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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Porch Sales

Air Date: Week of

What comes around, goes around on the porches of Ottowa, Canada. There's a tradition in recycling in some parts of the continent where the garage sale has become a community ritual in hundreds of front yards, attracting thousands of visitors. An autumnal mix of commerce and community and recycling is the scene these weekends in the city of Ottawa, Canada. Living On Earth contributor Bob Carty sent us this sound portrait.


KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
It's that time of year. The raking of leaves, a walk in the woods. The cleaning of storm windows and gutters. There's another rite of fall in many places: the garage sale, a weekend quest for a new set of Legos for Johnny. A chance to pawn off those scissor sharpeners from Aunt Mabel. In some parts of the continent the garage sale has become a community ritual, involving hundreds of front yards, attracting thousands of visitors. An autumnal mix of commerce and community. And recycling. That's the scene these weekends in the city of Ottawa, Canada. Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty sent us this sound portrait.

(Music up and under: Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons")

WOMAN: Porch sales are really about saying goodbye to summer with your neighbors.

(Vivaldi continues up and under)

WOMAN (backdropped by crickets): Because you don't see people from October first till till May, it's true! And it's kind of, you know, it's a great summer, goodbye, have a great fall, call if you need anything.

(Vivaldi continues; fade to a hose shooting water)

WOMAN: Washing, washing, wash. This is a plastic easel that we got for our little girl so that she could draw outside. I don't think she ever, ever used it, so after 5 years we've decided that maybe we can finally part with it tomorrow for the porch sale.

(A dog barks. Hosing down continues)

WOMAN: Certain certain partners do manage to hide things that they don't want sold. Three hundred years worth of National Geographics magazines (laughs), now you think that would be hard to hide, wouldn't you? But no, no, he could be down there hiding all the things he doesn't want to sell, so I won't haul them out when he's gone to sleep and put them out front with price tags on them.

(Barking dog)

MAN: No oops! (Crashing sounds) They used to have a blanket over them so nobody could see, but yeah, those are Geographics that have been there for for quite a while. They are going out. (Clanking sounds) This basement is me. And I'm trying to make me a better person (laughs). There's the present that I'll never use. That's a wonderful footstool that turns into a a tool kit, and I love it. But I have absolutely no use for it. (Voices in the background) This goes out, unfortunately.

WOMAN: You are not getting rid of this, are you? (Laughs) My mother gave this to you!

MAN: Well, I'm sorry!

WOMAN: It's a present, it hasn't even been it still hasn't been --

(Music up and under: "Taking it to the Streets." Fade to crinkling sounds and voices in the background)

WOMAN: You have to have a sharp eye. You have to be fast. You can't waste time, but you also have to be careful.

MAN: And we've got to sell this amazing game. See, it's amazing. (Laughs) I have no idea!

WOMAN: You put your jewelry in it and you count it every day (laughs).

MAN: One little diamond, two little diamonds!

WOMAN: That's it! (Laughs)

My favorite pastime on a Saturday morning is going out to garage sales. I go hunting and gathering. It's my way of beating the system, if you will. Fighting the dictatorship of consumerism.

How much for the brush set?

GIRL: Oh that's 2 or 3 dollars.

MAN: Oh Mattel!

CHILD: Okay, one dollar.

MAN: How about 75 cents?

CHILD: No, one dollar. One dollar.

MAN: One dollar?

CHILD: One dollar, that's not a lot.

GARETH, shouting: These are our friends! These are our friends.

MAN: Exactly, Gareth. What happened to your sister? She's becoming a
merchandiser extraordinaire.

WOMAN: It amazes me what people think their garbage is worth. I sell my garbage very cheaply, 25 cents, a dime, a nickel. In fact, I would almost say I feel so passionately that I could be opposed to porch sales unless they're conducted properly (laughs).

(Several voices and laughter)

CHILD: No, not just one dollar --

MAN: That's the whole point.

WOMAN: Our junk is wonderful. Everybody wants it, can't you see? The hordes are clamoring (laughs).

MAN (shouting): How much for the junk? How much for your junk?

WOMAN: The hordes are clamoring for our junk. I have flowers on my porch. People are trying to buy my flowers.

MAN: How much for the flowers?

WOMAN: Not for sale.

MAN: Well, I've been looking for a floor lamp, and I found one around the corner this morning. Two dollars, I bought it for 2 dollars. Didn't even bargain.

WOMAN: I bought a lamp that I don't need and I don't really want, but it's only a dollar so I couldn't walk away. He's going to kill me. Where is he?

WOMAN 2: People know my place is a good place to buy good clothes, and every year the same woman comes by and just goes on and on about how excited she is to see the clothes and buy something every year. And then I see her out and about in the neighborhood with my clothes on all the time, and it's a very strange experience seeing your old clothes walking around the neighborhood. And it also, you know, makes you have a few regrets. Like oh my gosh, that shirt, it really looks great on her and I probably shouldn't have sold that. But it's okay.

WOMAN 3: I have a friend who has nothing for a garage sale because she lives, her children are gone and she has a very Spartan life, so she buys things. She had 2 boxes of things that she picked up, and stores them just so when this came up today, she could get out on her front porch with the neighbors and sell things that she bought. They're not even her own things, you know?

(Music up and under: disco)

WOMAN 4: My best buy was an Easy Glider. You know, you do 15 or 20 minutes of aerobic exercise on them. We paid $10 dollars for it and used it. I used it up. So you should have seen the thigh muscles there for a while.

(Disco music continues up and under)

WOMAN 5: Bad mistake, roller blades, $70, and I was so excited. Then I went and spent another $50 on all the pads and everything like that and then skated on them once, because they hurt my ankles.

(Music continues)

WOMAN 6: That gray Greek vase over there in someone's driveway, it looks very attractive. The minute it entered the front door it took on a whole different impression (laughs).

MAN: (Laughs) I forget what the object was, when I got back home the lady said, "Well I just sold that, where did you get that?" And I said, "Down the street." She said, "Well, I just sold it," and I said, "Oh, Lordy." (Laughs)

GIRL: At least for 25 cents.

MAN: I can't let it go for less than a dollar, I'm sorry. Those are really good sunglasses. Okay, 50 cents. Okay, you've got me down to 35 cents, you're such a crazy bargainer! Thirty-five cents. Thirty five.

GIRL: Twenty-five.

MAN: Okay, 25.

MAN 2: Oh, man!

GIRL: Twenty-five cents, that's great. (Laughter in the background)

MAN: You want to know the real [sounds like "five"] of why we're selling everything today? Got evicted last night --

GIRL (shouting): No money!

MAN: Manically running through the house trying to find all this stuff and trying to figure out a way to profit from our eviction, turn the tables.

(Music up and under: Janis Joplin: "You're out on the streets lookin' good, and feeling deep down in your heart, I guess you know that it ain't

WOMAN: I sold a Cuisinart today, which is a parable for my marriage. I got it when I got married. Actually I got it in order to get married. My marriage has just busted up after 23 years, I just sold the Cuisinart for $10 dollars. That's the saddest thing that ever happened to me at a garage sale.

(Joplin continues: "Come on, come on, come on, come on, yeah take it! Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Break it! Break another little piece of my heart, na na, yeah...")

(Ambient voices and barking dog)

MAN: We're going to have to start marking down, though. But that's all right.

CHILD: Daddy! Daddy!

MAN: I mean the kids are having fun, I think we're getting rid of some stuff. At least I got it out of the basement and it's not going back.

WOMAN: In the end, the tool kit, I relented and he in fact sold the gift from my mother. In exchange, Ross promised me dinner.

WOMAN 2: I would say this is a very important social event. It's nothing to do with money. People are laughing and making deals. Neighbors are talking, having coffee. It's a wonderful feeling, almost like a dance...

(Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" up and under)

WOMAN: When I go to big department stores it's just, you shut yourself off and become very impersonal. And everyone is trained with that forced behavior to say have a nice day, and they smile and if you follow the end of the smile it's gone. It's part of what you're paying for. Here they don't say have a good day or have a nice day. They say have a cookie. Or sit down on the porch and take a load off. And they smile and they mean it and they keep smiling, you know?

(Vivaldi continues, up and under)

KNOY: The porch sale was produced by Bob Carty with the gracious help of his neighbors in old Ottawa South.



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