Signs of Summer in the Offing

Last week, I saw a guy wheeling a couch down a sidewalk over near SE Woodstock. He had the full size living room couch balanced on an office chair on wheels, and was pushing the makeshift vehicle along the sidewalk, away from a garage sale, a clear sign summer is in the offing in Portland. I mentioned the couch on wheels to Susan, and she said let’s set sail for the new garage sale season come Saturday morning, foraging afield, stopping whim-whamfully, burying our treasure in the back of our little wagon. Yes, I added, and thence to the basement to add to our pile of previously purchased garage sale items that we will no doubt put out in our own garage sale later this summer. There you go again with the negative vibes, Moriarty, she replied, but come Saturday morning, off we jibed, cutting a course from Mt Tabor zigzagging northwest through uncharted garage sale waters.

Never mind, for the moment, why we keep stuff; why do we acquire the stuff to begin with? But what did we acquire on our Saturday garage sailing adventure?

Our first disembarkment came just a few blocks out of harbor. We looked at an ironing board (does anyone iron anymore? I asked Susan). We looked at a large, thick piece of glass and considered it for a table top. There was a DVD player for sale, a few books, and a treasure trove of old, vinyl albums, out of which I picked, for 50 cents, a Peggy Lee with George Shearing recording. I would have brought home a few more old, folk albums I saw, but most of them looked like they had served as scratching pads for a family of catastrophic cats. While I was thumbing through the albums, Susan picked out a shoe tree for her closet, and I wondered if this was a portent of an organized summer. Our garage sale hosts were themselves disembarking for adventures elsewhere, pulling up anchor, moving.

We stopped at a church rummage sale over on Burnside. Susan picked out a tiny, wire jeweled Christmas tree, though Christmas seems an ocean away to me. Things were half off at the church sale, and I showed Susan a lemonade sign leaning against a rail outside the vestibule. We could hang it somewhere, I said, assuring her I had no immediate plans to sell lemonade. The sign was marked $2.50, so we got it for $1.25, and Susan said churches often have the best garage sales.

But even half price was no match for Susan’s find at our next stop, an old, maple director’s chair at a garage sale off of Stark – in the free box pile. It had no seat nor back, and was missing the dowels that hold the seat fabric under the arms. If you can find any logic to buying a lemonade sign at half price, you can understand having to lug home the priceless, broken director’s chair. But on the way home we stopped by a specialty store where we got a director’s chair seat and back fabric replacement kit, on sale for three bucks. We were in favorable trade winds.

We stopped here and there, browsing more than buying, listening to a seller’s story here, a buyer’s tale there. Then we landed at the most enjoyable sale of the day, where three ladies joyfully called our attention toward multiple kitchenware items, a mirror, homemade stuffed toy animals, blankets and quilts, dishes, knickknacks, tools – these and more sundries arranged neatly on tables and blankets and leaning against a tree in the front yard. And I made my third purchase of the day. For 50 cents, I bought a little Singer box of sewing machine parts, but I got it for the tiny, specialized screwdrivers it contained.

I’m the kind of garage sailor who vows every voyage is his last, though it’s not the long run on the open sea I want, either, instead of tacking through neighborhoods, but I’ll probably sail through the summer stopping at garage sales if I see books, albums, tools, or guitars. The sailor on land wants to walk. And if I find myself some distance from the mother ship wanting to haul a garage sale item home, I can always ask if they happen to have any office chairs on wheels for sale. The garage sale offers a unique barometer of local economic conditions, windows of interest into local communities, and the stories one hears surely fill part of the void left by the disappearance of newspapers. In any case, there’s always the chance of the odd lemonade sign showing up.

Click any photo for gallery view:


  1. Cute … Singer box of sewing machine parts, but I got it for the tiny, specialized screwdrivers it contained …
    How are Garage sales organised where you live, or do they just spring up?
    Wonder if I should get the people in my road to collectively offer a sale, selecting a day.


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Hey, Ashen… The garage sales do just spring up, though they are also often organized and advertised. They are often called yard sales, with stuff spread out across the yard and driveway and into the garage and sometimes into the house – though that’s often the case with estate sales, which can be sad, mercenary affairs but also touching (I went to one a couple of years ago a few blocks over, where an old woman I did not know other than saying hi when walking by had lived a long time. And in the little house on the icebox was a list of phone numbers and names, kind of an emergency list or relatives and friends, like a kind of phone book. The list was old and worn and names were crossed out with the date of that person’s passing noted. Some of the numbers were so old the formats are not used anymore). The organized, groups sales are usually kicked off with a phone call or note sent around by someone on the block, and a weekend is decided upon. Someone might make signs on cardboard to attach to telephone poles at strategic, nearby cross streets, pointing the way to the sales with arrows and a bit of info.: “5 Family Block sale! Sat & Sun – 9 to 5. Good stuff: Tools, Clothes, Kitchen, Toys.” Something like that. A sale can appear almost anywhere, on the sidewalk outside an apartment, in a church parking lot, in front and backyard, out of the trunk of a car. The organized sales are often advertised using Craigslist. Sometimes, though not often, someone might make coffee and cookies to offer the customers, or children might get involved by selling homemade lemonade, cookies, popcorn bags. There are a couple of neighborhoods in the area that hold annual neighborhood sales. These attract crowds because they are well advertised and because so many household sales are going on in a concentrated area at the same time. Residents are asked to donate a small amount to cover cost of maps, brochures, advertising, etc., or just to contribute to the association. These huge sales might be attempts by the neighborhood associations to discourage random sales appearing throughout the year. What to do if rain threatens – tarps, pop-up covers, move under a carport. If you’ve never had a sale, it can be an interesting experience, and the collective sales are often festive. When you pick a date, give folks time to get organized. Basements, garages, attics, closets can all be packrat dens. Joe


      1. Dan Hennessy says:

        Your response is a post within itself.


        1. Joe Linker says:

          I guess I’m not what you’d call a hoarder of words. I could have a garage sale of poems, but I suppose I would have to put them in the free box if I really wanted to get rid of them, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing lately with the blog. Sunny here today, warmer, supposed to be 80. Good day for a garage sale, except it’s only Tuesday. Garage sale also good excuse (once the work’s done of carting everything out) to hang out all day doing nothing but tending the sale.


  2. Dan Hennessy says:

    In Poland I saw a guy wheeling a bathtub along a city street . Now I guess he must have been yard sailing . Ahoy there !


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Around the world in 80 garage sales.


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