Monday, November 12, 2012

Yard Sailing

I woke up early Saturday morning. Much more so than what I was used to for a weekend. I am not sure if it was the lifting of the stress of the week, the crisp cool air of the season, or the dog greeting the deer in the yard by barking out a hearty chorus of 'Get the Hell Out of My Yard'. Whatever the reason, I was awake and began looking for a task worthy of such a nice day. 

There were of course the leaves occupying the front yard. They had been laying there since Sandy blew through, mocking me. I know I will eventually get to them, but I am trying to not be too compulsive about it. Then there is the roof on the shed which has gaping holes in it. It only leaks a little, (i.e. only all the water that falls on the shed roof) but the effect of the leak is starting to take its toll and it has to be fixed soon.

With all these woes, there was really only one option – road trip: but where? My sister had invited us to visit her place out in the mountains. As tempting an offer that was, what with all the firearm shooting, ATV riding, and bonfire marshmallow roasting, it would be a blatant abandonment of my leaf / roof responsibilities. While such obligations can be dodged during the week, what with all the working, commuting, and cursing, dodging these obligations on the weekend takes just a little more finesse. I then hit on an excellent solution – yard sailing.

Yard sailing, like other forms of sailing, takes careful planning, navigation, adapting to changing conditions, and, probably most importantly, knowing when to bring the vessel back into safe harbor. Saturday was no exception. The first step was planning. A quick assessment of the yard sales in my area listed on Craigslist revealed twelve possibilities. I plotted their locations in Google Maps to determine if a route to hit them all could exist without violating space time continuum constraints. After analyzing this route, I threw out the outliers which would cause reality warping time discontinuities, then combed ad contents to throw out sales which were oriented toward ‘baby clothes’. The resulting route was 1.5 hours long with six destinations. Taking into account actual traffic, Saturday drivers, and stoppage time, this translated into the perfect morning’s entertainment.

I should mention here that there are several rules to yard sailing which should be taken into account. These are common sense rules which sound simple, but are increasingly hard to follow once in the field. The first rule is to never buy something that you already have. That seems simple right? Well, depending on the depths of your hoarding stupor, this can be quite difficult. To ensure this rule is not broken, I find it advisable to take a quick tour of the various storage facilities secreted throughout the house to get a reminder of the ‘stuff I have’.  This of course brings up the next rule of yard sailing which is obviously universally ignored – don’t buy stuff you don’t need. The evidence of this rule’s universal violation is yard sales which, in their purest form, owe their very existence on the need of people to divest themselves of items which were impulse purchased by themselves (or by well meaning friends and relatives as gifts) to fulfill a need that does not exist. The items that are therefore found at yard sales are by definition unneeded surplus but not quite wretched refuse.

This leads to the third rule of yard sailing which is all prices are not final and must always be negotiated. Haggling over a prices is not in the comfort zone of most modern suburbanites. In most of our day to day purchases prices are fixed and we like it that way. The supply chain is such that the goods are obtained at a given price from the supplier and delivered to the end user in an amazingly efficient manner. Negotiation is by and large not needed as the system makes such efforts unnecessary. Yard sales have no such supply chain and therefore the efficiency of the system does not play a role. There is only the seller, who had gone to no small effort to try to divest themselves of their junk, and the buyer who is attempting to obtain junk which paradoxically they will end up selling to make room for the junk they are buying. Yes – it does all seem a bit silly, but less so than other noxious hobbies like raising alpacas, stamp collecting, or dentistry.

The first stop was disappointing. In early November yard sales are rare. Due to this, the fake yard sales are inevitable. A fake yard sale is a retailer who sets up shop in their garage, then pretends to be an impromptu yard sale. While I respect these retailers right to make money, and they usually have an intriguing theme of goods, they are, after all is said and done, retailers. They therefore usually violate the third rule being ill disposed to negotiation. Such was the case with my first stop. This guy had an amazing NASCAR collection that he was selling. He even noted incongruously that he had his liver removed the day that Dale Earnhardt bought it. His true ‘yard sale’ items were out front. I noted a fetching crosscut saw and asked him how much he wanted for it. He said $10. I countered with $5, and, true to form, would not move from the initial $10. Sadly we left without buying anything – though I now know where to get some good quality NASCAR memorabilia.

The second stop is really not worth mentioning, as the guy there had not started setting up his sale. He sheepishly noted that his wife had said that she would put the noted start time at 9AM rather than the 8AM that was actually in the listing. I think he was lying and had slept in (sloth!). We told him we would be back in a bit after he had a chance to set up. Of course we were lying too – there is no way I was going to violate God’s laws of space and time to return to a yard sale where the guy was too lazy to get up in time to set up!

The third stop was a rather disappointing ‘multi-family’ yard sale which consisted of a yard full of baby and toddler toys and clothes, followed by a lady with two tables set up with knick knacks, followed by a lady with five small cardboard boxes of clothes. Since we were there, we perused the kid stuff yard. Not only was there nothing interesting there, but there was a child seated in an overpriced chair that creepily kept repeating ‘welcome to our yard sale’. I was kinda glad he wasn't saying ‘redrum’. The little old ladies tables and boxes were a similar disappointment. I almost got the feeling they were just being nice to the first neighbor by setting up so they could list it as a multi-family sale. Perhaps they were under the impression the first family was selling the creepy child? Or, most probable, the sale was a neighborhood tradition that was no longer appropriate as most of the families that used to participate had moved away, and those that stayed had long since divested of their junk. Yes, it was a little sad, but that is the kind of thing you have to be ready to face when you go yard sailing.

The fourth stop was a true yard sale. Initially my vision was impared by the sheer volume of outdated clothes. I then poked through the brick-a-brac and items that were well past their re-gifting expiration dates. As I was turning to go I saw an odd shaped orange box poking out from underneath a table. Opening it I found a Stihl chainsaw. At last – I had found an item that I could purchase! Pulling the starter cord experimentally, I assessed that it was not frozen up and appeared to have compression.  Now to negotiate.

Me: “How much do you want for this”
Her: “I don’t know. It’s been sitting for a few years. I just want it out of here, make me an offer”
<examining it some more>
Me: “I just don’t know – give me a ballpark on what you are expecting”
Her: “$20 – and they go for $300 new”
Me: “I can’t really go more than $15 with it not starting”
Her: “I’ll take that”

That my friends, is how negotiation is done! Thrill of the hunt!

The remainder of our day was uneventful. We saw a house where a guy was selling off the possessions of his mother-in-law who had to go into a home due to Alzheimer’s. She had a great deal of interesting stuff, to include fencing foils, cans of R-12, a paper from when JFK died, and a complete WW2 Army Air Corp uniform. The estate sale had been going on for a while, so it was really a ‘retail’ operation where the item prices were relatively set and more than what I could spend. We only managed to walk out of there with a four rolls of new Christmas wrapping paper (for $2 - Score!). Again, a sad situation, but I liked seeing the old stuff and am honored I got a chance. I think the lady who used to live there would approve – I know I would.

We finished off our yard sailing with some sandwiches at Potbelly. After arriving home, I felt sufficiently sated that, with the help of one of my #1 son, I got about of third of the remaining leaves raked and hauled. We also got a semi-repair done on the shed roof which should be water tight. If not, I can schedule a yard sale in the spring. There's a a lot of junk in there!

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