Monday, June 10, 2013

Livingston's First Law

The yard sale season is officially in full swing. In the past couple of weeks, Brian and I have been to literally more sales than we could count. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with yard sales, most of them didn't yield anything useful. The first weekend in June, we stopped by three separate sales here in town, and not one of them was worth the walk. Two of the three were the kind of sale we probably wouldn't bother to stop for if we happened to drive past it: just a table or two full of useless tchotchkes and maybe a few much-abused kids' toys. The third looked more promising at first glance—there were clothes, at least—but nothing in a size that would fit either of us. Yesterday we walked across town to visit one that was actually a moving sale, which typically means that they're more likely to be selling the good stuff—or at least the big stuff. But all we came away with was a reel of twine and a styrofoam craft cone, which Brian thinks might be useful for a project he has in mind. (Watch this space for further details.)

Saturday, however, was an entirely different kettle of fish. We'd been planning a trip that evening down to my parents' house in Hopewell, since my sister was in town (with my new niece) to attend a friend's baby shower. But early that morning, my mom called us up and said that she and my sister had just been out for a coffee and discovered that this was actually the day of Hopewell's official town-wide yard sale—a major event that draws people from miles around. Permit fees for yard sales are waived, so everyone in town who wants to have a yard sale has one that day, resulting in dozens of yard sales all clustered in an area of less than one square mile. Local churches get into the act too, setting up rummage sales in their basements and bake sales outside, and the tiny local library holds a sale of surplus books. This, in short, is the mother lode.

That's not to say that we had uniformly good luck at these sales. For instance, we ended up buying not one but two five-buck DVD players that turned out to be broken. (We were looking for one for a friend who already has a broken one.) The first one we were able to test and return immediately, since the seller lived right next door to my folks, but the second one came from across town and didn't get tested until we got it home. So, we took a $5 gamble and lost. (Though taking it apart to figure out what was wrong with it did provide a little entertainment.)

This setback aside, however, we did have a few pretty good finds. For a total of $12.25, we brought home two spare tires for Brian's bike, a small medicine bottle for my cobalt glass collection, a mini surge protector, a glossy book on kitchen remodeling, and—our most unexpected find—about three pounds of fresh-picked rhubarb. The leaves were still attached, making it a rather bulky and heavy package, and we attracted lots of attention from shoppers at other sales. The bundle ended up starting several conversations about how to cook rhubarb, which parts of it are edible, what to do with the inedible leaves, and so forth. (Eventually we were able to remove the leaves and leave them with one of the yard-selling homeowners for her compost pile.) All in all, we spent about two hours at the sales, walked about three miles, and got to do a little exploring of my hometown and observe all the fancy new businesses that have sprung up since my time. It was just enough of an excursion—and just enough of a haul—to be satisfying and make us feel it was worth the trip, yet not enough to tire us out completely.

The contrast between the Hopewell sales and the others we've visited over the past few weeks led me to formulate what I've decided to call Livingston's First Law of Yard Sales: The chance of success in yard-shopping is directly proportional to the density of sales per square mile. For the best possible experience, always go where the sales are thickest on the ground. The reason we did so well at the Hopewell sales wasn't that the individual sales were uniformly great, or even better than average; it was that if one sale turned out to be disappointing, we could just shrug and move on to the next one, which was invariably less than a block away. With so many sales in such a small space, our chance of finding something useful was practically a mortal lock.

Plus, where else are you going to encounter a guy walking away from a yard sale with a balalaika?
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