Feefty

I’m over the hump.

The estate sale is done, the house is now empty and on the market, and it seems there may yet be an end to settling this whole succession affair. It was the estate sale hurdle I dreaded the most. Decades of accumulated stuff (some of it dating back a century or more) from two aunts and a grandmother were put on the market and advertised heavily, drawing the inevitable feeding frenzy of dealers, bargain hunters, and curious gawkers.

They were lined up outside nearly two hours before our starting time, clawing at the door, whining to get in. The sheer scale of the event required two days’ worth of traffic to clear it all, and a staff of seven on hand to deal with sales and security, including three professional organizers and a bouncer/doorman.

Set up with the cash box in the kitchen, as soon as the front door was flung open I was witness to the unsettling sight of dozens of early birds bursting in and hitting the first major intersection in the house. With a choice of going left, right or straight ahead, they had to make a quick decision which way to dash to get to the stuff they wanted before anyone else could lay their greedy hands on it. And few of them had any idea what it was they wanted. This generated a lot of jostling and crazed animal looks, like a herd of cattle being prodded into the abattoir and seeing nothing but knives and saws down every conceivable passage.

Two minutes after the door opened, the first customer arrived at my station to pay, and from that point on I was handling three or four transactions a minute straight through to lunch. With antiques and curiosities collected from around the world, I at last knew which items would go first and prove to be most popular with the masses.

The crap. They wanted the crap. The crappier the crap, the more they wanted it. The elegant and refined were consistently passed over for the plastic and pointless. Even at clearance sale prices that I feared would make my aunt rise from the dead, scream in horror, and then return to the grave to roll over in it for the rest of the weekend sale, the good stuff had few takers. Dirty old, mildew-ridden patio furniture? Sold! Rusty odds and ends from a tool box hidden in the laundry room? Sold! A Zamphir audio tape of pan-flute atrocities? Sold! Any shit that wasn’t nailed down and didn’t even have a price tag on it because who in their right mind would want it? Sold!

I can’t remember exactly what we sold first. But the second thing out the door was a badly broken wooden boat I thought we’d never be able to get rid of. I put a six dollar price tag on it the day before and hoped for the best. The buyer offered me five.

“Sure,” was the only sane response.

There are three distinct types of buyers at this sort of event. The people who quietly pay the listed price in total. The ones who haggle a token buck or two off the stated price. And then there’s the serious negotiators.

Witness The Cartel. They arrived around mid-day — a whole family from Colombia who spoke almost no English. I speak no Spanish, so we ended up communicating in pidgin French. They would buy a few things, load up their van, disappear for an hour or two, and then return. And return and return and return some more. I came to refer to them, affectionately, as The Colombian Cartel. They were our best customers and bought enough stuff to furnish an apartment or three, including a hide-a-bed sofa, a second sofa, three large plush chairs, two end tables, a coffee table, a dresser, several lamps, every blind in the house, several changes of clothes, silver plates, bronze artifacts and an assortment of odds and ends I lost track of early on.

And they drove a hard bargain.

“How much ees thees?” they would ask in their heavily accented, limited English, coming across yet another piece of furniture that struck their fancy.

“A hundred and seventy-five dollars,” is a typical figure I would quote them for a large piece.

“No, feefty,” they would haggle.

“Ok, a hundred.”

“No, feefty.”

“Seventy-five.”

“No, feefty.”

“Sixty?” I would vainly suggest, hoping to salvage some shred of bargaining self-respect.

“No, feefty.”

“Okay, okay,” I would give in, abandoning all hope of anything resembling a decent price. “Fifty! Just take it.”

In another few days, it would have been dragged onto the back of a charity truck for nothing. I took what I could get.

They consumed the place like a school of piranha fish. A nibble at a time until there were only inedible bones left behind. Then they asked about what else I might like to give them for free.

“Cadeau?” they would innocently inquire about this thing or that. A pillow here, a blanket there, a knickknack either tasteful or tasteless.

“Okay. Cadeau. Just take it,” I would end up saying most of the time.

By the end of the day I think I’d met their entire huge family. They kept producing more of them. Just like they kept coming up with more cash to buy stuff just when I thought I had drained them dry at last.It could have been yours!

The final thing they took from the house — and it took nearly all of them to lift it out — was a fake fireplace/stereo system from the ’70s, complete with turntable, eight-track, and working faux-fire. It was, in many ways, the central piece of the entire sale. Everyone thought it was weird and funky and retro-cool. But no one actually wanted it. No one but The Cartel. It was the last of many possessions and paintings and furniture I remember being in my family for my entire life. One by one, I’d watched all these artifacts from Simmons history get carried away by total strangers for token sums of money. In a weird way, I was saddest of all to see that horrible kitschy fireplace drive away down the road. It marked the end of an era, symbolizing much of what had passed away with this latest death in the family, and a physically tangible bit of closure to many of my childhood memories.

I got feefty for it.

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