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Another Man's Junk 

Yard sales have been ruined

Each summer brings with it a pleasant reminder of childhood -- at least for me. I see the cardboard signs stapled to telephone poles, letters sloppily formed with markers: YARD SALE SATURDAY! and I'm inevitably tempted by the promise.As a child, the pleasures of yard sales were boundless. You'd show up with maybe a dollar in dimes and nickels and leave loaded down with dozens of new toys and curiosities. Puzzles, stuffed animals (which my mother would have to wash before they could be played with), old pictures of kittens or outer space scenes, wigs for playing dress-up, the list was endless. If you were looking for books, you came away with a plethora of those, too, from detective novels to romances to classics. And sometimes you'd find something ridiculous, something you absolutely did not need (in my case a little pile of smooth green rocks that had maybe been used with potted plants or in a fish bowl and on another occasion a tiny box as small as my thumbnail). But this ridiculous trinket only cost five cents and you wanted it so much -- that was the beauty of the yard sale. One man's junk was truly another's treasure.

Now I sometimes try to relive those childhood pleasures by visiting local yard sales when I see the signs and manage to drag myself from bed at 6am. Like so much childhood residue, though, yard sales just aren't the same.

It's me. I'm jaded. I've seen it all, know the depths of mankind's evil and all of that melodramatic crap. But still, occasionally, I'll get that same feeling I had as a child and some random piece of junk will catch my eye, and I'll think, "Having that would make me happy, at least for a couple of minutes." And I'll pick it up, prepared to purchase it and take it home.

Then I'll see the price tag. Recently this happened with a small resin elephant. Yeah, resin. And the seller wanted FIVE DOLLARS for it. I realize there's such a thing as inflation, but this price jump seems more out of control than the one for cars or even bread. And it's pervasive. People everywhere think their junk is pure gold. Their leftover furniture, broken appliances and hand-me-down clothes are supposedly worth nearly what they paid for them in the first place. The following are actual items I've seen priced at yard sales. Alarm clock that won't work: five dollars. Twenty-year-old cooler smelling distinctly of fish: 10 dollars. Used diaper pail, not even cleaned: 10 dollars. The expression on my face when I notice these items: priceless.

I've heard these price hikes attributed to several societal phenomena. Antiques Roadshow is a great example. How many times do you hear the yokels on that show say, "Well, you know, I picked this old thing up at a yard sale five years ago for a dollar and haven't looked at it since." Then it's worth a thousand dollars or something. Sadly for us, the people who don't make it on the show are the hundreds of other yokels who say, "I paid a dollar for it" and the expert tells them they were gypped. But now people running yard sales figure they aren't just getting rid of their old junk, they're actually selling lottery tickets and somebody's going to get rich from their crap.

Then there's e-bay. Now you can get on the Internet and look up what people are charging internationally for that dusty old Bee Gees album you've been "storing" (translation: "allowing to rot") in your garage. Of course, what people are charging on e-bay isn't always what they get. Furthermore, there's likely to be an enormous difference between the condition of the brand-new looking, immaculate Bee Gees album being sold on e-bay and the moldy LP that's actually spawning new life in your garage. But is that going to stop Joe Yokel from charging five bucks an album for his musty classics? Probably not.

The attitudes of many yard salers have changed since I was a kid. Whereas people used to be glad you just stopped to take a look, now some yard salers glare at you suspiciously as you examine their wares. They seem to think you're out to steal some kind of heirloom treasure from under their noses, despite the fact that they're the ones holding the yard sale and wanting to get rid of this stuff. Most people hold yard sales because they realize how much meaningless junk they have lying around their homes. The basic premise is excellent: you have junk to get rid of and people come and pay you to take it away. If you truly want to get rid of your junk then you make it cheap enough for people to want to take it from you.

Instead, we now think that our shit not only doesn't stink but also is worth quite a bit of cash. We're less likely to ever get our garages and attics cleaned out and less likely to experience that ephemeral moment of happiness caused by the purchase of a cheap trinket at a yard sale. Sadly, the days of one man's junk becoming another's treasure are gone. Now one man's highly priced treasure just looks like more junk to me.

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