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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 Stuff that is too ugly to keep, but too expensive to throw out: unfortunate Christmas presents, out-of-date furniture, ultra-wide paisley ties I foolishly think might someday come back into fashion.

So what should we do with it? Take it to the landfill? Drop it off at Goodwill? Make a trip to the recycling center?

Not a chance. We’ll spread it out on the front lawn and put prices on all of it.

A yard sale always sounds like such a good idea. It’s a way to get rid of 6-pound wooden tennis rackets, dented chafing dishes, old Carpenters albums, eight-track tapes, battered recliners, never-used fondue pots, 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’s 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 be accidentally collected.

Me, I don’t just have lawn sales; I go to them, too. 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 go 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 their money. Junk on a folding table in a driveway speaks to me.

Here’s one silver teaspoon, by itself. Did someone steal the other seven, or did you always just have one? Or do spoons disappear the way socks do in a dryer?

A cross-country ski exercise machine for 50 bucks. I guarantee someone twisted their ankle trying to learn how to use it the day after it arrived, and then gained 10 pounds convalescing. Here it is out in the front yard, making them feel guilty every time they look at it. “Buy me!” it screams. “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 Emeril Lagasse. A kiwi fruit peeler, still in the box. A machine that lets you “Grill Fish In Your Hotel Room!” Where do these people stay? Motel 666? I don’t ever want to be in the room next to them.

Waterskis, hurricane lamps, roller skates, TV trays, wheelchairs that were old when FDR was a boy. And baby clothes. So many baby clothes. You rarely find good collectibles at the yard sales selling baby clothes. You can either have children or you can have nice things, as my mother used to tell us every single day. (The fact that I had seven brothers and sisters probably had something to do with the lack of nice things, but that’s not the kind of thing a 6-year-old would snap back to his mom.)

Golf clubs. There are always golf clubs at yard sales. I saw a beautifully balanced putter at one, and 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 I liked it, “because it never made Hank happy.”

“He doesn’t play anymore?”

“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.

She said, “Are you kidding? What makes you think I’ll wait that long?”

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Jim Mullen

Jim Mullen

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