Their allure is difficult to resist. The items in a yard sale are sublime: artful objects too precious to throw away, too quiescent to keep around. Old records and eight-tracks. Posters and framed pictures. Shot glasses. Power tools. Ornate wicker woven boxes. Shadow silhouettes. Old telephones, books and Matchbox cars. The clothes. They all meant something sometime.
They can mean something again.
You just need to decide what. And for how much.
All yard sales belong to the same genus, but there are two very discernable species with an infinite number of varieties scattered between.
The "Yardsali Richa" has a discernable pattern to the arrangement of objects: A box of shoes is next to a box of socks, next to a box of pants, next to a rack of shirts. There's a card table in the corner of the yard. A list of prices is taped down next to it. For one-of-a-kind items (like the faded olive-green Oster Imperial Ice Crusher or the wire snake) there's a cardboard tag hanging by a thread from the handle with a price neatly noted.
Sitting in a folding metal chair, behind the table and the box, is the yardiculturist, maybe a septarian lady who good-naturedly disarms you with a smile when you show her your picks. She'll talk small talk as she takes your money and may mention how nice it is to just be outside. But don't be fooled: She works a calculated business.
The "Yardsali Monda" has the feel of the parking lot at a Dead show. You find items laid out on sheets, arranged in rows on card tables, on the steps, on the banisters or the railings of a porch. Most everything appears bunched together without any strict organization except that like-items are kinda-near like-items.
There's no cash box. No master list of prices. The tops of shoe boxes have been turned into placards and placed behind piles of stuff with prices. Stellar items, like a 30-inch bicycle, have a price penned on masking tape stuck to the frame. If you want to know a price, you ask.
The yardiculturists at least two, but sometimes more before they approach, roam about their patch, waiting until you've picked up an item and look around with determination or revelation. They'll flutter about, toss out a price, then pull it back, because they admit they can't remember how much they agreed to let the item go for, and so will ask the other tender. The price they decide on is a valuation of the item to their relationship.
I cultivated a yard sale once.
I posted a couple of signs on the telephone poles around the neighborhood. Nothing fancy, just the usual information, with an opening time of 8 a.m. I was disheartened as I arranged my blossoms, for the white paper I used looked ill in comparison to the florescent pink and bright yellow of other announcements. My energy waned, and I returned home.
I wanted to work a "Yardsali Richa," where I believed most gratification comes, but I never got a chance to make my price list and never happened on a card table behind which to sit. It all happened too fast.
By 7:30, a small swarm had arrived, intent to pick over my past. They hovered, watching my front door. Peaking out the window, I noticed that they all kept a murmuring patter going discussing, no doubt, the values that still lay hidden beyond the door.
They waited as I processed out with my stuff. Their eyes "oohed" over the set of glass corn-cob dishes, and their mouths silently gaped open an "aah" over the bags of sweaters. There were knowing nods for the ubiquitous box of obsolete kitchen appliances, topped off by the Salad Shooter. A broken egg timer didn't even register, but two pairs of double-mirrored closet doors, offered without the track or fixtures, ranked high.
I fielded questions. I gave as much a history of each piece I could muster. I watched how everything was meticulously and silently calculated.
My planned "Yardsali Richa" evolved into a hybrid: a "Yardsali Richmondum." Without tags, without signs, with only a clue, I walked around the yard, preening and fluffing and arranging my items. I talked up the hand-crank meat grinder.
The trash can's made from tightly rolled magazine pages glued together. That's for sale, too. The two sets of tools I offer separately, but if you buy both, I'll give you a discount. No? All right, buy the one, but you'll still be looking for a complete set. Think it over. Sit on the couch. Comfy. You want it?
Turns out, not many people did.
Still, I consider my yard sale a success. I learned who lived in my neighborhood, what they liked, what they were indifferent to, who had a collection of 1976 Burger Chef Looney Toons glass soft drink mugs and who was married to her.
They got something, too. I thought the yard sale was going to just be people taking my stuff, but no, all they really wanted to know was who I was.
A yard sale is you out on the lawn, from platform shoes to three-ring binders, from elementary school to high school, from one relationship to another. It's humanity in its most natural state: changing. A yard sale season is as much a metamorphosis as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly for it inevitably occurs during transitional times in nature and in life: When you move, when you break up, when you graduate, when you just gotta start over or make room for a new interest. Those are the times for yard sales. It's hard to plan exactly when change is going to happen, beyond maybe a week or a couple of days, which is why the blooms occur suddenly and also what makes them so beautiful.
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.