Did you hear the one about the alien, the Norwegian and the headless doll?

IMG_1811The night before, i dreamed of zombies.

Actually, it wasn’t a dream because I don’t think I actually slept. I worried I’d be awakened at any moment, rousted by the moaning and the banging.

I envisioned a bloody crowd attacking the garage door, with their hands, their elbows, their stumps — dollars clenched in gangrenous fists.

No, I hadn’t been binge-watching Walking Dead or taken too many painkillers. I had advertised a two-day garage sale.

Tossing in bed, I knew those early-bird shoppers could be ruthless. It had been years since our last sale, in another city, but the bargain hunters there jumped the gun, pushing in through side doors, shrubs, gates.

In fact, the evening before our Springfield sale, a guy sauntered in through my open garage and began to walk right past me. I had planned too be rude if that happened. I just said coldly that the sale started Friday. Unfazed, he pushed further inside, asking for antiques and guns.

IMG_1778 (2)“Tomorrow.” I just kept saying, over and over as I ushered him out and shut the door.

Zombies. Just waiting to chew and rip and tear apart my old, cool stuff. I couldn’t believe this had me so nervous.

So, I took action. Got out of bed. Hung a rope across the front of the driveway with a sign announcing “no early birds.” Put a “no trespassing” sign on the back gate. Figured out where to hide the cash box. Put on my stern face. Told my wife she could not hide all day in the house like she had secretly planned.


She hates garage sales. She knew we had no choice, though. Trying to downsize, we just had too much stuff. Almost a decade in our Springfield house without such a sale.

Still, she kept repeating “I hate this.” She explained she just cannot stand snooty buyers hovering over what had been part of our home, our daily life — to find flaws, just sneer silently or haggle down to pay near nothing. This was OUR STUFF!

It didn’t bother me that much. I was more worried about security, keeping crowds under control, and trying to maintain a poker face for haggling. I was terrible at that.

I buckled under any pressure whatsoever.

A lady struggles to grab that second quarter out of her purse? Forget it, 25 cents is fine. A kid pulls on mom’s sleeve trying to get the cash for the toy car? Just take it, kiddo.

A kindly senior citizen asks: Will you take less for that? Gee, I dunno know (short, awkward silence) OK. Sure, a used diabetic test strip will do. I understand.

This added to the tension between my wife and I. She passionately described her frustration at seeing people get out of a fancy Lexus or Cadillac determined to argue over a 50-cent saucer, or a $1 knickknack. My wife made it clear to me, and I agreed, that we’d rather donate items to charity than let rich people have them for pennies.

So now, in addition to all my other worries, I had to try to remember which cars belonged to which people. This was getting complicated, quickly.

Add to all this, my bizarre belief that I could quickly and magically incorporate theories of retail store design into our driveway setup, if I thought about it long enough. Bouncing around my brain were quickly developing theories of aisle design, foot traffic patterns, rack height, the allure of color, sign distance.

I did find this with some research on my phone: Shoppers like hugs.

A retail website called “Entrepreneur” says:

“People are attracted to round and U-shapes. … To get shoppers to stop at a display, try hanging a circular sign from the ceiling or placing a U-shaped background, such as a low wall with small sides extending forward, behind it. These make people want to stop and enter the space, which resembles a person extending their arms for a hug.”

I recruited Alex, our Norwegian foreign student, to do some more rearranging. He had helped drag a lot of stuff around already, but we promised him a part of the profit, so he was all in. I tried to explain a revised foot-traffic plan still hatching in my noodle, but he looked at me like he usually did during the months he lived with us.

A kind description would be, well, quizzically.

He did create some more space for me at some crowded spots in the driveway. With zombie-like crowds in mind, I wanted to leave enough room for people to get around but not enough room for them to escape the aisles too easily. I read that each turnaround, according to handicapped specs, should be at least 3-by 3-feet.

But, I wanted a little more room, remembering Missouri’s reputation for obesity and how big the lines get at Cheddar’s, most all-you-can-eat buffets in Springfield and Andy’s frozen custard. Some rather large people did show up in our aisles.

IMG_1815I fixated on one lady, for pure retail research purposes, of course, trying to measure with my eyes the breadth of her haunches — almost the width of a sheet of plywood, I guessed — trying to get closer. I was so focused I almost missed the older couple walking up the drive behind her. He caught my attention only after he swooned and one leg buckled, catching himself on an end table.

He didn’t need a hug; he needed an ambulance.

Arms bruised from recent IV’s. Portable oxygen hung over one shoulder. His wife like a church mouse compared to him, but she held on tight as he leaned precariously, stopping every couple seconds to catch his breath.

He had just eaten something like Pop-Tarts, or taken some kind of chalky medicine. His lips still held the color, and crumbs or reddish flakes fell as he tried to ask me something. It sounded like this: “Grrmbbbb, scrizz, reeegh, errrz.”

I looked for a chair to slip under him.

Meanwhile, it was probably just about that time someone saw how distracted I was and stole my “flask tie.” A present from my daughter, it was designed to hold liquor, say for a football game, and allow the wearer to drink surreptitiously. It disappeared and my wife doesn’t recall selling it.

I sat the red-lipped man on one of our kitchen chairs that wasn’t for sale and loaned him my old cane from knee surgery. But he wouldn’t stay seated. I tried to just let him go but he kept leaning so hard on his wife she actually started letting out little crying sounds like a mouse caught in a glue trap.

They eventually bought a rug, reduced of course, and only after I agreed to help stuff it into their car — a big fancy one, by the way. I also gave him the cane for free. I just wanted him out of there without having to pull my “Hillbilly Recliners” out of the way of the EMS vans.

Soon afterward, my only customer was a random Terrier who loped by to leisurely chew on a little toy stuffed shark that was supposed to be bought by some friendly dog owner. The lull in the action gave Alex and I a chance to redesign the layout, drag some yucca plants to create a corridor ending right smack at a giant trophy lamp I had built years for my oldest son out of his old awards and athletic trophies. It stood almost 6 feet tall, dominated by a spelling bee trophy of enormous clout. He lives in a shipping container so I should have known he would never have room to actually take it to his own home.

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It was one of my few special items I really thought would excite sale-goers. Others included two neon-green alien Halloween costumes and those aforementioned “Hillbilly Recliners.”

More on them, later.

The lull didn’t last long. The Amish (or were they Mennonites?) had arrived.

They were the closest my zombie dream came to being realized. Not that they were dirty or dazed-looking or anything nefarious. There were just a lot of them.

They spoke in what sounded like German. They weren’t there for trifles. One lady asked to buy my blue, plastic garbage can used for recycling. That, even though it was half-filled with cardboard waste had a big crack in the bottom.

IMG_1802Fascinated with a stepper exercise machine, some of them played on it, giggling. At one point, I snickered at one of their big-bellied women trying the thing out — she could use it, I thought — but then I realized her belly was actually an infant swaddled tightly to her body as she bounced up and down, giggling, on the stepper. I hoped the kid was too young to have eaten real food yet.

They never plugged the exercise machine; I wondered if that was against some sort of ban on the use of electrical power, but i was too embarrassed to ask. They ended up buying an old sewing machine and some pretty glass beads in a wooden case.

I almost didn’t get to complete that sale because — I’m convinced now in retrospect — I was being targeted by scam artist.

Here’s how the old guy worked it: Catch the homeowner running the sale while busy, sidle up close, pretend you cannot hear, keep saying the same price over and over, point to your bad ears repeatedly and don’t back down from that really low price. Worked on me.

Later, i think I caught him giggling and whispering to his cohort as they exited the sale. His big score? A foot-long piece of heavy chain for 50 cents, rather than $1.

More than a couple people seemed rude. But, they were far in the minority.

Garage sales are a good thing for a neighborhood.

Usually all buttoned up behind our high fences and automatic garage doors, we are forced by these sales because they force us to toss — or is it vomit? — our personalities into our driveways. If some of your close neighbors stop by, you get to know them a little better. They stay and chat. Maybe some bartering gets going, or some beer gets flowing.


My wife and I spent hours getting ready for our sale, but we still ran out of time. I just dumped a box of old Halloween costumes on a plastic tarp, hanging some from a clothesline. My wife left me some hastily filled boxes of clothes and drapes and sheets and blankets. I did my best to spread them around in some fashion to be viewed.

Once the Halloween box had been dumped, I remembered what was in it and blanched. Headless dolls spilled out, some of which had burned bodies. A couple doll heads rolled out too. It’s a bit of a long story but suffice it to say I had gone to a costume party once simply as “Hell” and another time as a head hunter.

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IMG_1784 (2)Ozarkers surprised me, though.

Me joking to prospective buyer: “You look like you could use some decapitated Barbie Dolls?”

Buyer: “Wow, how did you know? Those will go great with my collection at home of Barbie Doll heads.”

I warned another guy who showed up with his young son that the tarp had some gory Halloween stuff. He brushed me off. He said his kid breaks the heads off his sister’s dolls all the time. The kid was eyeing up an old rusty hacksaw for $1.50.

I realized as the two days wore on that I made more than a couple mistakes in this garage sale endeavor. First off, anticipating the zombie early birders proved to be pure paranoia. Only a couple professionals showed early and they stayed behind my rope and sign.

I also didn’t mark enough prices, and didn’t realize how many my wife had posted. (It’s tough to see the price when you repeatedly leave your glasses over by the radio or the cash box.)

The biggest mistake?

I put up a poster of Donald Trump as a warning to not go in the house, and another boasting of the sale’s deals.IMG_1824 (2)

I thought it was clear i was using his face as a joke, mocking the goofy billionaire, but some folks saw the sign as a show of Trump support.

That led to a first-tense but then illuminating conversation with a middle-aged lady who was glad to hear I wasn’t voting for The Donald. In fact, the poster was from a drawing I had made of his face to use as an insulting Trump Scarecrow I built in our garden.

What was our best garage sale maneuver?

Definitely the sign that said “Hillbilly Recliners.” But the downside was that folks seemed more interested in talking about them than buying them. The chairs had enough of a story behind them to discuss, for sure, but that didn’t really helped sales and telling the story took time.

IMG_1799 (2)recline (2)They had been in our yard for months.

One, I had brought all the way from Pennsylvania, my only real chair in coming to the Ozarks. It had been my dad’s recliner, worn and torn but serviceable and comfy.

I stripped it, thinking I’d reupholster it, but then found an almost identical one along the sidewalk, discarded. Both became long-running projects, stripped to wood, painted, rubber coated wheels added from old golf carts, throw rugs stapled over the springs, and, with cushions, they worked well — at least in my opinion — as sturdy lawn recliners, weatherproof too.

Recycled recliners? Re-recliners? Maybe I had a business idea.

However, mid-project, I made the mistake of spraying insulating foam on the wooden arms to look like cushions, but the foam was very hard and uncomfortable when it dried. I was able to cover that up with more throw rugs, though, again adding to the improvised allure — at least in my opinion.

Anyway, come sale days, there sat the “Hillbilly Recliners,” getting some sneers and at least a couple thumbs up.

To add to the shock value, I put my two alien costumes — also made from lots of spray foam. I guess that was my fetish that year — on the recliners. It was as if the aliens with giant foam heads and small green baby doll bodies (one reason doll heads were stored in the Halloween box) had descended to earth to take over a holler near you.

The trophy lamp stood tall nearby, and at least one lady seemed to appreciate all these novelty items, even if she didn’t realize I had lured her into my sophisticated retail corridor that led the eye from one odd sale item to the next, to the next.

She bought the aliens (sadly, I had to go down to $1 each) but I couldn’t convince herself to take the lamp.

She didn’t have room for the recliners, and no one seemed to like them enough to make room in a car or truck to take them home. I worried they would have to be relegated to the “free” area near the curb. Thank god for the guy from Table Rock Lake with the pickup and an eye for, well, industry and inventiveness.

The chairs will live on, the buyer said, on the shores of the lake, where adults will recline to watch kids bounce on a giant inner tube, and my dad will smile down from his special recliner in the sky.


Suffice it to say, however, with the profits from both recliners and the aliens, I could not afford even one can of new insulating spray foam.

Ahh well.

At least my wife was still talking to me by the end of the two days.

It was touch-and-go for a while.

Especially after she found the silver platter.

I had noticed it inside the house, on a counter in the house with other stuff she simply forgot to put out. Or, so I thought.

She found it later on a “for sale” table without a price. “Seriously?” she asked, loudly. “Seriously?”

I figured the only visitor in the garage at the time, a balding man perusing stuff in the garage, had done something rude or crazy to trigger this outburst from wife. But, she was looking at me. He tried to pretend he hadn’t just wandered into a domestic dispute.

“Seriously?” was all she kept saying as she rushed me to show me the platter. It was etched with something but, as usual, my glasses were nowhere near my body.

Me: “What? Marked too cheap? Just put a different sign on it?”

She: “Look at it!”

I realized Trump had stolen my glasses and left them over by the door to the house.

The platter, in fancy script, was inscribed with these words: “Lynn and Dave 25 Years.”

Oh boy.

Now, the guy in the garage was a full-fledged witness, as Lynn railed about my insensitivity, my failure to heed her pre-sale warnings and my all-round dumbness.

Our visitor was torn, I could tell, between loyalty to his gender — I know he wanted to speak up in my defense — and the logic of my wife’s argument. He simply said: “Have a nice day” and slipped away.

I apologized profusely to Lynn. I tried lamely to argue she hadn’t strictly adhered to our plan to put specific things that definitely were not for sale in certain places inside the house. She had me, though, so I decided to just take my lumps.

I got lucky, though. She got paged in to work.

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This was late on the second day, and, even though Alex had done all the lifting, my ailing body hurt so bad I could only sit outside with a coffee, hoping I would not have to get up again.

I should have had a sign saying something like: “Buy something or i’ll shoot your dog.”

But, other than pain, I had nothing to really complain about. We had done better than I thought.

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I told Alex he was relieved from duty, unless he wanted to wear a sign that said: “For sale. Slightly used Norwegian student.”

IMG_1820He scurried off on my bike.

Though we gave away a lot of stuff at the end of the sale, we made some money. I discreetly headed over the hiding place for the cash box to count up the profits but stopped when I heard a small motorcycle pull up. It parked by the only Yucca tree in the drive that hadn’t sold.

The young slender driver sauntered up. We were alone. He didn’t take off his helmet, which covered his entire face. His clothes were paint spattered. Or, was that blood?

I thought of the evil character Bane from one of the Batman movies.

I hadn’t anticipated this.

It was late afternoon, near the time I had advertised as closing time for the sale. Last day of a two-day sale, no  less. The motorcyclist had probably been casing the house, waiting for this moment.

I tried to see if he had a gun.

I also looked for my steel 3/4-inch pipe I had put out with the stuff for sale from the shed. But, I remembered the pipe sold along with the wax toilet ring and that jar full of old corks.

I braced myself.

“Did you do OK?” he asked, referring to the sale’s profits. Now I was sure he was after the cash.

I barely grunted, packing up stuff, trying to remember where I left my cell phone.

He fiddled with some Christmas decorations and said he had been by the house before. He liked the hillbilly recliners.

I ignored him, shouting inside to pretend like my wife was home, telling her I’d be closing up soon. I found a pair of pliers as a potential weapon. Yeah right. What was I gonna do? Pinch his nose while he knocked my block off?

I pretended to talk more with my wife, mentioning our son’s wrestling trophies, how he was so strong. By the time I looked back to see where the robber was planning to launch his attack, he was back on his bike — then gone.

Like I said, zombies on the brain.

No one ended up seeking to bite me, tear my flesh, or feast on my entrails. No robbery either. It was all my overactive imagination.

Of course, though, I wasn’t home free.

There was still the matter of the 25th anniversary platter.

Just hoping we don’t have to get through another of these sales until we hit our 50th.



Author: David Iseman

Longtime newsguy. Retired. Tinkering with words. Lemme know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Did you hear the one about the alien, the Norwegian and the headless doll?”

  1. Ok I didn’t expect to take time to read this when I need to be working, but I got hooked. So funny that I had to read the whole thing. I dare not get started on the next story or I won’t get a thing done today!

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