When I went to bed Saturday night, I’d almost forgot that my girlfriend had posted a Sunday morning yard sale on Craigslist earlier that week. She wrote that it would start at 9am, which meant scavengers might show up anytime after sunrise. So I rolled out of bed long before I really wanted to, and began to take some sale items outside. Seconds after I opened our front door, I noticed an Asian man smoking a cigarette enter the courtyard of our apartment.
“Good morning,” I said in an effort to sound awake and welcoming to our first potential customer.
The man didn’t respond.
“Hello,” I said.
“Electronics?” he asked.
I guessed early yard sale customers were beyond simple greetings. They got straight to the point.
“Hi. How are you?” I said. I wasn’t going to give up on politeness that easily, and part of me hoped my repetition might help him realize that he’d skipped a crucial part of human communication.
“You’re interested in electronics, huh?” I asked him.
“Lap-top,” he said.
“Laptop?” he asked.
“No, we have no laptops for sale,” I said.
“Yes.” I said.
“No, but we have a non-broken DVD player... I mean, it works,” I said.
He asked a few more terse questions. Actually, I don’t even know if they'd be considered questions. He spit out only one word at a time, with the question mark not intoned but implied. For the next two minutes he didn’t say another word. He thumbed through the DVDs and eyed a few books before taking another puff of his cigarette, turning his back to me and walking away.
And this guy was only the first one—just a hint of the characters Itoro, Matt and I met that day-- all of whom I asked their names in an effort to keep track of the cast that flocked to our yard sale.
Next there was Jim. He was a forty-something white guy who was way too awake and inquisitive for me to handle. The sign my girlfriend had hurriedly made that morning said “Moving Sale,” so Jim asked about why we were moving. I told him I got a teaching job in Bulgaria.
“Why Bulgaria?” he asked—the answer to which I explained in so many words.
“Yeah, but why there?” he asked again.
As I explained my long time desire to teach abroad, and the perks of this particular international school in Sofia, I wondered why the hell I was compelled to lay out an argument justifying my move to Eastern Europe to a complete stranger at 8:30 in the morning.
I needed a coffee.
He interrupted me with: “Do you have a bike lock?”
“Yes. I do, ” I said.
I grabbed it and handed the lock to Jim.
“Ugh. Why’s this U-lock so slimy?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
I was beginning to miss the Asian guy who didn’t speak much.
“I can’t buy this,” Jim said, sounding a bit outraged, as if I owned a bike shop and had failed to meet the quality assurance guarantee posted next to the cash register.
Jim asked me a few more questions to which I either answered ‘No’, ‘I don’t know’, or said nothing at all. He made more comments on the low quality of our merchandise, to which I only shrugged.
But Jim couldn’t resist returning to the subject of our move to Bulgaria and the question: ‘Why?’
I was starting to understand those signs in businesses that said, ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.’ Jim never ended up buying anything, but left me with what sounded like an insincere, almost sarcastic comment: “Good luck in Bull-garia.”
Then there was Miriam. She had a golden retriever that she asked me to watch while my girlfriend, Itoro, led her inside the apartment. Miriam asked to see our highest priced items: the mattress, bedframe, couch, and TV. She not only asked about them all, but negotiated and hemmed and hawed over each one. She searched on her iPhone for information about each item while she rambled about her dog, her ex-husband, and the compatibility of our stuff with her own furniture. All the while, I stood by the door with her dog’s leash in one hand and my freshly brewed coffee in the other. Twenty minutes later, Miriam had talked herself out of all the items she’d negotiated for, and talked herself into buying only one thing: a small ornamental brass dove.
That’s when she dug into her wallet to pay for it, and we found out she had all of two dollars!
So I was shocked when Miriam turned back to the TV with renewed interest and asked my girlfriend how many inches it was.
Itoro told her “25.”
Miriam leaned over to look at the measurement on the original box Itoro had brought out to remind potential customers of its newness.
“Hey, this TV’s not quite 25 inches, hon,” Miriam said, as if she’d outed my girlfriend as a dishonest swindler.
“It says right here: 24.6,” Miriam said.
Indeed, Miriam was correct.
Itoro rolled her eyes, indicating she was done with this woman who—despite her big talking—had no intentions, or means, of buying anything.
But as Miriam walked away, we both admitted that she seemed to be a lonely woman who just wanted someone to talk to.
Our first big-spending customer was a twenty-something guy named Gabe who wasn’t gay. I only mention his sexuality because of the interest and impulses of my good friend Matt—who provided a romantic subplot to our yard sale.
Matt had kindly offered and helped Gabe transport his newly purchased kitchen table set to the back of his jeep. Maybe it was because Gabe was wearing a tight V-neck T-Shirt; maybe it was that Gabe had a gentle and familiar way about him. Whatever it was, Matt thought Gabe might be gay, so he went for it.
Of course, I didn’t know what was going on until Matt returned to the yard sale on my girlfriend’s mountain bike as I was closing another two-dollar sale.