Sunday, October 10, 2004

She Stoops to Conquer

It's Autumn in Park Slope and the streets are positively brimming with stoop sales. They are as ubiquitous as pumpkins this time of year and the lamp posts on Seventh Avenue are taped thick with clever signs. And on the sidewalks, there are the quaint, hand drawn chalk arrows and large letters that say, "This way, lrg multi fam stp sale..."

How one feels about stoop sales on a given Saturday depends largely on one's mood. If you're up for it, they can be great fun -- a tempting way to waste time on a weekend morning. But if you're not in the mood, it can feel like one more Slope cliche. And if your apartment is already unbearably cluttered, each room a veritable monument to unwanted detritus, the sight of a stoop sale may induce nausea, or bring on an unpleasant sneer.

An then there's the matter of quality. Most stoop sales lack it, which reduces the whole endeavor to a form of garbage picking. In other words, Slopesters could be a tad more selective about what they set out for sale. Ever hear of the Salvation Army or the New York Department of Sanitation?

It can actually be embarrassing to see what people offer for sale. Granted, Smartmom is only seeing the stuff that her fellow Slopesters are trying to get rid of. But the fact that they bought it in the first place is the crazy thing. The lamps, the furniture, the clothing, the books that get hauled out of basements and plopped on the street. Do people really want to broadcast the fact that "Chicken Soup for the Soul" was in their library to begin with? Like snooping in someone's medicine cabinet, it can be downright unflattering what you learn about people at stoop sales.

In a sense, a stoop sale is a a micro-history of people's lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be touchingly revealing of a person's outdated dreams and aspirations, their misguided interests, tastes and styles. You wore that? You read that? That ugly lamp graced your living room? The fact is, you can truly learn too much about a person at a stoop sale. And sometimes less really is more.

Which isn't to say that Smartmom can resist the call of a stoop sale. Like many Slopsters, the sight of one can set her heart a- thumping. And she's been known to cross the street two, even three times on a single block to check out sidewalk tables, ever optimistic that the next one will be THE ONE, the one that will make her dreams come true.

And what exactly might a great stoop sale be? Well, a great stoop sale, and there is such a thing, might have an item that Smartmom really needs, like an unused classic yellow rain slicker for Teen Spirit. Or a pair of never-worn roller blades in OSFO's size.

It might feature the original Clue Game (remember Col. Mustard and Miss Plum?) with all the pieces neatly put away. Or an out-of-print children's book Smartmom adored as a child such as the original hardcover edition of "The Lonely Doll," or the now-classic "Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffit."

A great stoop sale might have a top notch selection of small press poetry books that meet with Smartmom's discriminating tastes or kitschy tablecloths from the 1940's. A really great stoop sale, and this would be pretty unusual, might even have a vintage globe, preferably a black, light-up one, that would fit perfectly into Smartmom's priceless collection of 100 or more.

But a great stoop sale is pretty darn rare. And Smartmom is too discreet to list the stoop sale blunders she's made -- those items that within minutes of the purchase she had to stuff in the trash (or sell at a future stoop sale). Alas, even Smartmom has gotten pulled into the frenzy, the gelatinous quick sand that a stoop sale can be.

And yes, Smartmom and family have, in a fit of de-cluttering, had their own stoop extravaganzas. They've endured the heartwrenching ordeal of watching friends and strangers reject their treasured garbage. It can be downright dispiriting to beg someone to take a beloved, but too small, Agnes B shirt for a quarter, or Teen Spirit's toddler corderoy pants from Garnet Hill for a dime.

For the stoop seller, a sale can also be regular nostalgia fest, so imbued are one's pocessions with memories of people, places, and things. It's positively Proustean. But afterwards, there is the post-stoop high, the feeling that one has made space for the new, which comes of having cleared one's apartment of all those remembrances of mistakes past.


At 3:53 PM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

SM is certainly hard on her fellow neigbor's stuff. Perhaps you can have some empathy for the discarded books, clothing that one buys over the years There is something touching about how important they once seemed and how with time they lose their meaning and importance in one's life. Nevertheless, I totally agree with the embarassing array of junk people put out on their stoops. And of course, My big pet peeve. After the sale, when they leave the unpurchased stuff out on the street with a sign that says "Free". I'm like move your ass and go to the salvation army. Don't just litter the street with unwanted junk. Whatever. I loved your piece. keep on writing SM.


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