Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Garage Sale from Hell

 I haven’t had a lot of experience with garage sales. I don’t troll neighborhoods on weekends looking for them. I’ve only held 3 or 4 in my adult life. But I think I understand the basic premise: you collect up all your junk, put ridiculously low prices on little stickers all over your items indicating you are serious about getting rid of them, set out some signs, maybe some balloons and lay bare the detritus of your life out on your driveway in the expectation that folks will come and buy ALL your cool stuff, the BEST stuff put out at a garage sale EVER, so you don’t have to haul it back to the basement. I’m not sure the rest of the population gets this. Some people seem to miss the inference of “garage sale” and expect that you’re running some kind of retail operation.

Take our sale a couple of weeks ago. An early bird asked about scrap metal. “I recycle scrap metal,” he told me. I showed him the cast iron fireplace grate that we hoped to get rid of. “How about this?” I asked. He held it up by one corner between two fingers, at arm’s length like it was a stinky bag of dog poo. “Oh, I don’t know. That’s not good for much,” he declared, “Do you have anything bigger?” Gosh, no, sir. We ran out of scrap metal minutes before you got here at 7:30am. "Sorry," I said. He grunted and huffed away as though my customer service had been deplorable.

Another man came by asking if we had any LPs. “Well, yeah,” I told him, “I have some LPs, but not out. Mostly they’re ones that I want to hang onto.” “I collect LPs,” he explained, “Musicals!” “Oh? We have some records from Broadway musicals!” I said, cheerfully, thinking that if he wanted to come back later, I could drag them up from downstairs. I wasn’t expecting anyone to buy LPs and so, had not displayed any. “No, not Broadway,” he said, “Everybody’s got Broadway. I mean musical scores. Like from the movies.” “Oh, yes?” I inquired, “Like ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or ‘Exodus’?” I remembered my Dad had those. “Nope, like, ‘I Walked with a Zombie,’ and ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space,’ and ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats.’” Uh, no I, I don’t have any of those. Come on! What are the chances? “Have you tried a used record store?” I asked. “Aw, those stores get picked over,” he said, “Albums like those get snapped up pretty quick.” “I bet they do,” I replied. “How about eight-track tapes?” he asked, “Got any eight tracks?” Gosh, fresh out, I’m afraid.

Another guy took a brisk look around and wanted to know, “Do you have any fishing lures?” It doesn’t look like I have any fishing lures, now does it, sir? “How about power tools?” Oh, you know what? Those are in my other garage. 'Sorry!"

Yet another man wanted to know if I was selling shower curtains. “I use them for drop cloths,” he explained, "I’m a painter.” I did have a used one upstairs tucked away upstairs in the linen closet, but by now I was totally sympathetic to shop clerks who tell you, what you see is what we got! “Nope, darn it! Sorry. No shower curtains.” Was I stupid to miss my opportunity to sell that old, mildewy shower curtain? It might have raised my profit by at least 75 cents.

Later in the day a woman seemed taken by a framed picture of four black and white cow faces set against a grid of four colored backgrounds, kind of Andy Warhol-style. She seemed so delighted and picked it up for a closer look. “Oh, this is so cuuu-uuute! I love cows!” she squealed. Ah, a sale! “I’d buy this, but my family raises Guernseys,” she continued, “Holsteins just won’t do. Does this come in Guernseys?” Gee, let me check the stock room. I’m sure we had some Guernseys earlier, but I guess they sold out. “Regrettably, I have no Guernseys!” I told her. “O.K. Well, thanks anyway,” she said with a cheery smile as she walked away. Honestly, for a dollar she couldn’t have bought Holsteins?

The day kind of went like that. Who knew garage sale enthusiasts were such specific shoppers? Here I thought the idea was to browse through other people’s trash to find cheap treasures that you didn’t even know you needed and buy them right then and there with cash just because they’re 25 cents. But these folks were clearly on mission-driven.

Still, it was fun to dicker over prices. “This is marked, $1.00. Will you take 50 cents?” Sure! Why pay retail?

Mind you, we did get some impulse buyers. My tomato crusher, a collection of Buffalo mementos and a 1970s Flokati rug have now all gone to good homes. I bet none of those customers woke up that morning saying, “Yup, today’s the day I go looking for a tomato press, some bison-themed items and a Greek rug!” 

It’s a shame that the humidifier/mood lamp didn’t sell, though. I even plugged it in so folks could see how its pastel-colored lights could be so soothing. But you know the old saying, “It isn’t junk until it’s been in three garage sales.”

On second thought, maybe I’ll just pack up all this leftover crap and haul it to Goodwill.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Mother-in-Law

I read a statistic the other day that said it is pretty common for brides to find their mothers-in-law formidable. That didn’t sound all that surprising. But the number is something like 60% who report feeling some tension in this relationship. I recall this was true for me and my mother-in-law when her son and I started dating 42 years ago. When I first met her, she was a tall, very attractive, vivacious, witty, athletic, capable, well-dressed working woman in her late 40s. She was clearly the pivot around whom her family revolved. She liked to call the shots, enjoyed a good time, liked to have her kids and their friends around and was hospitable toward me. She made me cups of tea and invited me to dinner. I marveled at the mountains of mashed potatoes she made for her boys – only two boys, mind you, but the potatoes would have fed a hockey team. I tried to hide my life-long aversion to mashed potatoes to avoid disappointing her and so I’d manage to gulp down a few spoonfuls. At Christmas she would make an abundance of cookies: oatmeal with dates, molasses, peppermint, shortbread. And I loved her excellent “zwieback,” those tasty, buttery, yeasty little rolls that she learned to bake from the Mennonite aunties. She teased me endlessly (for years, which got old after awhile) about some hot cross buns that I attempted one Easter that turned out like raisin-studded door stops. I’ve yet to have any luck with yeast.
She was a bit intimidating.

I discovered over the 37 years since I got married that the secret to the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship lies in the latter understanding that it isn’t a competition. My oatmeal cookies will never be as good as hers. My macaroni casserole will never taste the same. I’m pretty certain I’ll never conquer yeast. And I figured out years ago that I wasn’t going to gain sovereignty over her son. I came to understand that he is his own man and his love certainly allowed space for his family and for me. Once I accepted this premise, I could see her as a human being – still my mother-in-law, but not so scary.

Actually I don’t think she knew quite what to do with me. I think she deemed me “really different.” When we got together, she’d ask me two questions, “How’s your mom?” and “How’s your job?” I wasn’t expected to contribute much after that. I’d listen to stories about people I had never met and reminiscences of younger days. I grew to respect a woman who did what she had to do. She worked to provide for her kids. She waited a very long time, until her children were grown and independent, before she walked away from an unhappy marriage. Her second marriage was much happier and when her second husband had heart surgery she revamped their diet so dramatically to keep him healthy that she actually found a way to make her oatmeal cookies with as little fat as possible without them crumbling to dust. When he got Alzheimer’s, she took care of him as long as she could and then got him the best care possible. I believe she went to see him every day.

My mother-in-law passed away on August 2nd. She was 87. Over the years and in the end, we found peace with each other and said our I love yous. The last time I talked to her, she teased me about the hot cross buns. We both laughed. It made me understand that we had been family for 42 years.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pant Suit at the Prom

You’d think that by the time a person turns 60 she would have finally figured out how to get dressed. By this time she should possess a personal style. She should instinctively know how to look like a million bucks at the drop of a party invitation in the mail. You’d think that wouldn’t you? You would be wrong. Oh, some of you out there may have gained this kind of confidence. Me, not so much. I’d just like to show up in the right outfit one of these days.

Take last Saturday night. I was a fashion fiasco. At a gala. We left the house with me feeling sexy and snazzy in white linen pants and a poison-apple green linen jacket. I thought my drop-dead gorgeous red sandals and matching toe nail polish more than qualified me for doggone dressed-up. Until we got to the event. The other women —all 400 other women, to be precise — were be-sequined in off-the-shoulder, above-the-knee, cleavage-plunging cocktail dresses. Apparently I missed this memo. I spent the evening trying to look nonchalant and unwrinkled.

This wasn’t the first time that I’ve put a fashion foot forward —and tripped. It all started with high school grad (American translation: senior prom). All through school, I fantasized about being a fashion designer. And so, when grad rolled around, it seemed like a great opportunity to get creative. So, I went out shopping for a personal statement. And instead of heading to Eaton’s department store for one of those filmy pastel ball gowns with Empire waists, I went to my favorite hippy boutique, the Unicorn, and bought a pant suit. Yes, a pant suit. C’mon! It was lace! And it was way cute. Really. It was very fancy. I looked adorable. But NO ONE else wore a pant suit, lace or otherwise.  I totally stood alone, like the proverbial cheese. My date spent the evening keeping his distance.

In hindsight, I should have gone with the flow in a flowing gown. But I didn’t understand until years later that I much as I like to think that I’m a non-conformist, I just don’t have the stylistic savvy to take this to its ultimate sartorial expression. In other words, I’m not going to be featured in Vogue any time soon and no one was writing a social notes column in the New York Times about what I wore to grad.

It was easier when there were rules. Like in the 80s when we working girls followed the “Guide to Being Preppy” or the “Dress for Success” handbooks. You couldn’t go wrong with a blazer, a white blouse and a grey skirt with black pumps. I gave in and followed the guidelines for a while and actually wasted my youthful slenderness on drab, matronly dresses with Peter Pan collars and tuck pleats. But the uniform started to chafe after a time. I found myself terribly dissatisfied and seeking a look something more akin to Annie Hall. But not even when I picked out one of my Dad’s ties to wear with all the wrong things did it dawn on me that only Diane Keaton can look like Diane Keaton. Dang!  

Maybe there are rules after all that I just don’t know about. Look at Hillary Clinton, for example. Do you think those pant suits happen by accident? Not on your life! She’s got people. They’ve got rules. And they’re telling her, “Yes, ma’am, that pant suit is perfect for your meeting with Netanyahu. And it really doesn’t make your butt look big. Honest.”  Or Kate Middleton. Do you think she’d have captured the world’s adoration if she dressed like, oh, say, I don’t know, Camilla? Not likely. She too has people.

Maybe I need people. I sure needed people last Saturday night. Only I want people who know the rules for pulling off a Diane Keaton.