Every rummage sale, shorthand for “yard sale” or “garage sale,” has a couple of those really odd, uncomfortable moments where the inappropriateness of the whole enterprise is put into focus. The buyer becomes acutely aware of the sense of riffling through other people’s unwanted stuff, while the seller experiences a feeling of silent judgment as the other party eyes that unwanted stuff. The tension quietly builds until somebody barfs out a friendly greeting that is returned out of politeness, and then a noncommittal conversation erupts or is squashed, because nothing’s more awkward than bonding with strangers whose stuff you might not even want to buy. The phrase “walk of shame” is very applicable to the rummage sale, and very real, and somehow worse when they walk away with “free box” swag and nothing else. Rummage sale malaise is like bad sex: it’s embarrassing and uncomfortable and you just want to get it over with so you can go home.
But let’s go back to judgment. What’s displayed on those tables and shelves isn’t mere stuff; it’s really you, your choices and experiences and prejudices and obsessions, laid bare. Coffee mugs and Beanie Babies, fine crystal and signed theater programs, copies of TV Guide from the first Bush administration, broken antique typewriters, promos from indie-rock bands n one’s ever heard of. Children’s hand-me-downs you couldn’t hand any further down. Furniture, appliances, books, tools—stuff that no longer has a place in your heart or in your den—lying prone, defenseless, labeled with obscenely colorful price tags.
And naturally, consumers—who’re ever-so-casually scoping out the stuff you aren’t selling, fuck a Castle Doctrine—wanna walk away with it for a song. That gets downright insulting, the jockeying for bargains, everybody auditioning for Pawn Stars. No price is the right price unless it’s half-price, and even that’s arguable, because the buyer knows that you know that he knows that, really, you just want to move the merch and shut down for good, load the leftovers into cartons for Good Will, turn off the false sociability and turn up the football. So you settle, relieved: the lamp goes for three dollars, the mirror for 10, just take the table, no really, and thanks, have a nice day.
“Did you mean that, what you said to the lady who bought the boombox?”
“Well, I don’t know, but now the garage is empty, and we can close it, and strangers will cease slowing down like they’re about to stage drive-bys, and we won’t have to do this for at least another year.”
“Yeah. I can live with that.