Disclaimer: May 4th is International Respect for Chickens Day. Even though this column kills two birds with one stone, no chickens were hurt in the process.
Being Southern and all, I'm a bit obsessive about rules. Only I like to refer to them, properly, as etiquette. Folks need such things. Otherwise we'd run around hilly-nilly, like chickens (no offense to the poultry) with our heads cut off, bumping into each other wearing white shoes after Labor Day and forgetting to say, "Excuse me, ma'am."
Before I round the curve of logic and forget what I needed to say in the first place, let me get back to business - the business of yard sales, garage sales, moving sales, and the general getting-rid-of-junk-that-has-piled-up-since-my-Aunt-Nita-decided-the-best-way-to-avoid-a-relalpse-into-destitution-after-the-Great-Depression-was-to-horde-Styrofoam-meat-trays-in-her-attic sales - because I wish to save chickens, and the spring ritual of selling off junk to the neighbors.
These Saturday morning forays into fodder, however, require a certain elegance, grace, and precise understanding of the nuances of negotiation; in short, protocol. (Lest you fear I've taken leave of my senses, I will return to the chickens in due time.)
First of all, never try to give a sofa away for free. Some customers' hackles rise in response to grossly offensive charity. Other potential patrons, at hearing of the couch's pricelessness, will sniff it suspiciously and ask for an oral historical account, or recoil from it as if a Great Dane had given birth to eight puppies on it the day before. They all will depart empty handed.
Even if it's worthless, put five bucks on the couch to keep from hauling it off yourself. "Five dollars! What a deal," people will exclaim, all clamoring to make the payoff and load it in their trucks.
Secondly, when someone offers to buy all 27 faded, threadbare, mothball scented, cotton-polyester blend, mismatched pillowcases for $3, sell them. Do not say, "Well, I don't know. At the store they would cost a lot more than that."
It's a yard sale, not Wal-Mart. Inexplicably, the purchaser wants to take a greasy-headed, exhausted looking stranger's used linens home. Garage sale hosts really have no negotiating power. Accept this.
Third, all sales should be confidential; particularly when a nine year-old boy buys two quarter sticks of dynamite, a rusty pocket knife, and a roll of fire crackers. Give the kid a break. The three quarters, seven dimes and two nickels burned a bigger hole in his pocket than some old humidified explosives will.
Fourth, refrain from picking up items from a neighbor - wigs, skirts, black trench coats, partially used containers of fertilizer - that might generate suspicion. Just stand around fondling them with your eyeballs, thinking dubious thoughts about the neighbor.
Fifth, buying a coffee maker for $1 that may or may not work is a worthy risk. Savor the thrill of the anticipation waiting for it to drip. If it doesn't function, don't go marching back over to return it. Put it in your garage.
Finally, when the voodoo lady shows up, wallet bulging, speaking freely of hexes and vexes and folks she has laid to waste one way or another, avoid eye contact. Resist the temptation of exchanging measly, dented muffin pans for dolls of thine enemies, with all the stick pin accessories included. If she wants the free couch after the mark up, give it to her and help her load it.
But, and this is very important in terms of respecting certain breeds of fowl, and it will require moral resoluteness on your part, whatever happens, don't sell any chickens to the voodoo lady.