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Nashville Scene Home Invasion

Yard sales can be nightmares

By Walter Jowers

AUGUST 17, 1998:  Yesterday, wife Brenda had a yard sale. Lucky for me, it was in somebody else's yard. I would not be a good yard-sale host. First of all, I'm not crazy about a bunch of strangers coming into my yard semi-invited. But when they come early on a weekend morning, demanding service, that's a pretty good recipe for me to say something rude.

A few years back, a local film company shot a music video here at my house. It was for a song called "Mother's Eyes." Here's a sample lyric: "Mama worked real hard to make ends meet, read the Bible every night while she soaked her feet."

By some evil coincidence, this video was filmed on the day of our neighborhood's giant annual yard sale. We Jowerses were not yard-sale participants, but all the film gear and hubbub in our front yard attracted some unwanted walk-in traffic. Bright and early, one yard-sale shopper wandered up to my front porch and started picking things out of the film crew's cases. She just about had a good armload, when the producer walked over to her and said, "Ma'am, those are props. Please leave them alone."

The woman eyeballed the producer angrily and stomped back out to the sidewalk. On her way out, she snatched an Egg McMuffin off the caterer's table. Ever since then, I just haven't felt good about yard sales.

First of all, there are the early shoppers. They show up at dawn, beat on your door, and demand service. Brenda had a cure for this: She got up at 6 a.m., and before she'd had even one cup of coffee, she made a sign and posted it at the yard-sale site.

"NO EARY BIRDS!"

Maybe it was the spelling, but the sign didn't work. The birds came anyway. They were like a flock of seagulls picking at a dead horseshoe crab. You could shoo 'em once and shoo 'em again, but as soon as you turned your back, they'd creep up behind you and start picking away, darting off with this piece and that piece. Nothing short of cannon fire would've dispersed 'em.

Brenda's yard-selling cohorts were neighbors Ellen and Barbara. Each set up her own shop, and each tagged her merchandise with a colored dot. Brenda was blue, Ellen was green, and Barbara was orange. By 8 o'clock, they had a yard full of customers.

Funny thing about yard sales: The ugly stuff goes first. If you put last year's vinyl, floral-patterned Wal-Mart beach bag next to a leather Coach bag, and mark 'em both $5, somebody will snatch up the Wal-Mart bag, pay the 5 bucks, and do an end-zone dance all the way back to the car. An hour later, another customer will want to haggle over the Coach bag. "Looks a little scuffed. Will you take $2?"

This haggling is the reason I can't be a yard-sale clerk. I'm a soft touch about a lot of things, but when I'm selling a useful item for less than I've been tipped for playing "Proud Mary," I don't want to be insulted with a low-ball offer. If somebody asked me to discount a $5 leather purse, I might just respond with, "Sure. Tell you what: Give me the 2 bucks now, and I'll fill it fulla dog crap, light it on fire, and drop it off on your porch later this evening."

What causes people to haggle over less money than they've got stuck between their couch cushions? All day yesterday, I watched people offer 50 cents for earrings that were marked $1. If you like a pair of earrings, wouldn't they be worth a dollar? If you don't like 'em, why offer 50 cents to begin with? I swear, I don't understand the thought process. If I get these earrings for 50 cents, I'll wear them proudly. If they cost a buck, I don't want 'em and don't need 'em.

Around noon, a thunderstorm came and broke up the yard sale. There was one customer left, a woman who ran up on the porch with us when the rain started. As fast as Brenda could pack boxes up for the Salvation Army, the lone customer would pull everything out and pick through it.

Ellen handed the woman a straw hat. "No charge," she said. "It ought to keep you dry until you can get back to your car."


Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nash-scene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.


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