Vinyl Desperation – Two Sides of a Garage Sale


At the very least, she’s drunk.

I hear her voice before I see her, and it doesn’t take long to tell that something isn’t quite right for a suburban garage sale at noon on a Sunday. I’m just here for records. And maybe I should have suspected something like this, but I’m still not ready.

I was here yesterday. A small brown sign brought me, against my better financial judgment. After driving up and down the same street three times trying to find the garage sale that was not advertised out front but was apparent enough in back. The man in charge was yet bringing out material for sale. It wasn’t obvious where the for-sale objects ended and his regular garage stuff began, but this is irrelevant when my goal is singular: vinyl records. I don’t see any at first, as I usually don’t at these things. He asks me if there’s anything I’m looking for, and sure enough he says, “Oh yeah, lots, just haven’t brought ‘em out yet.” He’s nice enough, friendly. He actually invites me inside, to either take a look at them there or just follow him as he brings them out to the garage. I follow – that’s how eager I am to get what might be first crack at his collection. This is important when you’re a vinyl vulture, one of many in this city.

He then says he’s already sold a bunch privately, mainly rock stuff. On one hand I should feel bummed that I’m not actually getting first pick; on the other hand, not everyone is looking for the same stuff. I specialize in sniffing out unique, interesting records. I tell him so as I start looking through the couple boxes I help load out from his basement. And I do sniff out some unique items. Unfortunately that’s not all I smell. His place isn’t very fresh, and it’s permeated the vinyl a bit. This is to be the least uncomfortable part.

The man is personable enough. He’s tall, fairly fit, easy to talk to. But also quite forward. My small talk about how his sale is going soon turns into him awkwardly relating stories of being delayed due to a visiting lady friend with whom he partied a bit. He reveals a very intimate aspect of this and only later thinks to apologize for sharing it with a stranger.

Thankfully a teenager comes by looking to complete a deal pre-arranged by his father, a friend to the garage sale man. Now I can analyze the records in peace. To an extent, that is – incidental eavesdropping isn’t always avoidable. Their interaction gives me further intimations to the garage man’s character, as he bit by bit pushes new items on the visitor. The man is keen to move things, to make extra sales.

I also gleam that not much of the stuff for sale here is actually his personal property. He speaks of some of it being his father’s, or his brother’s. Some of it is women’s clothing, including very old dress hats. This isn’t unusual for a garage sale, a person selling shared old family belongings. But something about all this is starting to feel… uncomfortable. Not wrong, just uncomfortable.

When you dig for records second-hand, you sometimes have to judge an album by its cover. I’ve been buying used vinyl for several years now, so I’m fairly used to it. Assessing album artwork and reading production credits and song titles, trying to gauge if the music is potentially interesting, if not awesome. After I’ve finished going through everything I have almost twenty LP’s and singles picked out, some I recognize and some I don’t. The latter are a gamble, and I don’t yet know how much he wants for everything.

I soon realize that I’m not just judging the records by their covers – I’m judging the garage man by his. Granted we’re strangers to each other, so it’s to be expected with first impressions. But I have no reason to assess this man anymore than I need to. At best it helps to get a sense of what kind of person you may end up haggling with. Some people want hardly any money for vinyl, while others want whatever they unreasonably believe the top dollar value to be. But I’m no haggler so that’s not what’s happening here. I’ve just been slowly, progressively been getting a sense that this person may be on the downside of luck financially. He’s mentioned that he’s been out of work lately. With that can come a certain desperation. And so my judgemental senses are telling me that the money from this garage sale could be going towards something more than food, clothing and shelter. Meanwhile I’m screaming back at myself, “Don’t do that. Just because his house stinks and he’s a bit of an aggressive salesman doesn’t mean he has a sketchy vice he needs to maintain. Just give him the benefit of the doubt, give him his money and go.”

Thankfully he doesn’t want an arm and a leg for the records. If anything he wants to talk a bit more, and to be honest I’m in a personable enough mood myself to indulge him. I learn that he’s continuing his garage sale tomorrow, and that there might be more records. Based on the items I’ve found today I have mixed feelings at this. They don’t smell great and I don’t have a great feeling about this man’s situation, but at the same time, the vinyl hunt is calling. And the hunt was pretty good today.

It’s the next day now. I’d been debating coming back here, even if it is only a five minute drive. Alas, I could not resist at least checking. And it should have been as simple as, “Hey, did you find anymore records? – Sure, that box over there. – Great, thanks.” But first, I heard her.

Even as I pull into the garage driveway I hear her. Or them, more to the point, the lady and the garage man. At first I think they’re just friends talking loudly. In fact they are bickering. Whether this means they’re a couple, or just the lady friend he’d claimed to have fooled around with the other day, who knows. But they know each other well enough to bicker. The man and I try to reconnect and talk about records, but all the while he divides his attention between me and the woman. He openly shares that she’s been micromanaging his garage sale, directing organization and whatnot, which she does even as we speak. Again, all I wanted was to see any new records he may have brought out. He does have some, in a pile. It is up to me to clear space to look through them. And to clear my mind enough to focus on six-sensing some mystery titles. That is, it is up to me to try and ignore the clearly drunk woman sitting on the crushed old couch in the garage. Her and her denim, and her blotchy red face. Her bad teeth, and a bottle of vodka in hand. Perpetually half-laughing at most anything. Even nothing. And it’s barely noon.

But I cannot filter them out as they deal with each other. I don’t want to look; I don’t want to get involved. My heart keeps lurching whenever it sounds like they are escalating into argument. I fear that they won’t have the decency or the sobriety or the self-control. She is at the least drunk – the man seems sober enough but who knows. He is barely trying to assuage the woman, to keep her quiet while a stranger/customer is potentially spending money. My vague excitement at finding Bo Diddly and some Polish pop music in the new records does not do much to distract me. What doesn’t help me – or them for that matter – is how each of them, especially the woman, excitedly insists that the items I’m picking out are “great.” I doubt she can see four feet in front of her, let alone twice that to read the titles of some old records that she likely has never even seen before. I try to move faster.

I finish my cherry picking and assess my selections at the cluttered table, unfortunately facing the woman at the couch. I intermittently catch glimpses of her, out of sad curiosity. She looks and especially sounds so much older than she must be. Whatever unfortunate things I’d suspected about the garage man now seem utterly apparent upon this woman. And I start to wonder where else my money may be going to here.

What was an easy money situation yesterday turns difficult today, as the garage man asks for the same amount of money ($20) for almost half as many records as he’d sold me yesterday. I calmly but firmly let him know this but he only brings his cost down to $15. I go quiet and go back to considering the records. Almost immediately he can tell that I’m whittling down my picks. I decide on just three, asking how much he wants. Now he’s quiet, and I’m barely looking at him. “You know what, I’ll take $12 for everything you had there.” In retrospect, if I’d really taken the time to think about it, if I’d considered that he was still technically overcharging me for less records, if I’d considered whether I even really wanted some of the records that bad, I could have haggled more. But I wanted so badly to get out of there, I just agreed to the $12 and paid. And left, all but running.

Everything stank. And it still stinks. The records smell bad, and hardly any have turned out interesting, let alone keepers. I can tell myself over and over, “This is the risk you take when you buy records secondhand.” Sometimes it turns out to be gold. Other times it’s a total flop, and you want to do all you can to shove it away and forget it. But the sense of smell can be a powerful reminder. And until I finish dealing with these new/old records, I will continue to be reminded of an incredibly awkward, embarrassing and sobering experience.

© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes


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