Move to an affluent neighborhood — one a few cuts above your previous neighborhood, anyway — and garage sales become the focus of keen interest. You may have a functioning brain, but you still have a greedy, greedy id, and the id is not only sorely tempted, it’s stupid: Look, a garage sale at a zillion-dollar house! Surely they’re selling a bunch of old diamonds and fur coats they have heaped up in the closets, and at great savings!
I’ve learned this lesson before, but I offer it to you if you haven’t:
1) Affluent people are at least as likely as poorer ones to have atrocious taste (see: Donald Trump).
2) Affluent people are more likely to be really cheap. (It’s how they got affluent.)
3) Their junk looks like anyone else’s junk.
The tag and estate sales have been the biggest disappointment in terms of bargains, but are almost always interesting for the entree you get to a house in transition — I was in one last week that appeared to have been decorated by a preppie on acid. Everything was pink and green, but bright kelly green and vivid fuschia pink. All top-of-the-line fabrics, but, well, if I’m going to drop $2,000 on a used couch, it ain’t gonna be kelly green moire silk. With a ruffle.
Garage sales have been better, but hit-or-miss. This week the city of GP held its World’s Greatest Garage Sale inside a parking garage downtown, surely a stroke of genius — we went through the thing exactly the way you look for a parking place, spiraling up and then down. The bad news: It didn’t live up to its name — it was more flea market than garage sale, and yes, there’s a difference — but there were a few moments. Like: Earlier this year we came thisclose to buying an oversize Mission-style bookcase at a consignment store in Royal Oak. They were having a “half-off sale” that knocked the price from $1,800 to $900. There were two to choose from in different finishes, they weren’t antique, but one was big enough to fill up a big empty wall in our living room and at least partially solve our book-storage problem. Finally, sometime in March, when John and Sammy were visiting, Alan and Sam drove out there to dicker and, with luck, pull the trigger on one of them, the one with the darker finish. As they arrived, some guy was closing a deal to buy it — for $800. Curses! Alan considered getting the other one, but by then it felt like a non-antique, honey-finished oak consolation prize, so he passed.
Well, there it was at the World’s Greatest Garage sale, at the new, Grosse Pointe price — $1,100. Oh, as if.
But we did get a fashionably rusted Mexican iron windowbox for our kitchen, and on the way back to the car, wandered past a homeowner who was, in garage-sale terms, the holy grail — a guy with too much higher-quality crap on his hands who wanted to get rid of all of it.
Which is how, to take the long way around, I bought a brand-new Krups ice-cream maker for $10. (Gotta love affluent suburbanites; when I asked, “why are you selling it?,” he replied, “We have two.”)
We made French vanilla the first night. Nothing like making your own ice cream to appreciate just how much heavy cream and sugar you’re getting in every spoonful. But oh, how far a spoonful goes. I can’t wait until berry season. I told Kate, “We’re going to experiment with ice cream all summer long.” She said, “Yay!” How often do you get to make a kid say yay at the idea of spending time in the kitchen with her mother? Not often. I’d say the money was well-spent.