When we last left our hero, he was settling down for the night, anxiously awaiting the coming day’s Tag Sale. Little did he know the horrors that were about to be visited upon him in the form of the dreaded Tag Sale Tightwads!
If you’re not up to speed, here’s Part I:
Dramatic enough for you? It was a dramatic morning for everyone. I woke up at the butt crack of dawn, which for my nocturnal self is any time before 10:00 am. The previous night, along with the cutesy signs I’d made to delineate the different sections of schwag, I’d also fashioned some glossy 11 x 17 directionals, complete with a high-tech “bubble” font I’d picked up during the four days I’d wanted to be a grafiti artist in High School.
I hit the road and pondered our situation. In my mind a place like Martha’s Vinyard is perfect for a tag sale. During the summer it’s filled to the brim with the rich and the capable, much like a 19 year old freshman on her first Cancun spring break. They come with their lazy days and expendable income, hoping to find that one slightly cracked butter dish that will give their beach house that “lived in” appeal. Well that’s how I imagined it, anyways. It was to be just one of many myths that I would see shattered by day’s end.
The first intersection I arrived at served as a crude omen of what was to come. The telephone pole was covered to the top in a mass of staples, it reminded me of an over-baked steroid user’s acne pocked back. Right in the middle, facing North were no less than three signs for other tag sales. They were all bigger, brighter and more legible.
I was undeterred, surely these other “sales” didn’t have the quality or sheer volume of blue glassware, containers or shards. There was no way they had anything closely resembling our impressive collection of early 70’s decorative baskets and used planter pots. Laughing to myself I affixed our capitalistic aspirations appropriately to the bottom line.
The sign said 9-6, hours that would see relatively little traffic as it turns out. The first cars began showing up at 8:15, a detail my grandmother noted as “strange.” Apparently the norm with tag saling is to arrive fashionably early, and that usually means by three hours. This meant we weren’t the main attraction in this three ring consumer circus. As I looked around at the literally tons of furniture, I had my first twinge of dread, considering that I might have to move every stick inside.
People who come early to yard sales are all the same, they share the same archetypal qualities. I came to call them Tag Sale Tightwads, or TST’s as I’ll refer to them from now on. In the ever so sophisticated format of the comedy stylings of Jeff Foxworthy I bring you:
You may be a Tag Sale Tightwad if…
… you see a semi-painted end table and think to yourself, I could get four dollars more for that at my upcoming tag sale. That is, if I sink four hours of work stripping and staining it first.
… you arrive early to garage sales because you just assume that all the “Good Stuff” will be gone after the first hour.
… you see something of yours at a tag sale, and remember exactly how much you sold it for.
… you’re actually willing to engage in a haggling session with someone over the price of postcards from communist-era East Berlin.
… you use the term, collector’s item when referring to Happy Meals toys.
Each one of the above indicators happened at some point between 8:00am and 10:00am that Saturday. For a while we had a lot of traffic, they came, they saw, they bought, not much, but they bought.
See, a TST doesn’t come to buy something that they might need, they come looking for a “find.” Something that might be worth something at one of their own inevitable tag sales. But the thing is, they’re not selling to anyone but other TST’s!. It’s a closed circuit. All the money, all the junk, it just refilters itself around to other hands in this vast, loosely connected brotherhood of brickabrack.
One guy, after he’d bought a broken glass lamp, twirled around looking at all the various rummage and actually said to me, “I know I’m missing something, I just know it!” I threw up a little in my mouth. All my love for the stuff from the night previous would have left my body if only I had remembered to eat through all the excitement.
He also didn’t make things easier when he mentioned to me that my grandmother is the biggest of all offenders and that he sees her every weekend at every tag sale he’s ever been to. Apparently, she is the Yeti of the yard sale underworld.
Three hours in and we hadn’t sold a significant amount of anything. The few off-islanders who’d come through were scared away by what I’d noticed were Flea-market prices on Tag Sale items. Attempts to haggle to reasonable levels for stuff that is only one degree of separation away from non-biodegradable refuse were met by scoffs from Bette. No, she couldn’t possibly let the rocking chair with no back go for less than $10, and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise.
When she had to take a bathroom break I started giving things away, quite literally. In my panic of concern for my overworked back I let a shrewd TST and her daughter walk away with over $80 of merchandise (marked price has no relation to actual world value) for $20. The lady paid me half in cash and half in check, what the hell?
When they left, my panic was immediately replaced with fear of my grandmother. She knew every piece of junk that was laid out, she’d know what was missing. I put $10 of my own money into the till and worked out a lie in my mind to tell her.
By three in the afternoon no one else was coming. I began piling things back into their respective places. We made about $300, but I didn’t care, nothing really had changed. Nothing was getting thrown out.
When my mother called and said, “Welcome to my world, kid, I can’t remember how many of those I’ve done with her,” it was a little like realizing Kaiser Soze had just walked out of my interrogation room. I’d been duped. Six hours later, when everything was put away, my organizational skills had made an inordinate amount of space free. I was sure that it would slowly accumulate more goods as the summer weekends passed by. At the very least, nothing was in danger of falling over, there was always that.
On Sunday I headed for the ferry and the bus ride home, renewed in my disdain for all things material. She tried to pay me for my help, which I thought was funny, I don’t enjoy taking money from family members and this type of pay off was even more unsettling.
I used the cash to buy her lunch and left, not with any ill will, just with opened eyes. For her, this is a way of life. I’d been involved in it for only 48 hours and I’d seen the allure, I could only imagine what I’d become if it were all I did, every day. I may or may not have promised to help her produce and even bigger sale in August, I can’t be sure, she’s crafty like that.
I do know, however, that I’ll be bringing a copy of the Middleman back to anyone who asks for it.