The Garage Sale Guy

I’m walking around someone’s musty garage, wearing a surgical mask, browsing junk that’s for sale. I stopped here because I cannot resist yard sales. Half my house is secondhand refuse.

We have so much junk that my garage, for instance, qualifies as one of Earth’s great natural landmasses. It contains half the stuff in the known solar system, including armoires, radios, Mel Torme records, crockpots, sombreros, and fondue pots.

And books. I’m big on used books. I own millions. Maybe gajillions. I place these ratty books all over the house so people will see them and think I’m smart. Visitors pick up old books and say, “Huh. Is this book any good?”

And even though I’ve never read it, I will always say, “Meh.”

This makes me appear cultured. I learned this from my father. Who was a professional junk shopper.

One time my father and I were on a walk through a neighborhood when he saw a man’s garage open, with all sorts of knicknacks. My father became sweaty and his pupils dilated. My father worked in junk like some men worked in oils or clay.

“Look at all that junk,” he said.

In a few moments we were digging through boxes in some guy’s garage.

Finally he asked the old man, “How much for this porcelain kettle?” My father, who was no shrinking violet, didn’t even let the man answer. He said, “I’ll give you two bucks.”

The man stammered and hesitated but eventually accepted.

My father removed the cash and it was only then we discovered this was no yard sale. This guy was simply organizing his garage.

So my father did the decent thing. He asked the man to gift wrap his kettle.

We did this every Saturday. It would always go the same way. He would wake me up at 4 a.m., he’d cook his signature breakfast of blackened potatoes and carbonized bacon, and away we would go.

Did I love junk shopping? Meh. But it was okay.

Still, people couldn’t believe how much junk my family bought from yard sales. To give you an idea of what I mean. Once, at school, my teacher gave us an assignment. It was a lesson in modern consumerism. We were supposed to explain where each article of our outfit came from.

Danny Jackson got in front of the class and said something like: “This shirt came from Sears, these shoes came from, JCPenney, and…”

When it was my turn, I told the class squarely: “This shirt was a nickel. These shoes were 50 cents. My underpants came from the Methodist thrift store, and…”

My teacher thought I was making it all up, but I wasn’t. And I had proof. My shirt had a nametag sewn in the back that read: “David P.” I showed this to her.

“Who’s David P.?” she asked.

“No idea,” I said.

She looked like she was about to cry. “You poor dear.”

But this was just how things were in my family. On one occasion my father even bought the contents of a man’s refrigerator for eight bucks. I am not kidding. The man was moving and throwing all his food away. It was a cardinal sin in my father’s world to throw away food. He couldn’t bear to think of all those half-used condiment bottles going to waste.

So that’s why I’m at this garage sale. I can’t help it. Junk shopping is in my blood.

I am browsing the used book box, thumbing through titles. A dollar per hardback book. Not a bad deal. And since I pretend to read a lot of books, this is a bargain.

When I reach the bottom of the box, I see two familiar titles. I stop sorting because I know these particular books. I recognize this author’s name. I recognize the covers.

I take the items to the young woman who is collecting cash. She is early twenties, holding a baby on her hip. I pay for the books and wait to see if she says anything about them, but she doesn’t.

I almost ask the woman if she’s actually read these books, but I can’t bring myself to ask. I’m too chicken.

Because you see, It would hurt my pride to hear someone say these books sucked. Because, as it happens, I am the one who wrote them.

So I keep my mouth shut and walk away. I wipe the dust off the covers. I smile at the cover, which bears my name. And I realize that I’m proud of these books. These pages represent years of my life.

Oh, how humbling it is to write. Nobody tells you how foolish you feel putting words on paper. I feel so under qualified every time I do it. And in fact, helpful readers often email to remind me that I still am.

But somehow I pushed through my self-doubt. Somehow these books exist. I don’t remember working on anything half as hard as I worked on these things. They’re part of me, maybe one of the most significant things I ever did.

“Thank you,” I say to the lady, holding my books like prizes. “I look forward to reading them.”

And somehow I find the courage to ask before I leave: “Were they any good?”

She shrugs and says without a hint of irony, “Meh.”

I crawl into my truck. And once I’m all alone, I laugh over what she said. Because I definitely had that coming. Then I look into my rear view mirror and see a little boy staring back at me.

A boy who, no matter what anyone says about him, and no matter how much he doubts himself, used to purchase his underwear at the Methodist thrift store.

24 comments

  1. Sandi. - November 15, 2020 6:44 am

    How I wish you had shown the young woman the name and picture on your driver’s license to see if she then perhaps made the connection that the author of those two books is one and the same person! .

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  2. Linda Wood - November 15, 2020 6:55 am

    Yes, they were good!

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  3. Camille - November 15, 2020 11:48 am

    I just love you, Sean! You are one of the very few decent people left.

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  4. Cynthia Harmon - November 15, 2020 12:10 pm

    As a single parent I bought my girls clothes at thrift stores or consignment stores. One time one daughter get a pair of brand new pants and complained that the fabric was uncomfortable. After thinking about it, I figured out that she never worn a pair of brand new pants before.

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  5. Becky in Birmingham - November 15, 2020 12:40 pm

    Those “helpful readers [who] often email to remind” you that you are under qualified to write . . . Continue . . . To . . . Read . . . What . . . You . . . Write ! This is from a person who hopes you have read what she has written. 😊

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  6. Angeline Godwin - November 15, 2020 12:57 pm

    Sean, you are the best. Your words are the highlight of any day. I am a junker. Second and tenth chances to some unwanted or discarded just thrill me. It is a tent revival experience every time I find a treasure. I have zillions of books and have vowed that I can never have too many. My books are my dearest friends. I also collect paper napkins. The why on that one is still a mystery to even me.

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  7. Laura - November 15, 2020 1:00 pm

    My clothes were hand me downs, many coming from our minister who had a daughter a couple years older than me. One day in church I was misbehaving and the minister came down from the altar to discipline a young girl he thought was his daughter, imagine his surprise when I turned to him and he realized I was just wearing her dress…

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  8. Margaret - November 15, 2020 1:30 pm

    Sean, your qualifications are stellar!

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  9. stephenpe - November 15, 2020 1:31 pm

    meh…….

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  10. Valerie - November 15, 2020 1:35 pm

    Thank you AGAIN, Sean, for an wonderful story. I love reading people’s comments too to see what effect your words have had. Apparently, lots of folks identify with the junk sale life. I am included in that huge number.

    Clothed my kids at thrift stores (single mom), filled my house with used books (oh, the smell of that paper!), clothe myself and furnish whatever household needs from yard sales, thrift stores and flea markets now. There is no shame in it. To me, the only shame is throwing all those still usable items AWAY!

    I giggled at the comment from the mom who described her young daughter not liking the discomfort of the brand new pants she was given to wear. Sorry, but I am in total agreement with that child: if someone wants to pay a premium for the privilege of breaking in new cloth, well, so be it. I’ll take the well worn stuff, thanks.

    Anyway, you keep on keeping on. If your books have made it to the garage sale stage, consider yourself a WRITER! I certainly do enjoy your thoughts on paper, and I share your daily stories with several people whom I love. You are a beautiful soul, Sean, and you make lots of people very happy.

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  11. Laurie Ulrich - November 15, 2020 1:38 pm

    I was fortunate enough to be gifted your first book, which is how I “got on” to you. I have a rental condo in Gulf Shores, where I leave a copy until someone takes it home with them, at which time I replace it. Somehow I feel it’s sort of like a Gideon Bible and I consider that I’ve spread your modern-day gospel a little further every time I replace a copy~

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  12. Jan - November 15, 2020 2:11 pm

    Writing for public consumption is a brave act. Putting your thoughts, feelings and ideas out for others to mull over is similar to having a child perform on stage. You put what is a part of yourself in open view for others to judge. Thank you for continuing to share yourself with us because you bring great joy and insight to us all.

    Reply
  13. Jane - November 15, 2020 2:50 pm

    I was raised by a woman who had the auction habit. As soon as I could walk she would drag me to the almost weekly event in our small town. She was short so she brought a chair to stand on so she could be seen. Her hand went up frequently and the pile of stuff at her feet kept growing. As we loaded up the car at the end of the day her admonition to me was…Don’t tell your dad. She died at 95. At her auction I smiled as friends bought her lifelong collection of stuff. She would have been happy to see the smiles on their faces as they loaded their cars with her treasures.

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  14. Barbara Whisnant - November 15, 2020 3:26 pm

    Your writing is the gift that keeps on giving. Depending on the subject I can laugh out loud, smile broadly, and cry silently. Never have I not felt your wonderful character through your writing.

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  15. Dawn Bratcher - November 15, 2020 3:29 pm

    Such a wonderful and endearing story! All of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my older sister, who got them from our young aunt. I believe my Easter dresses sometimes may have been new because I remember one time I had the entire outfit – pretty dress, white gloves, cute white hat, and pretty little purse. I felt so special!

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  16. Helen De Prima - November 15, 2020 3:39 pm

    Loved the part about finding your own books at a garage sale. Hey, shows someone paid good money for them initially. I got a nice fan letter a while back from a reader who had found one of my books at a thrift shop; she wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed it and asked if I had written others. Doesn’t get any better than that.

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  17. Kathy - November 15, 2020 5:51 pm

    I had a red-plaid dress my grandma bought for a quarter at a rummage sale. I’d embarrass my mother by telling that to everyone who complimented it. I loved that dress. After all, it was red plaid. I like your books. They’re more than meh.

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  18. Christina - November 15, 2020 6:21 pm

    You crack me up Sean! And you do it while being so vulnerable with your self doubt. Glad you continue to show up everyday. It has blessed us all.

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  19. Linda Moon - November 15, 2020 6:24 pm

    Like your father, potatoes and bacon are among my choices for a good breakfast…but not darkened. Sean, your books don’t suck. I got Carl Sandburg’s 3- Volume “Abraham Lincoln” for 50 cents at a yard sale. Mr. Sandburg was no slouch. And neither are you, Author. To date you’ve written 2,345,496 words for your online readers. And there are even more found in books that might be bought for actual retail money or found in the bottom of a box. Either way, all those words from you are bargains for us!

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  20. MAM - November 15, 2020 7:16 pm

    Writing a book IS hard work! Even compiling articles I’ve already written into a book IS hard work. I’m in the throes of it right now! I remember the first time someone told me that her sister had passed on my book to her, because she said it was good. I had mixed feelings. Why didn’t she buy her own? But I glowed in the words that it was good! Keep those words flowing. We look forward to them every day.

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  21. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 15, 2020 7:37 pm

    I love this story Sean. I recognize myself in its words as I often do but lemme tell ya. Id kill to find your books at a yard sale!! I already have them anyway and they were way more to me the “meh” she said. I’d buy them anyway and read them again and then maybe one more time when I was done.

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  22. Ginger - November 15, 2020 9:07 pm

    Your dad got a real deal on that food! I once estimated the value of everything in my home, one area at a time. The contents of the frig were more than a thousand dollars. It really adds up.

    By the way, folks, you need to do this for all your possessions, just in case. Do it before something happens. Your insurance company probably won’t volunteer this information, but please do it!

    Reply
  23. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - November 16, 2020 1:02 am

    I will never put your books in a yard sale!

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  24. Jennifer Bain - November 16, 2020 2:05 am

    One of your best. Thank You! Oh, I saw your ad in the Alfa Magazine. Looked for your name , did not see it, but thought it as you. Then, saw your TV commercial. Very good.

    Reply

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