Every two years in my life there is a famine in the land. It’s the year that the locusts eat. The year of the great scourge. When it comes I am powerless to prevent the desolation. I simply bow to its inevitability, and soldier on until its plague has passed. What am I referring to, you may ask? The Dunnevant family Yard Sale. It’s our family’s bi-annual excursion into the strange land of the entrepreneurial experience whereby Americans pretend to be turning their junk into money when in fact they are voluntarily spending weeks working for less than the current minimum wage…in Angola.
Weeks ago it began. Pam and I spent a rainy day plowing through the attic gathering the most worthless of the accumulated debris of our 27 years together. To even get at it I had to flatten and remove literally thousands of gift boxes which I carried down two flights of stairs to the back of my van. Six trips to the dump later I was through. Now we could begin the arduous task of staging the chosen items into the “yard sale pile” in our newly spacious attic which by now was a toasty 90 degrees. By the end of this 8 hour torture-fest Pam and I knew that we had only just begun to prepare for this wonderful family tradition.
The actual week of the big event is a very special and unique time in our home. We shuffle by each other timidly with slumped shoulders trying not to get our feet tangled up in the growing organism that has taken over the downstairs of our house. With lots of heavy sighing Pam trudges through the “staging area” of boxes, grocery bags, and worn out electronics with a clipboard full of freshly printed pricing stickers. “50 cents” one says. “1 dollar” says another. The irony is lost on us. When you are in the midst of organizing the unorganizable it never occurs to you to ask “why”. So all week she prices and all week the piles grow larger and larger as if the beast is taunting us in our futility. All the while more man hours of labor accumulate.
The night before the big event might be the worst part. We all make the 30 minute drive all the way across town, Pam in our loaded down van looking like a cross between Ma Joad and the Beverly Hillbillies, me in a truck I borrowed from my father-in-law.( I will not here discuss the fact that on this night I was visited with a violent bout of irritable bowel syndrome because to do so might make me cry.) We all descend on our premium location in Mechanicsville which my brother-in-laws’ saintly mother provides free of charge. For three hours in 97 degree heat and oppressive humidity we sort through bags and boxes of stuff in various stages of readiness trying to determine what goes where. Which folding tables should be placed in which location? Shouldn’t all household items be kept together? Should the three thousand books we have brought to sell to the masses for 50 cents each be left in boxes or arranged more provocatively fan-like on the large wooden table that sags in the middle? “ Why don’t we write down how we did it two years ago,” someone asks over the roar of the floor fans. “ That would make this so much easier!!”
Finally D-Day arrives. I am the first to arrive at 6:30 sharp so I can assemble the game table that I had to take apart so it would fit in my borrowed truck which has just made its third trip across town. On trip number one I noticed that it wouldn’t go any faster than 60 mph without a violent shimmy and shake. When I pointed this out to my father-in-law he pleaded ignorance. “I’ve never driven it 60 before so I’ve never noticed” he said, filling me with needed confidence. Although all of the signs posted around advertising this adventure, along with the ad that ran in the Mechanicsville Local clearly state that the sale begins at 8 AM, I found myself beating back the eager customers. “ Uh..W-wait. We don’t open for business until 8!” I yelled as they began to nose around at the garage doors which I had foolishly opened prematurely. Thankfully, soon reinforcements arrived. And by the official starting time of 8 o’clock we had already sold $300 worth . Soon the crowds began to swell in more ways than one. Car after car began to arrive left randomly askew in the middle of busy streets. Very large and determined shoppers came seemingly in packs, expertly rummaging through our inventory with practiced eyes searching for bargains. We took their quarters and dimes and nickels and stuffed their purchases in grocery bags as they said “God bless”. I sold the game table for $70 bucks to a Mexican man with two young kids who served as his interpreters. They were thrilled to get such a prize and their father seemed so thankful to me for letting him buy it..I was actually a bit embarrassed . Maybe if I were a better Christian I would have given it to him. But this was no time for existential angst. There was money to be made and from the constant stream of morbidly obese shoppers making their way to our sale the prospects for profit looked good.
The time finally came for us to close up shop, gather everything left into the garage for some Christian charity to pick up later and count our money. It was an all-time record. We made $1100. That would be more than enough to pay for all the groceries for our beach vacation at Nags Head in August. We would be eating well, no doubt. After I drove around town returning all of the tables I had borrowed, returned my father-in-laws truck, and spent an hour in the bathtub bringing feeling back to my feet, I began to do a cost benefit analysis. It wasn’t pretty.
There are 15 paying members of our family when we go to the beach for vacation. The total profit from the sale was $1100. That comes out to $73.33 per person. For my family, that means that we made $293.34 from the yard sale. But first I have to deduct the $20 worth of gas I had to put in Russ’ truck. A cursory examination of the man-hours involved ( or in Pam’s case, woman hours) reveals that between the two of us and Kaitlin we contributed 60 hours of labor towards the enterprise. So, that means that my family toiled for $4.88 per hour. Put another way, if I wanted to make an equivalent contribution to our vacation food fund I would simply have to set aside 40 cents a day for the next two years and I could save myself the agony of having to watch someone pay 50 cents for a hardback of the Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. 40 cents a day people, 40 cents a day.