I now know three things about tag sales:
Everything has a price.
Ilda will argue about it.
Until just a few days ago, please understand, I knew absolutely nothing about tag sales. But with my parents opting to leave Long Island behind for the bright lights of Florida, it was time to close up the old house and sell off the innards.
Let the rest of the country observe the holiday weekend with barbecues and beach blankets; we celebrated 223 years of independence (and 96 degrees of Fahrenheit) by inviting the world in to strip the place clean.
For a price.
"1-day sellout," read the tiny ad that Ferne the Tag-Sale Lady placed in the local paper. "BR sets, couches, many tbls, 3 sleeper sofas, furs,women/men's clothing, almost new washing mach, fridge, paintings, kitware, outdoor furn, and loaded gar." (In English, that last one would be "garage." More precisely, "junk-filled garage.")
My mother had worried that a tag sale on the Fourth of July wouldn't attract a crowd.
Tell that to the woman parked patiently at the curb at 7:15 in the morning, two hours and 15 minutes before the festivities were due to begin.
Tell it to the several dozen other eager beavers pressing toward the door as the magic moment arrived, people of all sizes, colors and sexes, a veritable American tapestry, huddled masses yearning to grab bargains.
"The base is broken and the spring is wound to the very end!" -- which is to say this particular shopper wanted this particular item very badly.
At tag sales, it seems, you only insult the things you love. If you don't want to buy it, it's not worth your time trying to drive the price down. Find something else in the house you really like, and insult it.
There were serious collectors looking for hidden treasure among the books and glassware. (Unlikely.) There were families looking to furnish children's rooms, businesswomen trying on business suits, men picking through old LPs.
Of course, some of our guests were more resourceful than others. My mother recognized one old acquaintance headed to the checkout table with a boxful of goodies: aluminum foil and plastic wrap, a bottle of multivitamins, a half-empty bottle of antacid tablets. My mother's antacid tablets. My mother's everything else, for that matter. The woman had simply rummaged through the kitchen cabinets. "They weren't marked `Not for Sale,' " she explained.
We weren't all quite as vigilant as my mother. It probably was not a good idea, for instance, for Ferne to sell off the last of the family toilet paper. And then there was Ilda.
Ilda, large in her flowered dress and loud in her negotiating, was buying things to resell back in Brooklyn, and every dollar she could knock off a purchase price was a dollar more profit somewhere down the road.
"How much for the cheese board? The lamps? The mirror?" she'd demand in a rich Haitian accent, and no matter what price she was quoted, she'd turn away in disdain and offer no more than a fraction.
"Forty dollars for the dishes?" she'd shout. "Look at all the chips!"
"That's why the price is so low!" my mother would shout right back. "If they were new, they'd be $100."
"I'll give you $20."
And it went like that for hours. Ilda would rumble, roar, wrinkle her face in disgust. Then she'd see me smiling from across the room, taking in the show, and she'd flash an incandescent smile in return -- and dive right back into battle.
My mother is one of the world's great bargainers. In Ilda, she met her match. My mother never would have threatened to call down voodoo the way Ilda did when the mahogany bedroom set was sold out from under her before she could put down a deposit.
"I have the strongest voodoo of anyone!" Ilda announced.
Ferne gave her a break on the love seats.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist.