It's Miller Time
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
I settled into the driver’s seat of my Dodge Caravan and sighed. It had been three, maybe four months since I had been conscious before six am. I wasn’t grumpy, excited, or anxious. Emotions weren’t a factor yet. Nothing that complex had begun to stir. My status was quantitative. Scientific. I was dehydrated. I hadn’t finished digesting last night’s meal. And, I was tired. There was a better than average chance that at least one of my children had woken me in the night by way of some light slapping to the face – and I had since forgotten about it. I wasn’t ready for coffee, which was saying a lot. I have a caffeine problem (which might explain the dehydration). Those with similar self-care routines to me, are aware of a special state of exhaustion. A state in which even coffee repulses the senses. Such was my condition this morning.
I pushed a stuffed A&W bag-turned-garbage-can aside, searching for a mask. Yes, I am the kind of person comfortable with re-using a facemask. A facemask discarded on the floor of a van that has been desecrated by a family who has proven patently incapable of keeping ANYTHING clean for more than a hiccup. I refused to adjust my body to ease my search. I risked straining each of the forgotten muscles in my core, wrapping my arm awkwardly around my seat. I fumbled blindly for a bit, before surrendering and turning for a slightly better vantage. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed four large bags and remembered that we recently had our winter tires removed. The tires were piled atop two bags of gardening mulch – one of which was opened and leaking earthy bits. The van smelled like someone had spilled warm apple juice on a garden. Not a flowery garden. A mulchy garden. Instead of moving the tires (or the mulch), I opted to continue pretending neither existed. I swiveled forwards in my seat and noticed that a mask was wedged in the passenger cup holder. Brilliant.
My hopes were not especially high that I’d make any money today. The threat of a second wave of COVID-19 likely meant that hosting a yard sale was near the bottom of most people’s to-do lists. I had never been yard-saling during a global pandemic, but, like the morally ambiguous uncle in everyone’s family is quick to remind, “I’ll try anything once”. 
The CBC was playing an interview about migrant workers struggling with COVID outbreaks. Stories of their cramped living conditions (upwards of ten to twenty men living within the same domicile), made me feel guilty for my self-imposed derelict state. Billie Eilish’s “When the Party's Over” played next, insisting I sink further. Just then, I passed a cat laying prostrate on the shoulder of the road (he was not sleeping). Someone was cranking the drear-knob to ten. It was early for me to break out my good luck charm, but between the news, Billie, and the cat who had spent his ninth life, I was in desperate need of a smile.
Last summer, my mother and I spent every Saturday searching Ontario (and, eventually Prince Edward Island) for antique glory.  Our good luck charm was Seal’s 1994 self-titled album – the one with “Kiss from a Rose” on it.  We bought it at a yard sale with the express purpose of changing our fortunes. We listened to the album – on repeat – without skipping songs – for thirteen Saturdays in a row. He never once let us down. We always made money. Better still, we always found a story. I planned on retiring Seal to the Good Luck Hall of Fame (along side former inductees such as Coca-Cola and Reese Peanut Butter Cups for breakfast), but before I did, I needed to find a replacement.
The first sale I found was governed by a couple who placed a premium on dining place mats. There had to be eleven different sets for sale. I thought about buying a stack decorated with half-dressed women and the word Tequila, if only to see Bronwyn’s reaction when I set them out for the children’s supper. Other items of note included assorted bundles of kindling, three unpainted birdhouses, and a community watering dish. Which, would have been extremely irresponsible, save for a critical label at the base that read “FOR DOGS.” An important designation for anyone who otherwise might have considered dropping to all fours to quench their thirst. I turned to leave and bumped into a black lab, who instantly mistook my kneecap for the watering dish. He snuck a few good laps in before his master scolded him for failing to observe social distancing protocol.
 Noted exceptions include triathlons. Biathons. Marathons. Any thons, really.
 I wrote a book about it. Hopefully you’ll read it one day.
 There was a time where I believed this to be his best song. After my ninety-sixth consecutive listen, you could convince me that the crown should be shared with “Don’t Cry.” If you Stan for “Prayer for the Dying,” I can get with that, too.
Staring mindlessly down the road, a familiar ping startled me. I needed gas. Soon. I don’t know how many times the average person runs out of gas in a lifetime. I’ve done everything I can to drive that number up. It’s an old problem, too. I’ve been running out of gas since high school. A close friend once used precious characters in his yearbook quote to state (with strange reverence, I might add): LET THE GAS LIGHT SHINE. I can’t remember if I said that to him once, or if it was more of a shared philosophical approach; our mantra whilst navigating the lonely backroads of the Kawarthas. Either way, it was a silly problem to have – at sixteen. If you’re calling your father at 6:25 am in the dead of winter because you’re stranded on a road narrowed with hulking banks of snow – and you’re thirty-six. Like I did. This past year. You’re probably beyond redemption.
The first gas station I pulled into had four signs in the window. Three of them indicated that their bathrooms were not accessible due to COVID restrictions. The fourth insisted I stay six feet from any customers. I guess information, like the operating hours of the gas station, had become inconsequential. I considered waiting around. It was close enough to seven – a reasonable time for any gas station to open. Someone on a motorcycle pulled up near the entrance. I wondered if he might be arriving for his shift, but the handful of minutes he spent puzzling over the four signs suggested he was just another confused customer.
I managed to find fuel and a second yard sale shortly after. A middle-aged man in a ripped Blue Jays t-shirt was squatting by a table near the front of his driveway. He was tying a bit of string – the finishing touches on cordoned lanes for his shoppers. I bid him good morning and he craned his neck to meet my obscured smile. His eyes bulged comedically and he scurried back to the safety of his garage. I paused awkwardly and wondered if my floor mask had some sort of ghastly stain. I thought to remove it and check, but I was reminded that I shouldn’t touch my face.
The sale was mostly forgettable, save for a box of collectible miniature porcelain shoes (collectible might be bit generous here). There was a table’s worth of Christmas decorations, which is quite standard, however, somehow a pair of large pandas had managed to smuggle themselves into the cast of a nativity scene. I don’t recall any bamboo padding in the manger, but, it has been a while since I’ve been to Sunday service. Alone on one table was a cd: Celine Dion’s The Colour of My Love. I paused to consider it. Celine’s a legend and “The Power of Love” is iconic, but I just don’t think I’m ready to commit to a summer’s worth of (potentially) good fortune with her. Before I left, I noticed a small blanket with a hatchet, a (bone?) saw, and another suspicious instrument that I couldn’t identify, being sold as a group lot for a single dollar. Interesting. I wondered if these tools were used for sinister purposes. Of course, I had no proof of this. It just felt odd. Perhaps they were trying to sell me evidence. I blame these kinds of thoughts on writers like James Wan and Leigh Whannell.
 Teen burgers can be messy affairs.
Seal and I were on the cusp of another chorus when I noticed a small sign for a garage sale. I tapped the brakes before my brain could access a memory from last year’s adventures. This was false advertising. There was no garage sale. Instead, someone had converted their garage into a store (permanently), and was tricking people into thinking their wares had recently been dragged down their driveway. This kind of deception should be punishable by a knee to the groinal area.
Here is a hierarchy of garage sales, ordered from most desirable to least.
1) First time yard sales. The older the person, the better.
2) Moving sales. You’d think these might be number one, but moving is stressful. I don’t need that kind of anxiety with my collectible porcelain shoes.
3) Occasional yard sale. Same age rules apply.
4) Annual yard sales.
5) Yard sale stores.
6) Church sales 
7) Yard sale stores advertised as regular yard sales. The lowest of the low. Kick rocks.
 Unless you like Maeve Binchy novels, lovely old ladies in sweaters featuring various domesticated animals, and date squares. Then church sales are your Valhalla.
I found these beauties and was immediately transported to 1997 (even though this pair is much older).
I don’t know how it happened, but for reasons that will one day befuddle fashion historians, wearing snowboard goggles on your head was once (for the most temporary of moments) considered to be socially acceptable – even cool. The goggles were never worn over your eyes. Instead, they were often tilted off to one side – like an intentionally crooked hat. I’d like to pretend that I was above it. That I knew better. But, I didn’t. I simply lacked the requisite social clout necessary to even consider attempting it. Plus, my father wouldn’t have allowed it. Not ever. The trend faded quickly, (from my school, anyway). Maybe enough of my classmates saw the teen classic Can’t Hardly Wait and realized they looked like some hillbilly approximation of Seth Green’s character. That must’ve stung.
I found this painting at a nearby table.
As I searched for a price, I noticed that it was signed and that it came from a gallery in Toronto:
I couldn’t read the signature. I thought for a second I could see the word HYPE, and it was instantly all I could see. I had no idea if the gallery had a strong reputation (or any reputation). But, I remembered my father telling me these were generally good indicators of value. I also knew that the quality of the painting and the subject matter counted, too. Here, I felt less certain of my assessment abilities. Dogs are cool (I think), but I couldn’t decide on the painting’s quality. I noticed Balto had a small blob of white paint over his left eye. It looked like a mistake. Perhaps he had cataracts. I asked a woman how much she wanted for the painting and she directed me to her brother, a man with short graying hair and a seemingly permanent smile. I hoped for a price south of thirty. He studied the painting briefly before settling on three dollars. Sold.
I almost bought his Marine Land shot glass. What a bizarre choice to commemorate what I presume was a family vacation. Nothing like getting absolutely zapped and reminiscing about the time you saw Willy in a swimming pool. 
 You’re gonna need that shot glass frequently if you dare to watch Blackfish. Sad/10.
I spent the next hour driving in circles and listening to the latest Run The Jewels record. As incredible as it might be, there was no way it was going to become my new good luck charm – I don’t think I could handle that kind of aggression every Saturday – but, I appreciated the ability to listen to music with cursing in a guilt-free environment. My kids are sponges now. The question-less days – the ones where the lyrics of NWA and the Wu-Tang Clan would float by unnoticed – are long gone. A Tribe Called Quest has officially been usurped by Ana and Elsa. I only listen to hip hop when I’m alone now. I feel like I’m in elementary school again, stealing away to my room to listen to Parental Advisory stickered music in secret.
The hosts of my final yard sale of the day had devised a clever choke point. Two vehicles were parked perpendicular at the foot of their driveway, with a gap the size of 1.5 humans left for entry. A woman holding a large bottle of hand sanitizer doubled as chief health officer and bouncer. I watched as a tiny elderly woman inched about, thoughtfully eyeing a table’s worth of mismatched Tupperware. I dodged past her with relative ease, stopping to inspect a couple of beer signs. They weren’t antiques (at least I didn’t think they were), but they still might be worth something.
Determining the monetary value of a sign requires a great deal of experience. The rules for buying signs are too flexible to be fail-proof. According to my father, valuable signs can be porcelain, tin, wooden, or cardboard. One type isn’t always necessarily worth more than the other, although porcelain tends to be valued highest. Condition is important but damage isn’t an automatic death sentence. Unlike teacups or hockey cards, which require immaculate condition to retain their worth, a sign can have some rust or fading and still hold significant value. In this market, age is not a defining indicator for worth. Collectors prefer rarity to age. Rarity can be due to some type of production error, personalization (perhaps a name of a store or arena), the material (less cardboard signs will survive in excellent condition than tin), and the age (being older does influence rarity in the sense that things tend to get lost to time). Collectors also prefer items with unique graphics and multiple colours.
And so, I knelt by the sign, wondering if it might be rare, have some kind of “production error”, or if it had unique graphics. I had no idea.
All I knew was that it was tin and it was in good condition. For what it’s worth, I also enjoy Miller.
“How much do you need for your sign?” I asked. This is an interesting way to frame a pricing request. I’d heard it said to and by my father a thousand times. It’s a semi-polite way of asking what is the absolute lowest price a seller might accept.
“How bout forty?” he asked.
I stood silently. My body language likely betrayed my immediate disinterest, as the man availed me of the fact that he bought it for a hundred dollars (though he conceded he might have over-paid).
Unofficial rule to profitable yard-saling: You can’t afford to care what people paid for anything.
I nodded, still silent. “You’re gonna make me cry today,” he joked, “if you’ve got a shop, you could buy this from me for twenty dollars and sell it for fifty – no problem.”
The price had been halved without any negotiating. Unless you count my silence. Which was more anxiety and indecision, than conscious strategy. Still, I didn’t want to pay twenty dollars for it. I stood there a bit longer. The gentleman must have thought I was contemplating his revised offer. I was trying to find the words for what I said next.
“I don’t want to make you cry, but I only want to pay you ten dollars for your sign.”
The man sighed. It was a smiling sigh – this sale was not something he was relying on for sustenance. “I’ll sell it to you, only because I like you. I told you, you were gonna make me cry today!”
“I’m sorry. We have enough people in our life to cry over,” I said, trying to be casual, but not really knowing what I meant.
“LIKE ME!” cried a voice from between two vehicles. The bouncer, presumably the man’s wife, was grinning ear to ear.
 Nothing. That’s worth precisely nothing.
With the painting and the sign, I calculated I had earned a bit of brunch. Although my brain was finally operating near full capacity, I had neglected to consider how COVID would affect my pancaking options. As it turns out, deeply. And so, I found myself in a familiar place, experimenting with something that I hadn’t ordered (not from here, anyway), in at least twenty years.
They were ok. The syrup was a bit… alarming. I’m not a real maple syrup guy. The fake stuff – the kind pumped full of synthesized sugars, with no redeeming nutritional value is usually my preferred dance partner. But, the fine scientists of McDonalds had managed to engineer a super-saccharine version of syrup. My heartrate doubled. You could actually feel it boring tiny cavities with each bite. I figured if I tried this again in twenty more years, there’s a fifty-fifty chance it would kill me.
A note for reader’s on the structure of this blog
My plan is to post twice a week. The first entry will look something like what you just read. The second, will feature my father’s analysis (and, I'm guessing, ample mocking) of my purchases. This will give us the chance to learn together – at the cost of your time and my money/mental and emotional well-being. I encourage you to visit my Instagram page and predict how much you think each item will be worth (@profitsbeforepancakes). Your guess is quite literally as good as mine.