During a recent release of stored-up energy (which took five years of storing up), I put on some old clothes of which there seemed to be an abundance in my closet, went downstairs and cleaned out the basement and garage.
In the process, a newspaper story came back to me -- I think it appeared in a Sunday supplement. It said something like, "Turn your trash into money," and continued, "What might be trash to you could be a useful item for a handy person to dust off and restore."
"We're not going to have a garage sale," was the answer I got from my wife during a lunch break from the cleanup. "I'd be ashamed to let anyone see that junk, much less put a price tag on it."
I wasn't convinced. Living on the corner of a semi-busy thoroughfare, I am faced with a homemade sign attached to the telephone pole about every third weekend advertising a yard or garage sale somewhere nearby. (The people who nail up the signs seldom come back to remove them and, like political posters, they remain until the elements knock them down.)
Anyway, I'd browsed through enough neighbors' castoffs to know that the stuff I had stored away was in much better shape. I let the idea fester in the back of my mind.
Cleaning the basement took a 12-hour day with little interruption. Except I stopped to read through some nifty old newspaper stories, trying to remember all the while why I had saved them.
In one corner was a children's roll-top desk with a stamped metal plate inside with the name "Otto Soglow." Soglow created and drew the comic strip "The Little King," and his spot drawings for many years illustrated the "Talk of the Town" pieces in the New Yorker magazine.
How did it get in my basement? The memories flooded back.
Soglow was a short man who worked in an art department near Second Avenue in Manhattan. One lunch hour, several of his co-workers, who were out for a stroll, stopped by a used furniture shop and saw the little desk. A prank was born.
They bought it, had the name plate stamped out, nailed it over the letter slots, hauled it back to the studio, removed Soglow's desk and replaced it with the children's desk. The story goes that Soglow upon his return did not bat an eye, sat at the desk and worked on his cartoons for a few days until the gag wore thin.
Somehow through the years my brother, who shared a studio with Soglow, ended up with the desk and gave it to our kids.
No, I thought, the desk couldn't be sold in an ordinary outdoor sale, and maybe never. Not a Soglow desk.
But there were other things I'd part with. Full-colored illustrated maps of London and Hamburg, which never had been matted and framed. They showed up in a stack of magazines. Someone would pay good money for them.
Filling a tub of warm water, I dropped the small dusty items to soak and later scrubbed them to a sparkle: cake molds, cupcake pans, vases of all shapes and colors, wide jars for cookies, flower pots, serving trays that had never been used, things we'd never use again and that could bring in good money.
Castanets, a basketball hoop and a basketball, a superb waffle iron, a ping-pong table with paddles, net and four balls. The surface of the table was slightly warped, but what industrious young father couldn't overcome that problem and soon be batting around with one of his youngsters.
The garage was attacked the next day. And what goodies showed up. A huge box of nails, all sizes and shapes. Who could resist this bargain with a price tag of $2? Rusted garden tools -- a little sanding would help. A pickax minus the handle. A pitch fork. Radios, which may only need a little tampering. Two television sets which still hum when snapped on. An ice crusher and an orange juice squeezer. Big, black skillets. A big green shapely wine bottle. A wooden oil paint box, the handle frayed but easily replaced.
Another small writing desk which could be an antique. It wobbled.
Great stuff. And cheap.
Dollars floated in my head.
Then I came upon it -- sap bucket. It was the only sap bucket I have left after a foray years ago on a lonely farm in Vermont. It had been a late fall day. The farmer showing off all these wooden buckets was dressed in the latest "rough wear" from L.L. Bean. He said the wooden buckets had been replaced on his farm by plastic, that they were at least a hundred years old, and he would let them go for a buck apiece.
I bought as many as the back of a small Peugeot could hold along with two kids. While driving back toward New York with these sap buckets I kept thinking that buyers in Bloomingdale's would go wild over a whitewashed rustic look, excellent for holding magazines and newspapers.
But once home and in the living room of my warm Manhattan apartment I watched them come apart in the heat, the metal rims dropping to the floor and the staves coming apart, opening like weeds facing the morning sun.
Now there was just one left, still sturdy, in need only of a little dab or two of some super glue.
A new tack was tried at breakfast the next morning when I suggested to my wife, "Both girls are coming home for Thanksgiving. They could set up sales on Friday and Saturday and the money they make will pay their way back to New York and Boston."
"The money they make on that junk wouldn't take them as far as the Beltway," she replied.
She was probably right. But then again I thought maybe I could stand on the sidewalk like the old clothing merchants did on New York's Lower East Side, coaxing people to come in and buy. Sort of a clandestine garage sale -- enough people pass by the driveway each day, walking, jogging, catching buses.
I still think I can persuade my wife. After all, we don't play ping-pong anymore and she doesn't give a hang about the sap bucket.