys" album and cracked up when I started singing, "The Fat Boys are back" to him. A professional looking twenty-something bought a travel book for the Yucatan, and then started telling my dad and me that "Mayans lived thousands of years before Christ. People don't know that. And they're descendants of extraterrestrials who came on UFOs. Think about it." Dad thought it prudent to wait for him to leave before rolling his eyes at me.

I even got hit on. I had tried to interest a possibly drugged man in my parents' K2 skis from 1987. He declined ("I need bindings set for a size 12 boot") but asked if I'd have dinner with him that night.

"I'm going out with my grandparents tonight," I said (a wedding ring is not a dating deterrent in L.A.) before Mom hustled him away.

We didn't manage to sell the snow chains, Dad's Army boots or a Durango Herald baseball hat (vestige of a former life I barely remember), and we couldn't give poor Margaret the Giraffe away, despite several attempts with cute children. But most of the '80s earrings were sold or stolen, and the "sandwich smasher" sold itself. The Girl Scout tents with missing stakes even found a new home.

Some of the treasures also found a new home in Durango, like the massage pillow and the fake vomit. After all, some things are priceless.

Jen Reeder



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