Garage sale heaven

Fall is the season to ply the avenues for garage sale books in Fairbanks, Alaska. Though sold all summer, books seem to occupy a higher ratio of items offered in the fall. I don’t know why this is so but I suspect the book worms are busy reading outdoors under the long days of the Midnight Sun. With 22 hours of daylight, plus two hours of readable dusk, what serious book reader would mount a full scale, time sucking, garage sale?


Probably only those forced to move

Throughout the summer a high turnover population of military and seasonal work forces, make the Golden Heart City a target rich environment for clothes and bulky garage sale items. On any summer weekend in Fairbanks, a working town and jumping off point for bush Alaska, there are 30-50 garage and moving sales. The clothes the kids outgrew, the vintage sewing machine, the worn love seat, and the engine block collecting bird dodo for half a decade are brushed off, carried and rolled into place on lawns and driveways. Traffic jams at garage sales are the norm. 

When the good books come out

Yet, as the days shorten and the air cools, the folks of Fairbanks know this is the last chance to clear that overstuffed book case of tattered paperbacks and unread classic tomes. In the fall, it’s the small items, like dishes and table wear and books, that tend to go on sale. They are easier to set out and can be gathered up easier under fickle weather.

My garage sailing book bounty

Last Saturday was a good garage sale day. S. and I left on our bikes in a slight drizzle. Just down the street was our first sale. Our elderly neighbor was selling out. A hand written sign at the curb read, “MUST GO — 30 years of accumulated stuff.” There’s nothing like a must go sign. It usually means the owners are ready to deal and bargains are to be had.

Their items were set out on folding tables under two square, white canopies. There was little that interested us but lining one side of the garage were six large boxes of books. “Yes,” I whispered quietly. I began to rifle through them and immediately found a treasure: Coleman McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, the first book in his Border Trilogy. The book was a National Book Award winner. I read McCarthy’s End Of The Road last year and wanted to read something else by him. It was a clean, large paperback edition, so I snagged it.

Then I spotted a book I’ve wanted in my library for some time. Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, a hardback book on the corrosive political debates between the right and left. The jacket blurb reads, “Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it.” Wallis has led the fight to bring more light and less heat to the debate dividing not only Christians but the all Americans.

As I went through the last box, a book with a dark brown cover caught my eye. It was a find, A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was old but in excellent shape. The copyright page gave the publication date of 1911. It wasn’t a first edition but it might be the first edition published in America. This book will go in my classics shelf next to my great grandfather’s first edition Huckleberry Finn and a hand full of other classics. We paid a total of three dollars and fifty cents, an unbelievable deal, and set off to our next sale.

We visited three other sales in quick succession not finding anything we were interested in. In fact, at a couple of the sales it was obvious some folks were selling sketchy items: yard rakes with missing tines and shovels with dry rotted handles. Some were repairable but some were total junk and not worthy of sale. We moved on to better gleanings.

Last stop and score

Our luck changed when we visited our last stop, a neighbor’s sale a few doors down from our house. The daughter and her boyfriend were moving to Maine and needed to get rid of a lot — I suspect whatever couldn’t fit in their small car. At the entrance to the garage S. spotted a sturdy coffee table with a few dings. It was stout enough to hold our 50 gallon fish tank. We have a koi and four gold-fish that we bring indoors for the winter and we needed a strong table to hold the tank. They wanted 50 dollars for the table. I talked them down to 25 and arranged to return with the car to pick it up.

Before leaving I found a table full of obsolete VHS tapes. I wasn’t interested in the tapes so much as seeing what movies these nomadic neighbors liked to watch. As I turned them over I found a hardback copy of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, all 676 pages of it for a dollar. I had read a few chapters of this book a couple of summers ago while on vacation and thought at the time I’d come back to it sometime. Here it came back to me.


Before you sample a garage sale this weekend, click over to my sample poem at Fresh Bean Sprouts.



Recently I was hacking away at the thickets of social media and found I was named a Top Poet. This is great because now I have something I can add to my “poet bio” besides being ‘the holder of a thousand rejection slips.’ You don’t have to worry about me getting a big head or lonely at the top. The list names 5,000 other Top Poets.
The list was created by Bryant McGill, a self-described motivational speaker, human rights activist, and author of the bestselling book, Voice of Reason. McGill has 30,000 followers and more than 13,000 tweets. I have yet to reach above 300 followers, so I feel a bit like a guppy in an enormous pond.


I was surprised when the message came that I was added to his list. I suspect that one of more words of my tweeted words were absorbed by some algorithm McGill subscribes to. McGill is a one man industry. He is a compulsive Twitterlister. His lists include: Top Analysts, Top Divas, Top Reporters, Top Environmentalists, Top Lawyers, and Top Innovators. McGill tweets like a madman, up to twenty a day, with positive proclamations that identify Western culture’s dark holes. “We have been trained by a culture of violence and we are all agents of passive violence.” He advocates changing our thinking habits and negative life patterns so one can work toward a new life. McGill is like Benjamin Franklin on digital steroids.

Yet McGill’s mega listing and tweeting raises the question of language. Does Top Poet mean anything at all, even in the rarefied of air of the Twitterverse. If there are 5,000 Top Poets in his world then nearly every poet is a Top Poet.
For me a Top Poet would be anyone who points out the industrialization of language and the subjugation of words in the service of selling, especially in social media. I think this use of language (like Top Poet) caters to flattery and falls under the sin of vanity. It is also subversive to flatten the meaning of a word like “top” to mean any and all things. This kind of talk renders words meaningless. It is also self-serving.
So the question is what would be a better name for a list like this. Here’s my suggestions: instead of Top Poet how about simply Poets or Poets I Follow. Or maybe Poets Who Should Buy My Products.


Here is my picture quote for the first week in September.

Fall Pond 2010 004 pactch of ground quote

I took this photo a couple of years ago.  I was living near Denali National Park where I had worked a long day. After dinner I lifted my coat over my head and down my arms and went for a stroll. The Alaskan sun was hanging forever in the sky. Geese were calling for warmer climes overhead. I came upon a half-frozen roadside ditch lined with Eskimo Cotton  (also called Alaskan Cotton). The air was bracing but no deep cold yet.  A breeze was moving the cotton gently back and forth as if they were swaying to a song. I felt warm and content wrapped in my coat. Gratitude welled up in me for the great gift of life, all life, and moments such as this in which I was able to witness the incredible natural beauty of creation.

That evening I snapped a few photos with my cell phone: the long-setting sun colored red by the smoke of wildfires and the geese overhead with their whooshing wings, and my little ditch. The I knew it would be impossible to reproduce in a photograph either the live scenes before me or my feelings — (the geese were but specks on blue). Still, It seemed fitting to couple this photo with an admission that a poet could spend a lifetime and still not exhaust the possibilities inherent in any given patch of ground, even a small drainage ditch garnished with varicolored grasses and wild cotton.     

What inspires you?