They sit in gleaming array:
Glass tumblers with detachable caddies, a penguin-adorned ice bucket, a valiant copy of a Tiffany lampshade. Kitchen gadgets, fake-fur toiletseat covers and cork-lined coaster sets vying for attention with china and stemware for 25 cents each.
To the uninitiated, that scene could conjure up visions of the sacking of Rome. To seasoned garage-sale shoppers, however, it is the pleasure pit of consumerism. Its devotees somehow get through the rest of the week, but Saturday is their day. Their raison d'etre is the pursuit of that one irresistible -- but elusive -- find among the shoe trees and toaster covers.
For only a little cash, the garage sale combines all the challenge of the hunt with the thrill of bagging the "game." True addicts are prone to recounting (often) the stories of their first discoveries in this mode of shopping.
One woman became a habitual garage-and-yard saler when her husband was in graduate school, and her two children were growing at a rate that refused to keep pace with their income. Her first find, a 24-month hooded and lined blanket sleeper ($1), endured two toddlers and those of several friends. She was hooked after that experience and went on for more serious quests -- for furniture, books, games, records, tools.
Along with these utilitarian objects the typical shopper usually begins to develope a taste for indescribable napkin rings, hand-carved bookends and trivia that one might just as well do without, but does not. As the first for more varied merchandise spurs one on to greater horizons, the skills improve in finding new neighborhoods with good sales. Enthusiasts learn to wend their way through mazes of meandering street with names like "Rambling Oak Way" and "Vista del Fin."
You also learn to discriminate between ordinary junk and veritable bargains.
While scrutinizing tables of children's clothes and the flotsam and jetsam of modern living, the garage-sale shopper learns quickly to spot a bargain, and get out fast if the prices are high.
A bargain, one learns, is not an alarm clock that hums soothingly at the appointed hour, nor is it a size-44 bathing suit. But if you have a 12-year-old boy, a good find is a pair of hockey skates for $1.50.
Even the condescension of skeptics can melt into enthusiam when they accidentally discover a long yearned-for object of desire. The teen-ager of limited means looks for jeans, T-shirts and posters. One indefatigable fan lugs home bags full of paperbacks at 10 cents each. And occasionally, somewhere across town, there might be an appealing onyx chess set, or a fine piece of pottery, making the trek worth the effort.
Like King Tut and other materialists down through the ages, I hope to be laid to rest gently among my garage-sale treasures. And maybe, if I am dug up by future archeologists, they will stock their museums with the trophies of a die-hard, 20th-century bargain hunter.