Saturday, April 26, 2008


Most of today’s garaging was done in a large ‘townhome community’ that has rows of garages lining narrow alleyways. This is an annual event, though perhaps they should skip a year because participation has gone down. Normally I prefer single family homes to townhouses—actual streets are easier to negotiate than these narrow byways. Plus I get very lost in this particular community and have no idea which alleys I've gone down. (Occasionally I stop at a sale only to realize I've already been there and have to either quickly slink away or pretend I came back for something that’s no longer there.)

But I found one of my best scores ever in this place, and now I have the kind of Pavlovian response that has me drooling in anticipation when they have their sale day.

Three years ago I walked into one of these little garages, fairly late in the morning. The lady sitting on a wooden stool still had a number of things for sale. I spotted a quilt folded up on a table, and picked it up. Hand stitching. Cotton sateen. Appliquéd tulips. How much? I asked.

“Two dollars,” she said, in offhand tones.

I didn’t even unfold the thing. If only the corner I was looking at was intact it would be worth two dollars. I handed her two bills and walked away, trying to appear nonchalant. I half expected to hear her behind me yelling, “No, wait, I meant two hundred dollars!”

This quilt now graces one wall in my living room. It is a masterpiece, I'm guessing from the Twenties. All hand stitched, pieced and appliquéd, with wool batting. Everyone who sees it is amazed that I got it at a garage sale. I'll never know why the price was so low. Was it something she inherited and simply didn’t value? Was it made by or given to her by someone she disliked, like an ex-mother-in-law? Or am I simply so charming that she wanted me to have it? Ummm, probably not! But I love it, and appreciate it. And as long as they keep having their annual sale, I'll keep prowling the alleyways of the townhome community one Saturday a year.

Both the buys and the stories today were minimal. My favorite encounter was with two ladies and a gentleman, all in their 70s or 80s, sitting in a row in their garage. They admired my green convertible, asking me what kind it is and was it new. I said I'd had it over six years and one exclaimed, “It looks like you just drove it out of the showroom!” (Credit to my husband, who gave it a nice bath this week.) The other lady said, “That looks like something James Bond would drive.” Yes, I said modestly, you guessed it, I'm really an international spy, chasing a fugitive through the garage sales of Huntington Beach. We all giggled.

Today I spent $6.50 and came home with these finds:

A Ralph Lauren 100% cashmere sweater. If it doesn’t sell on eBay I'll felt it and line a pair of slippers with green cashmere. Maybe I'll do that anyway. (Speaking of eBay, last week’s little chenille jacket sold nicely and is off to live in Hollywood.)

More pots! A lovely, very heavy glazed pot (the bunny pot next to it was a find from last fall),

and two tall metal ones. These need a coat of paint. Should we leave them black or paint them some amazing color?

A classic movie, a trowel (gotta have the tools to work in all those pots), and a new package of ‘space saver’ travel bags—you put your clothes in them and then press out the air so they take up less room. I have no idea how well they will work, but I was willing to gamble a quarter to find out.

A sweet little vintage lusterware plate…

…and another door prize, this lovely butterfly headband. Edward was modeling it, and Lizzie thought she should not be left out, so I hope the children’s librarian who gets this doesn’t mind that it spent a few minutes on dogs. I bet she won't.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Everyone counts the arrival of spring in their own way. To a farmer, it's time to plant. To Ellen Tebbits (remember the book by Beverly Cleary?) it was when she got to abandon her scratchy winter underwear. For me, it's the Saturday when there are so many neighborhood sales I can't get to them all! I knew we were off to an exciting start when the sellers at the first sale were all in pajamas and robes. Well, all except the woman in the tiger striped pj pants and the black sports bra—the better to display her several tattoos.

Neighborhood sales are great—lots of sales close together. Housing around here is mostly built in walled tracts, and real estate agents sponsor of these events. They put up signs, run ads in the papers and on Craigslist, and cruise the neighborhood on Saturday morning handing out doughnuts to participants. Many tracts have annual sales, and some people participate every year. And some of those people yesterday remembered me from last year.

It feels odd to be recognized by someone you had a casual conversation with a year or more earlier. I feel completely anonymous cruising the sales, with perfect conversational freedom. Most of these conversations I forget before the day is out (of course, seems like I forget most everything before the day is out anymore). Then you have that moment when you walk up to a house, say hello to the seller, and she says, “Oh, hi! I remember you from last year. We talked about cats.”

If you are an animal person, you will understand immediately when I say that as soon as she said that, I recognized—not her, but her cats!

After that, I saw other people I remembered, including the elderly gentleman who sold me a pair of vintage leather Harley Davidson gloves last year. (My brother in law is a Harley rider, and now the gloves are his.) The story that came with the gloves was that this gentleman had bought the last one of a particular kind of Harley in 1957, and as he rode it off the lot the dealer handed him these gloves. They were in mint condition, so he must never have worn them to ride, and when last I saw them they were still in mint condition so I guess Bob isn’t wearing them to ride either. But they are cool.

Two doors down from the Harley guy I met up with someone else I talked to a year ago. This guy owns a retired police dog named Buster. Buster was so reliable judges would issue search warrants based solely on the his indicating that a car or RV or whatever held drugs. And Buster has lost none of his skills. He still sometimes give his alert signal when out on a walk with his owner, but the guy said when that happens he just hurries on by. Buster has just had surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth, but is back home and recovering nicely.

The most entertaining encounter of the day, however, was not someone I'd seen before. I'm sure I would have remembered this woman! I heard her as I climbed out of my car across the street from the sale, exclaiming in an accent I couldn’t quite place, but that included rolling Rs and long E sounds for the I: “Eeet is priceless! Prrriceless, I tell you!” She had long, wild dark hair, a prominent nose, and was surrounded by an energy field you could bounce baseballs off of. Her sale was mostly junk—some expensive items but everything jumbled together and old and dingy. But she was flogging her wares with the enthusiasm of a fairgrounds huckster selling waterless cookware or knives that remain perpetually sharp. I found a couple of sweaters to buy, her prices being low enough for my standards, and after I paid her she grabbed one of them out of my hands and held it up. “You do not know what you have here,” she told me with great intensity. “Thees ees alpaca from Peru!” I murmured that I figured it was, given its feel and the alpaca motif knitted into the front. She swept on. “Thees ees a wonderful sweater. Very expensive. You are stealing it, stealing it!” I forbore to point out the holes in the front of the sweater (I'll be felting it and using it for something, someday) and thanked her, but by then she was off to the next customer, holding up a stuffed toy and exclaiming, “See thees? Eet ees prrriceless, I tell you, prrriceless!”

As you might expect on a morning where there were more sales than I could get to, I spent a whole lot of money: $17.00. Here’s what it bought:

Two ceramic pots, each about 15” in diameter. Hooray, room for more plants! The gray one will be an upgrade to the plastic planter that holds my miniature water lily, since it has no drainage hole.

Oh, here’s a picture of the planter I got a couple of weeks ago—aren’t the leaves of that begonia just amazing?

This silly bird will be fun somewhere in the yard.

A funky little homemade bench…

…two vintage embroidered dresser scarves…

…some books…

…a Christmas ornament, and some fabulous origami paper for some lucky children’s librarian.

Other door prizes are a Curious George apron and a full length cape with a spider’s web painted on.

Scored a bunch o’ soap…

…and a sweet little figurine for my office.

A couple of things to sell: cute chenille jacket and beautiful embroidered sweater.

And from Ms. Priceless, Noll is checking out a linen sweater from Ireland (apparently a brand sold only by Bergdorf Goodman and Saks in the U.S., so its original price tag would have had many more zeros than I spent on it) and the famous alpaca sweater.

She was right. It was a steal!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Get Up and Run, Girl!

It's a good thing I'm not in this garaging game just for the stuff, because some days you hardly find a cotton pickin’ thing! But you just about always can find a good story, and those don’t cost a dime.

The first sale I stopped at today had nothing I wanted, but when I headed back to my car I saw a tiny, mysterious tin pail with three little red roses in it, sitting on the sidewalk.

There were quite a few sales today, but all I spent was a whopping dollar seventy five! Had several good car conversations though, including the one with the couple who both drive convertibles (as I do). We stood there in the morning sunshine admiring our three cars and saying that no matter where we’re going in them we always feel like we’re on vacation. The lady told me that after a long day at work she gets in her car, puts the top down and doesn’t feel like she was at work anymore. Amen, sister.

Petted a sweet yellow lab, Grace, and then a couple of streets later a cat named Gracie. The lady at that house gave me a baggie with some of the catnip she grows. I said I'd never had any luck with it and she said she grows it in a hanging basket. Oh boy, an excuse to go to a nursery! (Nurseries are about the only retail establishments other than the grocery store that I go to anymore. Hey, I found some chocolate mint to plant in the vintage candy tin I got last week!)

A couple of sales had signs that said, “Everything $1.00” on tables of stuff. I mentioned that there’s a difference between everything for a dollar and anything for a dollar. Both times the guy blinked and said, hey, you’re right, though one went on to say that by this time in the morning he probably would sell everything on the table for a dollar.

I'm happy with what my $1.75 got me:
Half a pack of high quality photo paper, and another video for our collection of 500+…

…a black pot with an interesting shape, and a ridiculous spider that bounces on the end of an elastic rope. He will be a door prize for a children’s librarian soon. I'm afraid of spiders, but even I can't be afraid of this guy.

And I love this bowl, wonderful colors. The one I eat my oatmeal from every morning is cracked, so I'm happy to replace it before it gives up the ghost and deposits my oatmeal in my lap some day.

Heard my favorite story of the morning at almost the last place I stopped. Another shopper was looking at some pins on a table and asked how much they were. The seller, an older black gentleman, said, “Those Olympics pins? Those are two dollars. I was a tour guide at those Olympics in Los Angeles.” He paused a moment, then went on, “Did you see that girl fall that time?” The shopper said no. “Well, she was right by me, and I told her, get up and run, girl, get up and run!”

The little wooden toy I got last week has been getting to know some of his garage sale brethren on a shelf in my workroom. He hangs out with this great vintage china dog that I think looks like one of James Thurber’s dog drawings…

…and this funny wooden game—you roll a small ball and whichever little guy it hits spins around. Aren’t their expressions great? Bought it a couple of years ago for a whopping twenty five cents.

I do love Saturday mornings!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Dime A Dozen

Gray skies (known around here as a “marine layer”) are no deterrent to my Saturday morning sport. Only actual rain stops garage sales in Southern California, and sometimes not even that. (Yes, I have gone garaging in the rain, and found some great deals. In my defense, it wasn’t raining when I started out!)

Several neighborhoods had sales on Saturday, which often means a sort of party spirit as neighbors call back and forth to each other across the street, and make little shopping forays themselves to bring home some of their neighbors’ stuff. I saw a little girl, perhaps five years old, come racing down the sidewalk yesterday, calling happily to her mother about the neat thing she had just bought. It turned out she’d given the guy two doors down seventy five cents for a portable fire pit. Her mother (the spoilsport) nixed the deal, and the grownups were all laughing because the neighbor had thought the mom wanted the firepit. I feel bad for the child. How cool to be five and have your very own fire pit; just think of the fun you could have with it. It even had some charcoal briquettes in it.

My friend Marcia tells people that I can get anyone’s entire life story in five minutes at a garage sale. Had one of those encounters yesterday, a retired military guy who really wanted to talk. Mid-height, grayed blond hair, mild-mannered. You’d have to cast William H. Macy to play him in a film. He showed me some glassware from England and Germany, then launched into how he’s retired from the army now, and his wife, the love of his life, was killed by a crazed driver when their daughter (now a pediatric surgeon in Des Moines) was 16 months old. He had 11 AA degrees in subjects like astronomy and traffic control, then went to college in Iowa where they rolled all those credits into something called a distributive education degree. He got a master’s in psychology and did career counseling. But before the career counseling he was in several wars (we just seem to keep having them, don’t we?) and said he worked mostly in six to eight man teams doing insurgency work, mostly assassinations and kidnappings.

This is a first. No one has ever told me they’d been an assassin. Did I believe him? I'm not sure. He was so mild mannered, so proud of his daughter the doctor and still missing his wife after all these years. Not at all the steely-eyed hardened military type from the movies. Maybe he was trying out a Walter Mitty fantasy on a stranger he’d never see again. I'll never know. As I was easing away (I could have stood there for hours and he would have kept talking) he told me he has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and he’s selling up here and moving “back home” to be near his daughter.

See, this is one of the reasons I prefer garage sales to thrift stores. It's not just about the deals; it's the stories. In a thrift store, all you’ll ever know is that an item was no longer wanted.

Another story was about a couple’s elderly cat that was killed by a coyote—in their front yard in Huntington Beach—a few days earlier. It was very early in the morning, the cat was in her usual spot, probably asleep. A large coyote loped down the street and grab the cat, and that was it. Apparently it happened very fast, and poor kitty didn’t have time to suffer. What gave the story extra impact was that until she launched into the coyote tale, the lady having the garage sale had been chatting cheerfully with me about palm trees.

This is what garaging in Surf City looks like: former palm tree turned tiki god does double duty with the clothesline.

All right, on to the deals. For $8.50, I came home with:

A metal rooster sculpture. I've been telling my husband that I want to keep a few chickens after I retire, so I'm hoping this will help him get used to the idea.

Crate & Barrel sugar bowl—I love the colors. It's going to replace the plastic yogurt container in my office in which I've been keeping sugar for my morning tea. Next to it is a little wooden toy with a face I couldn’t resist. Ten cents—No need to resist. Not sure what it is...a bear? In front are two cards of clips for the clothesline or to close chip bags or whatever—a dozen on each card, ten cents per card. A dime a dozen—it really exists!

This vintage candy tin from England (does anyone know what Benson’s candy was like?) to plant something in. Ooooh, I know—I'll look for a chocolate scented cosmos or some chocolate mint for it.

Here’s Edward modeling an Oscar de la Renta floral scarf—aren’t the colors wonderful against his basic black? And Noll agreed to wear (for three seconds) the scarf with elephants that look a lot like Babar.

Another stash of magazines…

And some things to sell—wonderful spring colors in this tablecloth, which has ties in the border so you can swag it if you like. And this jacket and skirt in mixed fabrics are adorable!

Last, a Liz Claiborne sweater that fits perfectly. Would I have bought a white zipped cardigan at Macy’s for the $80 or so that it originally cost? Heck no. Would I buy it for a buck on Saturday morning?

Heck yes!

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