It’s not their fault that the sale happened next door to the house where a writer lives – a creatively drained writer looking for story ideas, a writer at home all day with dogs who bark every time a car door opens or someone has a conversation on the street or even walks by the house.
I’m looking for something to write about, and the story came to my front door. In droves. More story ideas than I could write down, more interesting people than have been on my street at one time in a while. It’s been a long time since I cold queried editors, but my plan today is to formulate some story ideas and get to work.
For now, and for my friends and family following on Facebook, here’s what happened so far, informally and off the cuff (and frankly, unedited. I know, I switch from past to present tense. Forgive me. My fingers are frozen and I don’t care as much about the technical aspects right now as I am about making sure I don’t forget the stories):
As blogged about yesterday, folks started lining up at about 5 PM yesterday afternoon in preparation for the estate sale today a Wayne’s house. And as I blogged about yesterday, at first I was freaked out by strangers camping in front of the house. Then I chatted with Dan and Joe (I’ve changed some names as I blog so as not to violate some unwritten estate sale code; trust me, this is big stuff) and figured I’d look for something fun rather than complain.
We chatted, I gave them my thermometer to check the temperature in their car, and I went to bed. Because I’d now been warned, I knew there was going to be activity so I settled in with dog locked in the room. I slept all night, until I was awakend at 5:54 AM. Apparently someone backed into someone else, and people were out talking about it.
Forgive me for not being sympathetic … but there is a no overnight parking law in our village. Apparently if the person is still in the car, the police don’t consider it parking. And despite that the people are in the cars with engines running, it’s not loitering either. Maybe that will be my next story: small town policing.
Back to the accident. I told the one man to call the police, and asked another to please be quiet because we’re not all up this early in the morning. I tried to be polite, I mean I’d made buddies with some of the folks. But the man – we’ll call him Jackass – didn’t see that. He snapped, he was a jerk. He didn’t want to be my buddy. Could have been the camera I had in my hand.
Forgive me. I only live here. That you’ve ended up with a fender bender? Think of it as the cost of doing business when you invade a neighborhood and sleep in your car.
He also told me that most people get up at 4 AM, which means that I am even more out of touch with the working world than I thought and even more grateful that I work at home. And what a bonus! I get to meet people like him!
When I talked to Dan and Joe later, I apologized for offending their friend because I had been out with the camera taking pictures of the growing line of cars. Dan quipped, “He’s not our friend! You don’t see him sitting in here with us, do you?”
By then it was 6:30 AM and I’d walked halfway around the block with Bandit to check the car progress. I think people are uncomfortable with me walking around taking pictures of cars parked on the street all night. But I was trying to capture the atmosphere for my own notes. I’d never seen an estate sale, and while I had been warned that people might start lining up after midnight, I never expected this.
Besides, what do you expect? I mean, seriously. You came to my house and parked on the public street all night. If I come to your house and park there overnight, you can take my picture. Deal?
I took a shower and got up to be ready for when the next phase of the sale. In the estate sale world, there’s a process that the – we’ll call them pickers, for lack of a better word at this point – that the pickers follow. Whoever gets their first starts handing out unofficial but important numbers, so that at 7:45 AM when the estate sale people start handing out the real numbers everyone gets to enter in an orderly fashion.
Turns out some naughty pickers like to jump line by sleeping in and then sneaking to the front when the official numbers get handed out. That’s a no no, and both pickers and to the estate sale company will black list you if that’s your game. And until the official numbers are handed out, you can’t leave except to go to the bathroom, and even then I suspect that action takes place carside. It’s a fascinating group with a fascinating set of rules that they police themselves. (Which is good, because our local police didn’t seem to think it was reasonable for me – or some of the other neighbors – to be a little concerned about being invaded in this manner without warning.)
Once you get your official number, you can leave. Most people didn’t want to lose their parking spot, so they walked several blocks to Burger King or Tim Hortons to go the bathroom and get coffee.
As I stand there, my neighbors are leaving for work. Sue stops and we both talk about how weird it feels to have these strangers at Wayne’s house. She and I, being on either side of his home, had always kept our eye out for him, watched when his car moved to make sure he’d been up and out that day. I feel better about not feeling good about some of this, knowing she’s feeling the same way.
I hung around and chatted with people, took some notes, and took some pictures and generally tried to get a handle on how the whole thing works. Some people were really friendly and explained a lot about the process of buying at estate sales. Others refused to even make eye contact when I asked them if I could ask them some questions. I mean, literally ignored me standing a foot away from them.
Which is when I learned that pickers are either super nice or real jackasses, fortunately with the vast, vast majority falling in the first category.
Those conversations were chock full of not just picking information, but fun stories about the close knit group of pickers. One guy even told me a story about my husband’s grandfather and uncle and Schallers back in the old days. I love that stuff.
But mostly, I realized that there are a lot of moving parts and sometimes emotional elements to estate sale buying or picking. This is a business, and sometimes a serious business. For neighbors, like me, it’s a little emotional. I knew Wayne, and I feel terrible watching people line up like it’s Black Friday to pick through the items that meant a lot to him, that summed up his life. For Wayne’s sister, she tells me later when I call to check on her, that it’s a difficult day, something that needs to be done but not easy. I think she’s gearing up for the actual sale of the house, which is the same house she and Wayne grew up in, and where Wayne lived until he died.
I asked one picker if he ever thought about the items he bought and sold, if he wondered about the person who owned them, about their lives. He told me that he has a friend who believes there are spirits connected with items, and while he’s not sure he goes far there are definitely times when he enters a house and gets a feeling that there’s something there.
It’s cold, I go back in the house, and check over the next hour or so to see if Dan and Joe and the other people I’ve met had any “success”; some came for specific things. I talk to one man who purchased Wayne’s arrowhead collection. He tells me he’ll either sell them individually or the whole thing to a collector, but the goal is to double his money. Would you like to know where the arrow heads came from? I ask. He seems interested – so I explain that this whole area, before it became the residential area it is now, used to be greenhouses and orchards; the house at the end of the curve in the road used to be the florist’s shop. And up the road where Hoselton Auto Mall is now, there used to be fields and fields. And that’s where Wayne and his friends used to dig for arrowheads.
I like to know the stories behind stuff, and I sense this guy may be a little interested too. At the same time, he’s clear that this is a business. Someone has to die, he says, and then someone sells his stuff, and then someone has to make a mistake so someone can make a profit. Maybe they sell something too cheaply, or someone else overlooks a valuable item and you end up with it. However you get it, you buy it and then you sell it to someone else for hopefully double the money.
For the record: the pickers I met were almost all really nice and respectful. Dan, for example, had smoked a bunch of cigarettes overnight, and before he left he actually cleaned up the butts that had accumulated outside his truck window. Someone had pointed them out as a joke and he said he always cleaned them up, but I didn’t actually expect him to do it. I also didn’t hear anyone during the night, other than the hubbub this morning at 5:54 AM and one actual Jackass.
But it still leaves me thinking. It’s just business, I’m told and I understand that. I mean, where else does the stuff sold in an antiques store come from? Someone has to die and someone has to sell their stuff. And as a guy named Rob tells me later, it’s better to have a third party come in and do it.
But it’s also life, too. In this case, Wayne’s life, and his sister Nancy’s life, and the lives of their families and friends.
I think about that as I watch a woman walk up and down the street for a while, talking loudly on her cell phone about museums and jobs and advising whoever she’s on the phone with to make sure to put their oxycontin in a separate pill bottle. Walks around oblivious to the fact that she’s pacing in front of people’s homes, where people are getting up for work, or staying home from work because they’re sick or recovering from surgery.
On that side of the street, she’s walking and talking and living. On the other side, a dead’s man house is filled with his belongings, all sorted and tagged and given a monetary value, his life reduced to a price tag and the potential for someone to double their money.