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.