The Garage Sale

Your gain is my loss
92

I couldn’t help myself. Life had grown so chaotic, cluttered and unruly I was forced to commit the ultimate act of despair for a firearms enthusiast — I held a garage sale.

As expected, things didn’t go well because I am the world’s worst salesman. Considering my garage, barn, attic and rental storage unit were filled-to-bursting with cool shooting, hunting and outdoor gear, I should have walked away with a small fortune. Instead, I later offered to buy dinner for my various helpers so long as they confined their epicurean expectations to “roller dogs” at the local truck stop.

No Love Here

For starters, like a significant portion of American males, I hate garage sales with a passion rivaling my distaste for socialism and boiled okra. In fact, I would choose to voluntarily have my various fingers run through a .308 resizing die rather than submit to a morning of “garage saling” with my spouse. This is because guys simply can’t appreciate the value of slightly soiled baby clothes or the refinishing potential of old furniture with visible cat urine stains.

Overall, a garage sale is testament to the unspoken reality Americans generally have too much stuff — and the fact officially sanctioned waste disposal is both inconvenient and expensive. Most of this refuse used to end up in the ravine behind grandpa’s farmhouse, but now it ends up prominently displayed in your driveway on a table made from sawhorses and an old door (“Solid Walnut — $10 or best offer”).

Despite my disdain for garage sales, I’ll grudgingly admit there are occasionally guy-focused treasures among the trash. Once in a while you’ll run across a dusty box of Early American reloading gear or a pile of holsters so low quality and poorly designed there might actually be state laws against employing them for holding firearms. But, at least, it’s all cheap.

The odds of finding good-quality, usable and inexpensive shooting gear is roughly the same as the odds of Your Faithful Correspondent running in the field of next year’s Preakness, but not as a jockey. This is why I have a great disdain for the whole concept yet the day I was forced to tunnel through my barn like a coal miner just to reach a bag of duck decoys, it was time to do something.

I initially thought I could become an internet auction baron, using the services of the hugely popular website with a pig-Latin sounding name. Yet once all the accumulated items had been piled in my garage for cataloging, I realized selling everything in this fashion would likely require a full-time staff of seven people but likely — after fees and postage — result in a net income of slightly less than the loose change in my truck’s ashtray. Therefore, after heaving a few dozen giant sighs and some half-hearted moping, I steeled my resolve for the day when complete strangers would come into my home, haggle endlessly, then take home many of my cherished possessions for half-pennies on the dollar.

Sale Day

To my great surprise the first shoppers arrived nearly two hours before the scheduled opening, far later than I had anticipated. It’s a well-known truism that published statements such as “No Sales Before 8 a.m.” are interpreted by veteran garage-salers as a direct personal affront and challenge.

Armed with fake enthusiasm and $50 in change, I opened the garage door precisely at 6 a.m. and prepared for the onslaught. I wasn’t disappointed.

As gun writers are notorious for possessing large quantities of what is technically known as “swag,” most of it lightly used, I anticipated a good turnout. As the electric opener slowly raised the windowless 20-foot door like a stage curtain, a band of angels began singing as a horde of bargain-lusting men — eyes sparkling and mouths agape — was revealed in my driveway.

Something immediately became apparent: The few women in attendance hated my garage sale. I found myself laughing in a wholly misogynistic way at the obvious disgust females demonstrated upon seeing ammo boxes, old gun cleaning supplies, scabbards, firearms parts, bushels of duck decoys, backpacks and other such male-focused flotsam from wall to wall. The menfolk, meanwhile, were simpering about, clapping gleefully like toddlers and furtively counting pocket change.

We did have a few token purses for sale, courtesy of my wife. These were snatched up in a heartbeat as the women ran back to their cars while ordering the various husbands and boyfriends to follow within five minutes, under threat of a serious cold-shoulder penalty. Staying true to “the guy code” none of the men followed within a reasonable time frame, loosely defined as “sometime this weekend, or by Tuesday at the latest.”

As you might imagine the garage sale turned into more of a giant bull session than a merchandizing endeavor. The growing crowd cussed and discussed the various uses of the amassed stuff, which would then lead from one story to the next like a bird dog with Attention Deficit Disorder nosing through a five-acre briar patch.

For instance, one man would pick up an old butane pocket heater, dented and battered from years of late-season ducks hunts. He would then begin regaling someone else with the story of the time it was so cold in the blind his cigarette lighter flame froze solid and nearly burned down the cabin when it finally thawed out later that evening. This was met with a chorus of snorts and derision, leading to someone else telling another tale of shooting-related hardship, then another and another until the discussion inevitably ended up with a man standing on a chair, pantomiming an impossible physical position while explaining, “there I was, hanging by my fingernails 10,000 feet over a granite slab while I was eyeball-to-eyeball with the mountain goat. Then, I reached for my Model 70 …”

I might have heard more of these stories if it weren’t for the chorus of honking horns in the driveway.

I’m Your Huckleberry

At the end of the day, my projected income was far lower than hoped for. In fact, it was obvious I had been — in technical sales parlance — “severely beaten about the head and neck.” I’m just not good with negotiation.

The morning started with my solemn vow not to be taken in by any sharp customers. I soon learned there is a sizeable segment of the population who, when not busy negotiating Mideast peace or making billions in the futures market, practice their skills on unsuspecting garage sale proprietors. Here is an actual transcript of one such transaction —

Customer: “How much would you take for this muzzleloader?”

Me: “It’s marked $200 firm,” I said resolutely, then adding sheepishly, “I think it’s a pretty fair price, it took me almost a year to build …”

Customer: “I’ll give you $12, these three empty .38 shell casings and some pocket lint.”

Me: “I’ll take it. And I’ll throw in a pound of blackpowder free. And a sling. And caps, too, if you want them …”

It would appear I have sales-related insecurities and by now it should be obvious you don’t want me working the sales floor at your automobile dealership.

The Curtain Falls

As the day ended, I was both relieved and pleased — relieved my storage spaces were bare and pleased I had a tiny bit of folding cash in my pocket. Meanwhile, the entire male population of my state was dancing in the streets over the wondrous deals they had found. This bliss was tempered by the fact they were all sleeping on the couch after their wives found the piles of empty brass, broken gun screwdrivers, old traps and general firearms junk they dragged home, but that’s not my problem.

All in all, by investing less than 10,000 hours of my time, I dramatically uncluttered my home and made nearly $68 dollars by selling merchandise conservatively worth $146,000. I also met lots of new friends — in fact, they all gave me their phone number just in case I plan on selling a major appliance, vehicle, home or kidney in the near future. I’m just thankful it’s all over.

Of course now it’s time to go shopping. After all, there are lots of empty shelves in the garage just begging to be filled.

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