Sand in the Gears

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Buy High and Sell Low

April 30th, 2004 Posted in Greatest Hits

I’ve not yet had the need to plan my own funeral, but I suspect that when I do it will be much like preparing for a yard sale. There’s the general sense of getting one’s affairs in order, tidying things up a bit — not because I really care whether some slob I don’t know thinks that I am a untidy, but simply because that’s what decent people do — and putting everything in its rightful place.

There’s also a Judgment Day air infusing it all, as my possessions — extensions of me, or at least what gift-buying members of my family think of me — are separated, some for service in their father’s house, others to be cast into the 25-cent bargain box.

I only hope that when I get to the Pearly Gates, assuming some angelic security detail doesn’t stop me on the outer grounds, there is someone like Caleb waiting to argue against my dismissal. He’s been watching the growing pile of sale items with a wary eye, registering periodic protests and — we suspect but cannot prove — developing a plan to smuggle out whatever refugees he can lay hold of before the hour of peril arrives.

“Are you going to sell my [name of toy deleted because relatives may be reading this] in the yard sale?”

“Yes. You never play with it, and it’s made of plastic.”

“But I’m not done with it.”

“You never play with it.”

“But it’s mine.”

“You can use the money we get from it to buy something you like better.”

“But I like it.”

“You. Never. Play. With. It.”

Little hands on hips. “But. I’m. Not. Done. With. It.”

“Go play.”

Exit one child with bottom lip firmly protruded.

There’s the lingering guilt over selling my children’s toys, and there’s also the cold reality that some of those relatives with very poor ideas about gift-giving may actually visit one day, and have memories so sharp that they think to ask, “so where is the bright orange Ronco Combination Paintball Gun and Phonics Primer, the one that fires projectiles at 110 miles per hour and plays Snoop Dogg at 85 decibels when your child pronounces a syllable correctly?”

“Um, it broke. In several pieces. And caught on fire. There was only a puddle of plastic left.”

“Really? It sure looked sturdy enough. Oh well, I was thinking of getting the boys that new George Foreman Veggie and Candy Bar Fryer — the one they can operate themselves. It plays an educational jingle when the oil reaches its boiling point.”

It’s easier just to keep this stuff in a big box, with names of the givers attached, so that it can be dragged out when the relevant visitors make their appearance. Being economics-minded, however, we’d prefer to sell the $89.99 Barney and Friends Sing-Along Cattle Prod and use the 75 cents in proceeds to buy the boys something more edifying, like a few of the Lego blocks our neighbors up the street are selling so they can make room for their Squiggles Holographic Dress Up Like a Girl and Shake Your Booty Dance Machine.

And then there’s just the deep shame of it all. How could we have acquired so much stuff?

If I were a leftist, I would falsely assume that we could lift entire nations out of poverty simply be sending them our excess belongings. This is a false notion, of course, because people are only lifted out of poverty when they are given the tools and opportunity to produce for themselves. If we send them shiploads of noisy plastic trinkets, we’ll only depress their prices and drive nascent indigenous crap-makers out of business.

Being a conservative curmudgeon, however, I look at the rows and boxes of junk that have been extruded from my open garage like some slow-motion home colonic, and extrapolate to the millions of homes across the U.S., and I think: If we weren’t so hell-bent on increasing our GDP by acquiring more and more colorful distractions, we might actually be a country that has the time to read.

Which we aren’t, at least not in my house this week, because we’re busy putting little price stickers on all our junk, and hoping that the old Middle Eastern man down the street doesn’t show up with his fourteen family members to haggle over our ugly candlesticks.

I shouldn’t complain. I’d much rather be reading right now, but I know that when tomorrow morning arrives and I’m standing, a pouch of change strapped to my waist, amidst my platoons of Care Bears and dragoons of plasticware, that I’ll be in my element.

This is because I, like every good American, am an entrepreneur at heart. A French guy would look at my garage right now and think: Sacre coeur, might we be reed of zeez possessions if our country would but adopt a three-day work week? An American looks at it and thinks: Oh, the profits I will reap, thanks to the bad taste of my fellow countrymen.

God bless America. And please let it be sunny tomorrow, at least until we sell the Power Rangers.