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One Man's Trash

During her morning briefing, Elaine told Matt about the yard sale they were going to have. Matt was not enthusiastic.

Having yard sales is pretty much a woman thing, Matt told her. “Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s junk,” he said.

“Treasure,” Elaine corrected him, then saw the sly smile on his face.

Matt continued, “Besides, living in a small town, we probably won’t get many customers.”

Elaine and Matt live in Cowburg, sixty miles from Phoenix. He’s a retired postal worker (gruntled) and she retired as librarian at Cowburg High School.

As he thought about the yard sale, Matt began to see the merits of getting rid of junk. Matt is a packrat by default, being too lazy to sort things out. But Elaine has devoted her life to saving things. Her siblings call her “The Accumulator.”

Matt kids her about a Glad bag he found in the kitchen junk drawer. It contained little pieces of string and a note: “String too short to save.”

Elaine advertised the sale in the weekly Cowburg World Herald & Globe, and put out signs and flyers. They were setting up card tables on the driveway at the crack of sunrise, when the first customers showed up. Elaine told them the sale wouldn’t begin for an hour.

No, she would not sell that paint-stained card table for two dollars; she needed it to display the merchandise.

Yes, she said, the shower curtains with the orange dolphins on them would be for sale–in an hour.

By the appointed time, the card table was covered with assorted vases, decorative food tins, decks of souvenir playing cards, candles, one Jim Beam bottle and an aging clock radio that looked as though it came from the set of “Groundhog Day.”

The rest of the driveway was likewise covered with odd pieces of furniture, appliances, clothes, books, shoes, a scuffed pair of chartreusse cowboy boots with brown stitching. One whole table was covered with kitchen utensils, plus the headlight from a 1952 Indian motorcyle.

If a man is all alone in the forest and there’s not a woman around, is he still wrong? Matt had sadly underestimated the drawing power of a yard sale. It was the social event of the spring in Cowburg.

Elaine was still hauling merchandise out from the garage while customers milled about the driveway, a dozen at a time, looking and poking at merchandise and muttering among themselves.

Elaine and Matt had invited friends to join in the sale. Tasha, who lives across the street, brought duplicate volumes from her collection of diet books, and a brightly painted Bulgarian concertina with a hole its bellows–a tiny leak, Tasha pointed out.

Ruby, who lives in Congress, had a friend transport her late husband’s dirt motorcyle, which she wanted to sell. She also offered a plastic ukelele, a stuffed moose head and a German soldier’s helmet from World War II.

Frank, who lives across town, brought a battered John Deere riding mower to the sale. Originally green and yellow, it had been repainted red, apparently with a spray can. Its hood was decorated with decals from beer companies.

Frank also brought an old dot-matrix printer, a room air conditioner and his mandolin.

The mandolin was not for sale. Matt, who plays five-string banjo, had figured it would be a long, boring day, and he and Frank could jam to while away the hours. But Matt was too busy bargaining with the customers and taking in money–four dollars here, fifty cents there.

Elaine began to sense trouble when she saw Matt wheeling Ruby’s dirt bike to the back yard.

“What are you doing with that?” she asked sharply.

“I’m buying it for parts.”

“Parts for what? You don’t own a motorcycle… how much did you pay for it?”

“Forty dollars and that old mimeograph machine…”

“That mimeograph belonged to my mother!” Elaine whined, but she didn’t have time to argue. A woman customer wanted to bargain for a set of drinking glasses from Eastern Airlines. And how much for the moose head?

Out of the corner of her eye, Elaine saw Matt carrying Frank’s dot-matrix printer into the house. She made a mental note to keep her eye on the John Deere mower still sitting on the drive. But she was soon distracted by an old man who wanted to haggle over the price of their first Crockpot, purchased thirty years ago.

Since Matt didn’t have time to jam, Frank got on his cell phone and called Sid and Drake. They came over with their instruments, and pretty soon they had a good concert going on the lawn.

The musicians groaned when Orville showed up, because Orville plays the accordion. He was naturally fascinated by the concertina. He said the leak in the bellows gave the Bulgarian concertina a Macedonian flavor.

A friend named Wanda heard about the jam, and came across town with her washtub bass. She also wanted to put some stuff in the sale–mostly surplus from her collection of can openers and corkscrews.

Matt longed to get into the jam, but he and Elaine were busy hauling in money. The flow of customers never slowed.

A gun collector came by and asked if they had any guns for sale. Matt brought out an Enfield rifle from World War I. Soon, the man put the gun in his car and drove away.

“What did he give you for that?” Elaine asked.

Matt pretended to be counting out change, and said without looking at Elaine, “We traded. He’s bringing something back.”

There were now nine musicians jamming on the lawn, and they were really cooking on “The Wreck Of The Old Ninety-seven.”

A Town Of Cowburg police cruiser pulled up in front. A female officer named Jennifer got out, adjusted all the equipment on her belt, and strolled up with that deliberate walk that police employ.

Her mission was to ask the musicians to hold it down. Neighbors were complaining. But on her way, she spotted some napkin rings in the shape of little reindeer.

“Oh, these are cute!” she said to Elaine. “How much are they?”

While Elaine was selling Officer Jennifer the napkin rings and a wood spice rack, she heard the John Deere riding mower start up, but she didn’t have time to look. Maybe someone would buy the ugly thing and she could stop worrying about Matt.

The officer left without admonishing the jammers, because she had spotted the neighbor whose wife had phoned in the complaint. He wore dark glasses and lurked among the other shoppers, looking for a bargain.

Elaine was exhausted by 5 p.m., when they had planned to shut down the sale. Customers kept coming, although the parade had slowed. There seemed to be more merchandise on the driveway than when she had started.

She knew somehow that Matt had bought Wanda’s washtub bass. She didn’t have time to scold him, and thought maybe that would keep him from doing something really stupid.

The man who had left with the Enfield rifle now returned, pulling a horse trailer behind his pickup. He unloaded an old pinto mare.

Elaine was speechless as Matt led the horse toward the back yard. He said, “I traded for her. He threw in a set of melamine picnic dishes…Frank said we could keep the mare at his place…”

Talk about mixed emotions. Overall, Elaine was triumphant. The cash box was bulging. Despite Matt’s dire predicitons, they had pulled off a remarkably successful yard sale.

As she surveyed the debris on the driveway, she suddenly cried, “MATTHEW! Where is that riding mower that was sitting there? MATTHEW….”

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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