When I was a kid, I had a vast array of interests that all had one thing in common: they cost money. I guess not much has changed. Most things always cost money, especially the brightest, shiniest, newest things. Video games, technology, toys, bikes. Heck, even snacks. It all cost money.
As an adult, I have enough money to indulge in the little joys of consumerism now and then. But as a kid, I was lucky to have a dollar or two in my pocket. My parents didn’t do the traditional “allowance” thing. They usually just gave my brother and I a buck or two (sometimes a little more depending on our plans for the day), and we had to carefully consider each and every purchase.
One dollar could get me mini bag of chips, a quarter water (those colored sugar drinks in plastic barrels), and a couple plays on the arcade machines over in the video store. Or, I could blow 50 cents on an Italian ice, only a quarter for the arcade, and five pieces of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. The dollar could also get an older NES game rental or a movie rental. If I could scrounge up another quarter, perhaps the whole bounty would be plunked down for a comic.
To supplement my dinky income, I scrounged around as much as I could, as illustrated in my article The Importance of Pocket Change. One money-making scheme I did not discuss in that previous article were Yard Sales. Ah, yes. Those bastions and junk and jewels, equal parts garbage and treasure. Frankly, Brooklyn (at least our stomping grounds) weren’t conducive to yard sales. I’m not sure I saw more than one or two in my younger years. Somehow, my brother and I got it in our heads that the best way to make some extra cash was to set up a small “yard” sale in the tiny courtyard in front of our apartment building (where in fact there was no yard to speak of).
A strange idea for two pre-teen kids, but there you have it. We probably had fever dreams of making so much money on our pile of castoff toys that we’d be able to buy a brand new $60 NES game, or maybe even a Gameboy! We were like that as kids: certain a million dollar payday was only one good idea away. This yard sale shtick, it was bound to pay off, and pay off big.
So, we grabbed a ratty moving blanket and assembled anything we were willing to part with. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, forgotten action figures we’d lost interest in, knick-knacks, gift shop items we’d bought on vacation. You know…trash. We were young, but we weren’t stupid. There was no way we were going to sell anything good.
We got a small piece of paper and wrote YARD SALE in big block letters, then taped it to the front gate and waited. And waited. And waited. People walked past and ignored the sign. We’d call out, “Yard sale!” and they’d speed up. A couple people stopped to look down at the tiny pile of plastic nonsense we’d assembled, smile politely, and say, “Good luck with your sale,” before hurrying away. A single person handed over a pity-quarter for one of our happy meal toys, and before long our mom was calling through the open window, “Time for dinner!”
Our grand yard sale was a bust. We'd spent hours sitting on the stoop, and for what? A lousy quarter! What a joke.
Years later, once we’d moved to Pennsylvania (where yard sales were much more prevalent), our father started holding big sales. He’d put signs out along the roads, put ads in the newspaper, set up tons of stuff, and really draw in crowds of people hungry for deals and steals. My brother and I were still young enough to not have much money, and so the grand yard sale idea was reborn. Only this time, we had a different idea of what was worth selling, for our previous notion of "don't sell the good stuff" was forgotten.
You see, at this point we were young teens, and some of our older toys had lost their luster. Like that old NES that we never played anymore. I don’t remember for sure whose idea it was (mine or my brother’s), but somehow all of our video game stuff ended up in a yard sale. Oh, how I’d love to go back in time and smack some sense into little Tony and Mike. Where’s Doc Brown when you really need him?
Alas, there’d be no epic trip in a DeLorean. No rewriting of tragic past events. Little Tony and Mike went ahead and sold all of their Nintendo games, the console, and lots of other valuable toys like Spinjas (the Spinja stadium), the Omega Virus board game, and so much more.
What we didn’t know—what we didn’t understand—was that we had been on the wrong side of the yard sale.
It’d take me nearly two decades to come to this epiphany and begin my own treasure hunt, this time searching, sometimes in vain, for my childhood. Many things had been lost. Some have been reclaimed. But one thing I’ll never do again is underestimate the power physical items have to attach themselves to precious memories, and what losing those things can do to our grasp of the past.
Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of a yard sale? What things have you sold that you wish you hadn’t?