One Man’s Trash

Garage sales are all about random.

Kids ran and played with dogs. Adults parked their cars halfway on the lawn. Late 1970’s Stones tunes pumped out the windows. People who didn’t know exactly what they were doing hung out with people they didn’t know, for no good reason at all. There was rummaging, and browsing, and bargains to be had. It was one of those uniquely American events: the late summer garage sale.

Don’t worry if you weren’t among the fortunate couple of hundred people last weekend who made it out to the three family, two-day garage sale marked by a big red sign on a Pompey thoroughfare. Next weekend there will be plenty more of the same coming to a lawn or a garage or a barn near you. It’s garage sale season, and there’s something enjoyable about the randomness of the stuff you can find at these events.

My favorite offering was a tall, spindly device called a Topsy Turvy, which made for lots of entertainment as people tried to guess exactly what it was and what useful purpose it might have one day served (much garage sale merchandise is, as you probably know, not essential to sustaining human life). This thing looked like one part protective garb for a beekeeper and one part outdoor shower. Our friend Katie swears that it was created for the purpose of growing tomatoes upside down, presumably invented by someone with enough time on their hands to ponder ways to enlist gravity to aid tomatoes struggling to grow up (or, in this case, down). Not a bad concept, but, like most of the exercise equipment you find on Craigslist, never really used.

But this wasn’t Craigslist, nor eBay. Those are purposeful and, for the most part, solitary pursuits. This was just random stuff that three households, three families at different stages of life, deemed expendable … and other people were looking to acquire.

Garage sales are all about random. Not random in the current hipster sense that is more akin to “weird,” but random in the sense that describes a thing that pops into your life, unbidden, for no apparent reason.

And random has a wonder of its own. Randomness can be enriching. Browsing in a bookstore or a library can be more satisfying than searching because you will stumble upon things that you weren’t looking for and didn’t know you wanted in your life. It’s the difference between Googling a historic event and reading an old newspaper. The paper can reveal things you weren’t looking for:  randomness.

From the Back of the Closet


Garage sales give us a time to revisit memories. You go through closets and cabinets and you pull out things you didn’t even know you had. You hold them. You think about them. And you weigh the chances that you or someone younger or not yet born might play this game or enjoy this album. Or you think about the chances that someone might still have a machine capable of playing your VCR copy of the final season of M*A*S*H. And you decide its fate: Does it go in the pile, or back in the drawer?

It’s a painless way to pass the generational torch, when one family with kids who plays board games takes the old Parcheesi game that has sat in your cupboard for a decade untouched, or the SongStar set that seemed novel and chic in 2003. … It’s a place where a family on a tenuous budget gets to help out a family whose floor joists are sagging and drawers clogged with stuff no one will ever touch again. And everyone wins.

You can see a 14-year-old girl’s eyes light up with delight at finding an Abercrombie and Fitch outfit for a dollar that your 22-year-old is a bit shy about acknowledging she ever wore.

Garage sales give us a benign venue for making bad decisions. I’m of the opinion that we all have within us a need to make a certain number of bad choices in any given timespan, and it’s just as well to expend your quota of “what was he thinking?” calls on a $15 cuckoo clock than on anything of real import.

And then there are moments where random is genuinely weird. Such as the encounter with an electric snowblower. This thing must have been all of 14 inches wide and had the capacity to clean off perhaps a full inch of snow. It made me wish I could meet the salesman who sold this little toy to a resident of the snowiest metropolis in the lower 48. That would be totally random.

On Sale

Here is some of what you missed:

  • A 3-by- 5-foot Canadian flag, in perfect shape.
  •   Two sawhorses.
  • One reindeer lawn ornament made of bent twigs.
  • A rocking chair, also constructed from twigs.
  • A gently rusted wok.
  • A microwave.
  • Old bottles of many shapes, sizes and colors.
  • A little square fridge of the kind used in college dorm rooms (Sold for 10 bucks. Turns out it didn’t work. Returned. Ten bucks refunded.)
  • A nice assortment of folding chairs.
  •   The aforementioned electric snowblower.

Ed Griffin-Nolan

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