Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Morning Fever

Sandy's Cafe. 6 a.m. on a quintessential Saturday morning. A girl running. A girl in shorts. A girl in pajamas. And ER Nurse Susie, heading to the hospital for the day shift, with a con leche almost as big as her, and a thermos. I think maybe Susie, who was riding her bike to work, may live on cafe con leche . . .
     For the past three years I have worked a weekend job with the unimaginable start time of 7 a.m.  I don’t even want to guess how many yard sales I have missed in those three terrible years. The Saturday morning Key West yard sale is an institution, a happy combination of meet and greet and shop till you drop. Quit showing up at yard sales and people begin to assume the worst: that you’ve moved Up North.

Sandy's. Predawn. 
     I have been so starved for secondhand deals I’ve become a regular at the thrift shops, which is not at all the same thing. A thrift shop has its charms, sure, but a thrift shop has nowhere near the charm of the well-mounted yard sale. At a thrift shop you can’t nickel and dime prices down the way you can at a yard sale. At a thrift shop you can’t chat about the history of an interesting piece of merchandise with the good people who once cherished and paid big bucks for the thing you are about to make your very own for a mere pittance. At thrift shops you are not likely to run into the stylish people you can count on seeing at the Saturday morning yard sales.

The managers: Rob and Stacie
    No. Nothing at all compares to a great, rollicking yard sale, where you encounter all the yard sale regulars.  There are the tool and jewelry folks, who yell “got any tools or jewelry?” from the windows
Do you think that early bird in plaid shorts will buy anything?
of their trucks, through the pre-dawn haze, hours before your sale is advertised to begin. (They make me wonder: what are they looking for? A solid gold screwdriver? On a chain?) The merchandisers arrive early, too. They come to pick up stuff at bargain prices which they will sell in their own shops at retail prices. In every town there is a shoal of sharks, sleek and smiley. They examine the goods, find their target, and then, dart in for the kill with lightning quick offers of take it or leave it.  Always there are yard sale observers, who walk around with their hands in their pockets, looking, asking questions, but never buying. And there are tag-alongs, people accompanying the serious shoppers. They watch and wait and appear to be very uncomfortable, standing around in strangers’ yards amid displays of other peoples’ leftovers.

The Minister of Sobriety and Secretary General of the Conch Republic stage an impromptu joint task force meeting in the Conch RepublicMobile. That's coffee in those cups. I swear.
     Nowadays I am working nine-to-five, weekdays. So when my great friends Stacie and Rob announced that they were staging a Saturday yard sale in their gated front yard, I asked if I might share in the party. They even advertised the sale in the Citizen, scheduling it for 7 a.m. till 11 a.m. The first customers, the tool and jewelry folks, arrived at 6:20. That gate came in handy.

The earliest birds: the shopkeepers.
     Among the usual yard sale mavens on that day I met a lady who told me she liked my writing. Her name was Lynn and I’d like to shout out a hello to her now. As she walked through our yard sale, Lynn clutched to her chest a sweet little watercolor painting in a lovely frame she’d purchased at a previous sale. She did not want to risk leaving her find in her bicycle basket outside the gate while she shopped at our sale.  She told me she’d paid $3 for it and I wanted it bad.  I told her many times how much I liked the painting. I followed her around the yard as she shopped. I complimented her on her good looks and her fine taste in books. (She bought five. All mine.)  I told her that the only thing I collected at all anymore is art. I hinted in every way I could imagine, but Lynn did not offer me that painting. Finally she told me that her family had decided to exchange Christmas gifts of stuff they found at yard sales or thrift shops. So I forgive you, Lynn, for holding onto that painting for dear life. And I envy whoever in your family gets it for Christmas.

     We had a lot of stuff to sell, and lots buyers to take it off our hands. We had clothes, shoes, books, and the assorted accumulation of five kids, assorted parents and their crazy Aunt June. We sold out of
Eggers Junior Division, Lev and Georgie.
shoes quickly. It was amazing! Whenever someone examined our shoe collection, which went from size 1 – 10, Rob announced: “Shoes are two dollars apiece, the whole pair for $3.” People tried on clothes and bought lots of those, too. Our sale had nothing big and extravagant, save a push lawnmower that would have been the very first thing to go in our Nova Scotia village. The mower didn’t sell!  Nonetheless, by selling a thousand (or so it seemed) fifty-cent items, we made enough money to feel quite successful by lunchtime. Our yard sale was hot, exhausting, fun, and possibly easier than loading everything into the car and delivering it to the thrift shop. But I’m not quite sure about that.

My beautiful friend Stacie and me, counting up the loot.
Here in Key West, it’s the end-of-summer, paring down season. Unburdening is a healthy response to belt-tightening times. When the going gets tough, the tough go yard sale-ing, because women must shop. My long-suffering husband explains that shopping, for women, is a physiological imperative, programmed into the female gene. And on an island 130 miles from the nearest mall, yard sales are a Big Thing.

     My husband also suggests that a truly great yard sale should begin around 5 a.m., so as to accommodate the earliest of early birds. But I think the ultimate yard sale begins on Saturday morning, or you might say the after-midnight side of Friday night.  Open the gates at 3 a.m. for a nice headstart on the other sales. Offer complimentary mimosas. Brew a pot of coffee. Buy a box of sugary donuts.  Crank up the rock ‘n roll. Turn your yard sale into a happening, a party! Offer deep discounts to whoever carries away the most junk. Label your most desirable items with post-it notes revealing some titillating fact about them. For example, you might note, on that old blue dress: “Once worn at the Clinton White House.” There! That’s a conversation starter!

Here is our son Miguel Perez's homage to Sandy's Cafe, filmed at 4 a.m. -- of course!!


  1. June,

    Oh my gosh, what a surprise! Thanks for the shout out!


  2. Dear Ms. Keith:

    I really didn't know how to contact you, so I am posting here. In 1995, O bought your book, Postcards from Paradise. I read i cover to cover, over and over. I loved the writing, the characters, the poignancy of the stories, and the way you brought Key West and its people to life. Your writing struck me as genuine, and really, what more can we ask for. Thank you.

    I wrote to you and your were kind enough to write back. I have scanned your kind response and include a link to it here.

    In 1996, I had the temerity to knock on your door, and as good fortune would have it, you were in. There's a picture of the both of us on the link. Good luck, thank you for your writing and perspectives. I hope you keep writing for a very long time.