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The Last Yard Sale

It's Saturday, September and sunny: my last chance this year to trot my sorry belongings out to sell in front of our Englewood house. Early in the game, a Spanish-speaking mom shops for her adorable, plump little niña with big brown eyes. She holds up a pricey velvet top spattered with stars and planets and looks at me imploringly. I wanted four bucks for it, but for her I had to charge half. Take it, take it -- I can't resist you, I think. Same with the little red patent-leather shoes. Keep batting those innocent peepers, baby.

Teletubbies are big sellers today; so are elephants: One elephant girl even swoops down off the bus that stops across the street, bills flying from her pocket, to sweep up my friend Cathy's wicker elephant table. She collects elephants; she has to have it. "What about that elephant candlestick over there?" I hint. Elephant girl clutches her find and looks at the bus. It's pulling away. She looks at the candlestick. The bus is gone. Sold!

And you've got to love the sale-haunters who come with personal shoppers: The grotesquely fat lady in a truck, with the oxygen tank and no teeth, for instance, whose husband reluctantly paws through a pile of audiocassettes and fifty-cent CDs that mean nothing to him. "Got any country music?" he asks. "She wants country music." But he doesn't know Hank Williams from 'N Sync: "I don't listen to music. When she puts this stuff on, I leave the house." Then he dutifully ferries Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter cassettes back and forth from the table to the truck. She likes them. Sold!

Other folks barely operate on planet Earth, let alone come to actually shop. Some lonely beings -- like the little old stick of a guy with a wispy ponytail and falling-off pants -- just want to chat. "Hey!" he says to another customer. "Your hair's as long as mine, man!" And he ambles off, scratching his butt. Others just want in on the social action. My four-year-old knows a circus when she sees one: She twirls and announces, "The dance performance will start in just a little minute."

The afternoon wears on, and the takers slow down, but some laggardly mystery fanatics come and buy paperbacks by the dozen. ("Even if I already have some of these, they're still worth buying at this price," notes one.) And the looky-loos look: "What does this do?" asks one. "It's a scanner," I say. "And that's all it does?" she whines. It's 3 o'clock. Ah, well, wait until next year.


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