All over America people are holding garage sales. I don't know about you, but I can't pass one up. What drives people like myself to garage sales is that we all have fantasies, that somewhere in the flotsam on display is a treasure that the owner doesn't know he's got.
Here is my favorite garage sale fantasy:
I go to a garage sale at the Kruegers. It's all junk, but, as I'm about to leave, my wife whispers, "You have to buy something or they'll be very insulted."
"There's absolutely nothing here I want to have in the house," I whisper back.
"Why don't you buy that painting?"
"It's the ugliest picture I've ever seen."
"Yes, but we can always use the frame."
"But They're asking $15 for it," I protest.
"Offer them $10. It's 5 o'clock, and you can see they're desperate."
I offer Krueger $10 and he says, stiffly, "12.50, and all sales are final."
I'm about to call him a crook, when my wife nudges me in the ribs, and I pay him the $12.50. "Do you have any newspaper to wrap it in?" I ask.
"We don't wrap," Krueger says. "You bring your own wrapping to a garage sale."
I stick the painting under my arm and say to my wife, "Hurry up or we'll miss the N-2 bus."
We get on the bus, and seated across the aisle is a man in a pinstried morning suit. I figure he's just been to a wedding.
He looks at me, and then casually at the painting I have leaning against my knees. Suddenly his eyes bug out.
"I beg your pardon. May I examine that painting?" he says.
I think he's going to make fun of me and I say, "What for?"
"Forgive me," he says, handing me his card. "I am from sotheby Parke Bernet, the art auction house, and I could swear that picture is an orginal Applebaum."
"You are correct," I say. "It's been in my family for years. My Aunt Ada left it to us in her will."
The man from Sotheby gets on his hands and knees and says, "It's the most magnificent Applebaum I've ever seen. We've known of it existence, but we were unable to trace it after it was sold by the J.P. Morgan estate."
"The Morgans and my aunt were good friends," I say.
The Sotheby man takes a magnifying glass out of his pocket.
"It's simply fantastic. Do you know the history of Applebaum?"
"A little," I reply. "But our family has so many great paintings, we can't keep track of them all."
"Applebaum lived in Alaska, and spent 40 years painting nothing but dog sleds. He never painted the dogs -- just the sleds. For years he was ignored by the art world. But in 1950 he was rediscoered, and every musuem in the world considers its collection incomplete unless it has one Applebaum hanging on its walls. What makes this picture so unique is that the dog sled was painted in the spring, when there was no snow on the ground."
"That's why my Aunt Ada bought it," I say. "She never did like snow."
"What are you planning to do with it?" the man from Sotheby asks.
"Put it in our playroom with our Cezannes and Renoirs," I tell him.
"You wouldn't consider letting us auction it off, would you?"
"I don't know. We never like to part with a painting. How much do you think it would fetch?"
"We'd put a ceiling of $2 million on it, but it wouldn't surprise me if it brought over $5 million. To my knowledge it's the last Applebaum still in private hands."
Well, then," I say, "it would be very selfish of me to keep it just for the family. I'll bring it to your offices tomorrow morning."
In my fantasy, the picture sells for $6.87 million -- the highest price ever paid for a painting for a dog sled.
But the best part of my dream is when Krueger reads the papers and finds out what I got for his painting, and starts banging on the front door, calling me a theif.
The last thing I say to him before I wake up is, "When you have a garage sale, all sales are final."