wmthomas-sliderBy William Thomas

First of all, “Greage Sale 8-2-10 Only!” That’s a bad sign of the times right there.

After 100 years of these “five and dimers” at the end of our properties, why can’t we at least decide if they’re a “yard sale,” “lawn sale,” or a “garage sale?” Likewise, after a century of retreating to a rustic northern spot in the summer, Canadians still can’t decide if it should be called a cottage, a cabin or a camp.

The traditional Canadian yard/lawn/garage sale is actually an outdoor insult contest in which pieces of junk and spare change are the agreed-upon weapons of choice. Given that you’re trying to sell me something you don’t want or need and probably never did and I’m about to buy your junk, which I will likely try to sell back to you next summer, we should call the sale a “flimflam” or a “flip-flop” — a game of commercial ping pong involving bric-a-brac for a buck.

Take me, for instance, your principal peddler for today’s yard seller. With a card table, a jar of change and no experience whatsoever, I will take a decade’s worth of accumulated crap, which I’m too lazy to drop off at the local dump, and I will attempt to sell it to you, an unsuspecting stranger. By the time we meet in my driveway, I will have gone through five strategies of yard sale marketing:

I don’t care if I make any money as long as I get rid of this stuff.

Hey! This thing still works.

I don’t think five bucks is too much. I paid ten.

If they don’t want to pay the price, I’ll just keep this stuff and use it myself.

New sign: “All Prices Firm. Break It, You Bought It.”

So that’s me, the seller, sitting casually in a lawn chair with a cup of coffee and the morning paper trying to appear nonchalant, because I alone know what evil lurks behind those masking tape price stickers. I am a swindler.

Now let’s take you. You are the prospective yard sale customer, my market, my mark. First of all, you cruised by the night before shouting something about a sale. I shouted back something about your mother. (Sorry.)

You returned early next morning, parked in my neighbour’s flower garden, and after inspecting every item in the yard sale, you picked up my card table with my entire sale inventory, empty coffee mug and newspaper and said, “Would you take two bucks for this?”

As politely as I could, I said, “No, but for a loonie you could get that canoe paddle … right across your ass!” (Again, I apologize.)

So as a professional yard sale rummager, you’re rude, coldhearted and crass. Yard sale people are a pain in the ass. But that’s your job. You’re supposed to make me feel cheap and sleazy. After all, I’m a swindler. If I didn’t want to be humiliated, I wouldn’t have taken out ads in the newspaper inviting you to come to my house and fondle my personal belongings. You’re the type of person whose children will grow up to be scalpers; mine will supply them with counterfeit concert tickets. It’s a very sick world. I’m just glad we could be there for each other.

I just love the unwritten law behind the lawn sale: Whatever is left over at closing time goes to the Salvation Army. First, we go for cold, hard cash and when that doesn’t work, we embrace the idea of charity. I mean if several hundred people wearing Crocs and tank tops found your stuff to be useless or tasteless, do you really think people who shop at Goodwill outlets are going to outbid each other for it?!?

And you just know this had to happen, there’s now a country and western song out there about a yard sale — “Sortin’ through what’s left of me and you.” I can only imagine the wife’s gone, the pickup truck is up for sale and the dog got hit by the woman who drove up the driveway at 7:30 a.m. when the sign clearly stated an eight o’clock start.

Certain items need to be banned from these sales like undergarments, toilet seats, urns with ashes still in them, anything inscribed with the word “love” and yes, this has happened, bags of cat poop marked “fertilizer.”

And the worst? If I spot anything crocheted or macramed or titled “Home Sweet Whatever,” I don’t’ get out of the car.

And worse than the “Greage Sale” sign was the one I spotted near Mayville, New York, “Going To Jail Sale.” Now that’s where the seller says “yes” to pretty much every price you offer.

No sorry, that’s not the worst. The worst is spotting a book you’ve written and inscribed to the woman with her caboose parked in a lawn chair next to a box marked “Two Bucks For Them All.” Yeah, that’s the worst. That’s when you go home and come back with a bag marked “fertilizer” and offer to trade it for the book box.