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Host a yard sale, ruin a weekend

Recently, my grandparents asked if I’d like to piss away an entire Saturday.

Well, they didn’t phrase it like that, exactly. What they said was, “Would you like to help us with our yard sale on Saturday?”

But I knew what they meant, of course.

Stupid me, I agreed. Not only because I wanted to help my grandparents (a-hem, inheritance), but also because I hadn’t participated in a yard sale since, like, 1993.

What I always expect to earn from a yard sale.

What I always expect to earn from a yard sale.

What I actually earn.

What I actually earn.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten what a complete, miserable waste of time they are. (Yard sales, I mean. Not my grandparents.)

The idea is simple: You gather all the garbage in your house that you no longer want (and that nobody else in their right mind wants, either), and you strew it on rickety wooden tables in your front yard. Then, you stick itty-bitty price tags to everything — most marked $1 or fifty cents. (Hey, we’re talking big bucks here.)

Last, when everything’s set up, you sit on a metal folding chair in the scalding sun — armed with a pencil case to collect the wads of cash you’ll no doubt earn — and watch as scores of people drive by without stopping.

But wait, it gets better. If you’re lucky, you might attract a few customers. They’ll wander in like the Walking Dead to browse through your piles of lavish merchandise. Some even might pick up something and mull it over, appearing interested.

And you’ll be on the edge of your folding chair, hands placed on knees, eagerly waiting for them to reach for their wallet.

Only they won’t. They never do. I think it’s a law.

Instead, they’ll set the item back down, give you a friendly wave, and leave for weekend adventures unknown. (Weekend adventures you can’t participate in, of course, because you’re stuck hosting a yard sale.)

But it’s not completely pointless. Occasionally, if you’re really lucky, you might encounter that rare individual who actually wants to buy something. These folks are an endangered species. Treat them with kindness and respect, because after all, they’re the reason you founded this vast, money-making enterprise.

But don’t be too kind and respectful. These people are here for a deal, which means they’re going to want to haggle.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? All those price tags you stuck to everything — the ones marked $1 and fifty cents — turns out those were completely useless. You might as well have saved yourself the time and tossed them in the trash (coincidentally, the same place where you should have tossed most of the items in your yard sale). Nobody ever pays the sticker price at these things. I think it’s a law.

Yard sales are all about haggling … which basically means that no matter what an item is priced, be it $1, 25 cents or a penny, the customer is always going to offer you less — usually by half.

Case in point: A woman approached my grandmother holding a silk shirt priced at $2. My grandmother had ironed it the night before, because she wanted our garbage to be presentable.

“Will you take $1 for this shirt?” the woman asked.

And the thing is, they know they got you over a barrel here. Because whatever you don’t sell at the sale, you’re either going to have to haul back into the house or take to Goodwill. Most sane people in this situation will take a dollar and get rid of the damn thing, rather than stand there and argue on principle.

“No — the price is two dollars,” I said, arguing on principle. “Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll take a dollar,” my grandmother said, sighing. “Here.” And she took the shirt and folded it neatly, placing it in a box with glittered tissue paper.

“This is a yard sale, Grandma,” I said. “Not Macy’s.”

She sprinkled a handful of chocolates in the box, then wrapped the whole thing in gold foil and silver ribbon.

“Thank you,” the woman said, accepting her package. And then she climbed into her Escalade, which was idling at the curb, and left.

(Yeah, now there’s someone who’s got to count every penny. Enjoy your silk shirt, lady. Maybe you can take the dollar you saved and buy a can of dog food, since you’re obviously starving.)

My favorite people are the ones who make snide comments as they’re perusing your stuff, as if I’m somehow unaware that my garbage is … well, garbage.

“A slide projector?” quipped one man, giving me a smirk. “Ever hear of iPhoto?”

“A set of encyclopedias?” quipped his wife, glaring through dark sunglasses. “Ever hear of Google?”

“Your fat asses?” I quipped. “Ever hear of a treadmill? Because I got a great deal on one, here.”

After that, I was no longer permitted to interact with the customers.

I can’t say I was surprised that the slide projector and encyclopedias didn’t sell. Ditto for the CRT television, which I’d combined with a matching VHS player to create an irresistible package deal.

Unfortunately, everyone resisted it. I might have made out if a college student from 1983 had pulled up in a DeLorean, looking to furnish his dorm. Unfortunately, the space-time continuum wasn’t kind to us that day.

What surprised me were the things that didn’t sell, such as books. Nobody wanted books. I had competitively priced hardcovers and paperbacks (“competitively priced” meaning whatever I could get for them … which apparently was nothing). Some of the books were brand-new and had never been opened (which basically are all of the books in my home). Others were signed by the author (clearly not ones I enjoyed).

Other surprise duds? DVDs. Nobody wanted DVDs. I had a pristine copy of The Princess Bride for sale. I was only getting rid of it because I’d recently gotten the Blu-ray. My DVD was clean and scratch-free — unlike most other used DVDs, which are encrusted with pizza grease and look as if they’ve been gouged by Wolverine.

But did anyone want it for $1? Nope. Way too much to ask for this world-renowned contemporary classic. Same for Schindler’s List and a cellophane-wrapped copy of Labyrinth, a movie I’d never opened because I already had a copy. Nobody even looked at them — which was weird, considering I’d put them in the sun where they couldn’t be missed.

By 2 p.m., we’d had enough. The afternoon sun was roasting us alive, and the customers had stopped coming. They were too busy going to the beach or barbecuing or doing whatever it is normal, fun-loving people do on Saturday afternoons.

“What was our haul?” I asked.

My grandmother opened the pencil case and counted the change. “We made twelve dollars.”

“Wow — awesome,” I said. “I guess yard sales really can make dreams come true. Mind if I take my share now, so I can book that Caribbean cruise?”

My grandmother bit her lip, staring at the cash in her hand. “Do you think this will pay for lunch?”

My grandfather shook his head. “It’s not even going to pay for the gas to get to Goodwill.”

“Oh, that’s right,” I said, sighing. “We still have to clean up.”

We gazed forlornly at the mountains of merchandise still sitting on the tables, baking in the afternoon sun.

“I got an idea,” my grandpa said. He took a large piece of cardboard and scrawled “Free” on it with a bold magic marker. Then he taped the sign to the table nearest the street.

“Now watch it all disappear,” he said, wearing a triumphant grin.

It was all still there the next day.

“I got an idea,” my grandpa said. He took another large piece of cardboard and scrawled “Free Stuff — We’ll Pay You To Take It!”

“Now all we have to do is wait for someone to do the work for us,” he said, wearing a triumphant grin.

It was all still there the next day.

Concluding remarks: The dump fee cost way more than $12.

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