Measured Extravagance

2001-01-14 - 1:32 a.m.

This afternoon, I walked past a yard sale. (I thought about calling it "a sidewalk sale" for the sake of precision - the ground being soggy from the rains and sleet of the week, the seller naturally elected to display her chairs, books and other trinkets on the sidewalk rather than in the yard. But, as a description, "sidewalk sale" now carries too much retail baggage to depict a simple sale on the sidewalk...)

I walked past it twice, on my way to and from the library. Heading west, I'd assumed the mess was simply someone loading their station wagon for a move. Returning east, I registered that the furniture and tchotchkes were on display rather than "on deck" (another location phrase with baggage!), and crossed the street to peer at the offerings: Christmas tree trimmings. Run-down chairs. An sky-blue trunk. A minature roll-top desk. Guides for pregnancy, making money, and exploring London.

I pack only my library card and change on these walks. I didn't see anything there that moved me enough to return home and retrieve some green, but a banner on the chain-link fence caught and held my eye: it was a Star of David in royal and navy blue appliquéd on a crisp white background and decorated with sprigs of white and gold daisies in two of the star's corners. In the center of the star, a menorah was silhouetted in embroidered gold tinsel, with a small solid Magen David above it.

It flashed through my mind that, while I didn't need a banner, I could use the cloth some other way - to cover loaves of challah, perhaps, or in private prayer-meditation. I liked looking at it. It was not to my usual taste, but I felt drawn to it in spite of myself. It veers awfully close to kitsch, and decorative kitsch usually makes me blanch (theatrical kitsch is another story), but the banner didn't strike me as irredeemably tacky. Instead, it made me think of spring.

The sticker said $ 5. I thought, "No, I don't want it for five dollars," and continued on down the street.

Who else in East Nashville would want to buy it?

You're not even Jewish!

You could write a poem about it.

You've got two boxes of clutter you're hauling to the Salvation Army, you don't need a single scrap more.

Is she just going to put it into the trash if it doesn't sell?

Maybe it'll come in handy for a UU pageant or parade.

I bet she'll negotiate - it's not exactly an item with broad appeal.

I sat down on the curb, pulled out my coin purse, and counted out $ 2.87. I counted it several times to make sure I hadn't tallied the same nickels and dimes more than once.

$ 2.87 ... five Cokes ... one secondhand paperback ...

$ 2.87 is still $ 2.87 towards the replacement car.

It took you 30 teeth-gritting minutes to earn just $ 2.87 when you worked in the cookie shop.

Oh, we've been good. After all, we got the Caudwell books out of the library instead of buying them, even though they've got the fetching Gorey covers now.

Yes.

I strolled back. The seller was busy with another customer. When she turned to me, I asked "Is haggling allowed?" "Oh yes." "I've got $ 2.87 for the banner." "Sold."

I poured the change into her palm, lifted the banner off the fence, and started down the street with it. A wagon rolled by just then, I glimpsed a young man in the back passenger seat, wearing a sweatshirt and baseball cap and regarding me with surprise. It wasn't an unpleasant look, though I don't know whether it should be translated as "Golly, people actually buy things at yard sales?" or "Golly, the things people buy at yard sales" or "Why is she walking with that banner?" or "Why is she walking with that banner?"

It doesn't matter, really - it just made me unaccountably glad to surprise him, whatever the reason. And as I approached my own house, I grinned at the banner. As I get older, I trust my instincts more, and something tells me that was $ 2.87 well spent. I don't yet know why, although perhaps it's enough that each time I unroll the banner I think of spring. More so than seed catalogs and asparagus soup recipes, oddly enough - it's something to do with the daisies, and the crisp white linen background, and having yielded to a whim while walking on a day not quite like spring, but almost.

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