There are lamps on the lawn and rugs on the porch, headboards stacked against the house and grandmother's plates piled on the picnic table. There are long columns of classified ads, tersely worded two-line enticements: "Moving, everything goes, 6-room house . . . vintage clothe, attic clean-out, lots good stuff . . . furn., antiques, china, brass, books, funky junk."
It is the age of acquisition. It is the season of the yard sale.
Maybe there is something in the air, a message that arrives with spring and hisses in the ears of homeowners, "It is time to clean the closet."
All around the region, the stuff that gathers in attics, the things that go bump in the basement, are spilling onto the lawn. Ancient cookie tins and tarnished pop-up toasters. Wide ties and platform shoes. There are casualties of changing tastes, of better times and bigger wallets. They are all for sale.
Robert Blevins surveys the lawn of his North Arlington house, where he and five others have spread their wares.
"I've been in all of these houses, I know all of these families. I've never seen any of this stuff," he says, shaking his head.
Blevins is a veteran host of yard sales, seasoned enough to venture a few observations about how these things work.
"It's the most well-dressed people who do the most haggling," he says. "The professionals wait for you like vultures. They come and go quick -- they've got a sharp eye. You can tell by how quickly they go through things."
Not even a veteran of yard sales can predict what people will want.
"The stuff I thought we were going to have to put out for the garbage is the stuff that's selling," says Gail Hodges, who works with Blevins at Mount Vernon Realty in Alexandria.
"The previous owners of my town house left two statuettes, one of a Greek poet and one of Napoleon," she said. "They were plastic, ivory-colored. They were the weirdest, ugliest things I've ever seen. And they were the first things to go. I sold them for 50 cents each."
"One time during a yard sale ," says Blevins, "I had a tomato plant growing there in the corner. It had two ripe tomatoes on it, and a man came by and offered me a dime apiece for them."
In an age of mega-malls and glossy advertising, there is something straightforward and basic about selling one's possessions on the sidewalk.
After a brief forage through the house, the excesses of existence are shed onto the lawn. Life will be simpler, you decide, without the basket of green Easter grass, the four boxes of general purpose wax and the rusty iron clothes tree.
You can survive quite nicely without your collection of plastic swizzle sticks. The canisters with "flour" and "coffee" written in gilt script land out in the spring sunshine.
The merchandise is a chunk of your past; all your incongruities are on display. Once, this fluorescent flowered dresshung in your closet. These cups shaped like totem poles were in your cupboard. "The Making of Exorcist II" was on your shelf.
Hodges picks up a lamp, its base a large glass jug filled with buttons. "I bought this jar at a yard sale; I bought this lamp kit at a dime store, and I bought the buttons at a yard sale. Now I'm getting rid of the whole thing."
She marks the price down, from $5 to $3.
Blevins touches a wooden rack holding three cut-glass decanters. "I thought these were the nicest things, until I got rich and bought crystal ones."
Now the closets are less cluttered, and the spirit is light.
"This is what I want," says Hodges, holding a plaster turtle with faded purple flowers in a pocket on its shell. "See, it hangs on the wall." She dangles a loop on the back and the thing pitches forward, turtle eyes to the ground. "Well, it's supposed to hang on the wall."
A woman has bought the quilted cosmetic case. A man took the pocket radio for $2. Many people have collapsed into Blevins' leather easy chair; all have balked at the $200 price tag.
No one has touched a free-standing wooden contraption, which resembles what might happen if you propped a burned-out campfire on a tripod. Pastel chips clinging to its base indicate the object was once painted light blue. Its tag says, "Primitive art, $15.00"
"It's twig art from West Virginia," says Hodges. "I found it at a house I sold -- in the trash."
Blevins examines it from a distance. "High tack," he proclaims.
For some, yard sales are an addictive cycle; more visits to other people's sales mean more stuff that must be sold, eventually, at your own.
The night before Blevins' sale, he and the other five families threw a barbecue for themselves. They traded some of the best items, then stayed up until 2 a.m. putting price tags on the rest.
"We swapped junk before it got out here," says Blevins. "We'll see the same stuff we bought last night at the yard sale next year."