As the second of three children, Michael Abelson realized it was hard to get stuff he really wanted.
First he had to assure Mom and Dad that everyone would want it—that they were not merely placating one child with a toy that would make the others jealous and require further purchases, but rather that they were killing three birds with one stone, wrapping up their major toy purchases for the quarter in one fell swoop.
Convincing Danny and Sally that they would benefit from a new basketball-themed Nintendo game turned out to be a major lobbying effort. Older brother Danny was a budding sixth-grade nerd with no interest in sports or the simulation thereof. His recent discovery of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Monty Python and the Holy Grail had convinced him that he was a great wit, though all signs pointed to the contrary. Sally had once been a reliable tomboy, but as she entered second grade she showed increasingly girly tendencies that Danny found worrisome.
After making concessions to support Danny and Sally’s upcoming requests, Michael won their backing and approached Dad with a unified front.
To Michael’s horror, Dad decided to teach them a lesson about responsibility. “Tell you what, kids. If you really want that new game so bad, why not come up with a way to make your own money?”
“How can we do that?” asked Michael.
“How about a garage sale?” said Dad.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Danny. “No one will buy our garage. How would they fit it in their car?”
“Shut up, Danny,” said Michael. “You are not funny.”
“No, see, like a garage sale means we’re selling—”
“I know. I get it, Danny. Shut up. Jesus.”
“Don’t say Jesus, Michael,” said Sally.
“Wait, a garage sale is a great idea,” said Michael, getting excited. “We’ve got all kinds of old junk in the garage.”
“We don’t even have to stick to what’s in the garage,” Sally chimed in. “We could sell junk from all over the house and just say it’s from our garage.”
Michael’s mind spun with the possibilities. “Or we could have a car wash.”
“What if it’s a garage sale and a car wash?” suggested Sally. She and Michael were on a roll.
“Yes! We’ll have enough money for this game and some left over.”
“And we’ll have a lemonade stand!”
“And a bake sale! Mom can make brownies.”
“We’ll be millionaires!” declared Sally.
“We’ll have a car wash what?” said Danny, derailing everything.
“You said we’ll have a car wash. What is the car going to wash?”
“What are you talking about?” said Michael.
“It’s a joke,” said Danny.
“Danny, no it isn’t. Stop trying. Nothing you say is funny.”
So began the folly of the Abelson car wash, bake sale, lemonade stand and garage sale—an amalgam of every doomed front-yard enterprise ever conceived. The children, wrapped up in the excitement, threw themselves into preparations. With so much to offer, surely they would be deluged with customers. All three children would have to pitch in.
Sally offered to make the signs, which Michael quickly vetoed. Everyone wanted to make the signs. Something about putting marker to posterboard crackled with the thrill of entrepreneurship. A group design effort was best—each of their distinctive sign-writing styles would appeal to a unique demographic, thus drawing the widest possible clientele.
Picking items to sell was the next step. Though Michael began to suspect the whole idea was a ploy to trick them into cleaning the garage, there was no turning back.
How many customers might they expect? Would the driveway be long enough to accommodate the line of cars? Michael figured he’d better plan for about a hundred people to show up each day.
After a week spent gathering boxes of junk, Saturday arrived. The kids laid out the items on blankets on the lawn. With Mom’s help, they settled on prices for each piece. The 25-cent box, with its lunchbox-shaped Osbournes bubble gum tin and other assorted trinkets, was sure to attract bargain hunters. What young parent wouldn’t jump at the chance to purchase Richard Scarey’s Biggest Word Book Ever for their baby? And the pile of clothes the kids had all outgrown was the biggest goldmine of all.
Michael would man the garage sale and the lemonade/bake sale table. Danny and Sally would wash cars. At ten o’clock sharp, the kids were ready and waiting for the extravaganza to begin.
At eleven, two women walked by and smiled. At twelve, Mom offered five dollars to have her own car washed, and by one o’clock, Dad’s car was clean as well. At three, a neighbor paid a quarter for an old videotape he said he could record over. Michael could feel the momentum building. Indeed, the neighbor went on to buy a cookie, a brownie, and even a glass of lemonade—before lamenting that he had recently had his car washed professionally. Then it was five o’clock, and time to close.
Michael attempted to cheer the troops, but he knew it was hopeless. Another day of the garage sale would be an exercise in disappointment distilled to its very essence. Yet the signs promised another day, so the sale had to go on. On Sunday, Dad offered to help, and set up a chair alongside Michael. Soon, Michael went inside for lunch, and after an hour of reading the newspaper, Dad realized Michael was not coming back. Dad held the fort for the rest of the afternoon, watching three twentysomethings walk by, stop to browse, and leave without buying anything.
Later, Dad went to console Michael in his room. “Sometimes things don’t work out the way we’ve planned,” he explained.
“Since I learned my lesson, can I get that game?” Michael sobbed.
“I’m afraid not,” said Dad. “The other lesson is that money is hard to get.”
Edited 10/10 to reflect Zack's correction.