Wednesday, March 25, 2009


About two years ago I was coming home from an errand in town and because of traffic, I took a different route. It climbed out of the part of town drained by one creek, up and over a ridge then down into another narrow little valley whose once chuckling creek now flowed out of sight in a concrete tunnel. It's a very pretty little valley, no more than a mile in length, but quiet and cold in the winter, the temperature often dropping below freezing, covering everything with frost.

The seldom traveled road is bordered with hedges which conceal some of the most expensive homes in Vista. Beyond the hedges are paddocks and groves, often several acres in extent. Their smudge pots once made a significant contribution to Vista's rural atmosphere until they were nudged aside by lavishly large homes, horses and people to ride them.

Incredibly, someone was having a garage sale. Portable tables and racks of clothing were arrayed facing the road; a road on which through-traffic was rare and when it did come, was liable to be a local resident like myself, driving an old VW bus. Or an expensive SUV.

I like to stop at garage sales, hoping to find books or tools. I parked and started browsing. A tall, thin woman, perhaps forty years old, left two other women and came tripping over the lawn to ask, "Can I help you find anything?"

She had been looking at the old bus and its equally decrepit driver, but discretely, her head slightly down. Her neck and jaw-line was straight off a bust of Nefertiti. She re-positioned a stack of china teacups and saucers. It looked like Norataki. The stuff was made up in stacks of four, tied with a thin ribbon of pale blue. There was a little white price-tag affixed to the ribbon: $100. There were four stacks, each of four cups and saucers. "It's a shame having to break them up," I said. She gave me a startled look as if surprised I could speak. Or perhaps she misinterpreted my meaning. She waved a hand down the table at other pieces of china.

"I think these were spares," she said in the voice of Paula Prentice. "They were always getting chipped... " She sounded uncertain, turned and walked away, leaving me unattended before a table bearing teacups and silver spoons, one of which was probably in her mouth when she was born.

She came back, now walking with her head up, an easy, graceful walk. Rather than simply raising her voice she'd walked over to the other women, posed the question, came striding back. "No, that's all gone," she said, like the rings from the fingers of her clasped hands. I took that to mean China and if these were the spares... I imagined tables groaning with expensive porcelain, cut crystal and a spare kitchen maid or two.

"Have you any books? Or tools?"

"Books..." I'd stumped her with the sudden leap from China to literature. But she was learning to Cope; a girl grown old in a character straight out of the pages of Fitzgerald. She gave me a wide smile, made another hike. And another return. "There may be something in the boxes..."

The hesitant boxes were under the tables, filled mostly with bound issues of Associations; of Legal this and Corporate that. And cookbooks? But in French.

Alone, under a table all its own, was the Saw amidst a litter of tools remarkable only for their shoddy quality. Some sort of 'Home Owners Kit' from a cut-rate drug store, worth at least $1.98 when new, now marked an improbable $5.00. And the saw. The incongruity of finding a Skil saw; an honest piece of goods, sitting atop a box of trash intrigued me. If there were other boxes snapped up by earlier buyers, how could they have overlooked the Skil saw. I pulled the box toward me but there was no price-tag although there was a swatch of masking tape in a conspicuous position on the handle, probably put there for the missing price.

"What'll you take for the saw?" I swung it up, into her view, threateningly near a pagoda of Norataki, showing her the piece of blank masking tape.

When I swung the saw into view, dangerously near the fragile China she started to extend her hand, an instinctive move to protect the China. Or perhaps the saw. But this had taken place before the cancer, back when I could pick up a ten-pound saw as easily as a piece of cake. Or perhaps she sensed my raw, masculine power... Whatever the cause her protective hand fllew out then withdrew, the movement serving to bring her knuckle to her chin where she tapped it in a speculative manner, sneaking a peek toward the two women, still involved in a negotiation of more importance than than a dirty saw. But this was a woman learning how to cope with such things, probably with some help from a Sunset magazine suppliment telling its Yuppie subscribers how to conduct such affairs, perhaps even a guide on Basic Dickering.

She said, "Make me an offer."

It was said with a bold confidence so unlike her demeanor just a moment before that I gave her a speculative stare that lasted a moment too long. She blushed and I felt ashamed for scaring the girl.

"How does ten dollars sound?" Alright, I'm a rat. The saw was worth at least twice that.

She was flustered now, started to speak, hesitated then admitted: "I'll have to ask," with an exasperated sigh and off she goes across the grass, a long, thin woman, square shoulders and that lovely stalk of a neck, leaving me to wonder. Death? Divorce? A Russian secret agent no longer receiving her stipend from Moscow? A yard sale in that neighborhood was liable to be covered by the Society reporters for the local papers.

A Decision had been reached. Money change hands. Hangers were removed, clothing folded, stuffed into a paper bag. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a paper bag. Then the two women came toward me.

The second woman was Mutt to Fitzgerald's Jeff, legs pumping industriously to remain abreast of her taller companion. There was also a sense of diffidence, the shorter, younger woman whose hands were marked by years of work was clearly In Charge, a preppy from Smith walking an Afgan from Harvard Law.

"...the pockets. Because once it's gone, it's gone."

I agreed with a hearty nod as the saw was inspected, first casually then with obvious suspicion. "Wasn't there a tag?" the little woman asked.

"Just the tape," I smiled, peeling it off. Oops!

Concealed by the tape was a sticker saying the saw had been re-worked. Probably a warranty item. In fact, the plastic handle had been branded RECON.

The tall skinny lady didn't understand that the short woman, who was probably teaching her how to run a garage sale, had tried to conceal the fact the saw was reconditioned. I started to put the saw back into the box of junk but the skinny lady asked, "What's wrong?" I put the saw on the table, well away from the China, with the sticker and the branding facing the woman and explained the meaning of the sticker. The short woman interrupted me to tell the other she was going to the house. We watched her walk away.

"Does that mean you don''t want it?" the woman asked and for reasons I can't explain, I dug out my wallet and offered her a ten dollar bill. The woman looked toward the house then at the bill. It fluttered in the cooler air starting to flow down the road. She looked back at me and said, "You can have it, if you want it."

"That wouldn't be fair..." then I realized that it would, since the short woman would probably receive a percentage. A cash payment, neither taxed nor recorded. The woman was hugging herself. She didn't want the money. I thanked her, putting the money in my pocket. She smiled, blinking rapidly. I turned away rather than see her cry.

I used the saw to make a scarfing jig for plywood. It has worked flawlessly. Now I'm using it to make a table saw. I'll post the drawings and photos on the Chuggers_alt Group.