I brake for junk

Over the years, we’ve all collected stuff that we are ashamed to have in the house. Stuff that is too ugly to keep, too expensive to throw out – unfortunate Christmas presents, out-of-date furniture, wide paisley ties we thought might come back into fashion. So what should we do with it? Take it to the landfill? Drop it off at the Goodwill? Make a trip to the recycling center?

Not a chance.

We’ll spread it out on the front lawn, put prices on it and have a lawn sale.

It sounds like such a good idea. A way to get rid of 6-pound wooden tennis rackets, dented chafing dishes, old, vinyl Carpenters’ albums, eight-track tapes, battered recliners, fondue pots that have never been used, Dictaphones, coolers in the shape of giant beer cans; beat-up copies of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”; embroidered linen pillowcases and stacks of “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.”

Unfortunately, it is the exact same junk all our neighbors are trying to get rid of. That’s why lawn sales are held on the weekend, so the entire mess won’t be confused for garbage and accidentally collected.

Me, I don’t just have lawn sales, I visit them. I don’t go because I think I will find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden behind a $2 picture of dogs playing poker, I stop because I’m a snoop. There’s nothing like pawing through a table full of personal effects in the hot sun to learn how your neighbors spend their time, and how they spend their money. Junk on a folding table in the driveway speaks to me.

One silver teaspoon. Did someone steal the other seven or did you always just have one? Or do spoons in a dishwasher disappear like socks in a dryer?

A cross-country ski exercise machine for $50. They twisted their ankle trying to learn how to use it the day it arrived and then gained 2 pounds convalescing. Here it is out in the front yard, making them feel guilty every time they look at it. “Buy me,” it says, “get me out of their life.”

Lawn sales are full of kitchen gadgets that are so specific no one ever uses them. A left-handed, deep-fat, frog-leg fryer. A waffle iron in the shape of Paul Prudhomme. A kiwi peeler – still in the box. “Grill Fish In Your Hotel Room With the ‘Fry It and Forget It!’” Where do these people stay? Motel 666? I don’t ever want to be in the room next to them.

Wooden skis and wheel chairs that were old in FDR’s day, hurricane lamps, roller skates, TV tray tables, baby clothes. You rarely find good collectibles at the yard sales selling baby’s clothes. You can either have children or you can have nice things as my mother used to tell us all the time. The fact that I had seven brothers and sisters probably had something to do with it, too, but it’s not the kind of thing a 6-year-old would say back to his mom.

Golf clubs. There are always golf clubs at yard sales. I saw a beautifully balanced putter at one, the lady running the show said I could have it for a quarter. I told her that brand new it probably cost $120. She said she was glad it made me happy, “because it never made Hank happy.”

“He doesn’t play any more?”

“Not so much since he died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” she said.

I asked Sue if she’d sell my golf stuff after I died.

“Jim, what makes you think I’ll wait that long?”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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