Saturday, as I was on my way to run some errands, I saw a couple of estate-sale signs at an old place on Main Street in East Hampton Village. As it was before the permitted 10 a.m. start time for such things, and the signs definitely did not meet code, I figured this was a renegade operation and that the police were going to show up soon.
I pulled my truck to the curb, got out, and speed-walked to the house. You know what I mean, right? That certain shuffle that takes over when you are gripped by the feeling that if you don’t get in there fast someone else is going to get the good stuff?
If I had to rank this sale among all those I have been to over the years in terms of the sheer fascination of the collection of items, it would be in the top five. Number-one still has to be the one near Hook Mill in a house that had belonged to a jeweler and watch-repairer. But this one rated high, too.
The house had belonged to a theatrical set designer, and some things from that line of work were for sale. But what really left the score of people browsing through the place that day were the books, thousands of them, neatly sorted on shelves along nearly every wall. The only rooms I recall that had not been turned into library stacks were the kitchen, bathroom, and living room. Even a shed out back had been converted into orderly storage for a couple thousand magazines. An upstairs closet was the coup de grace, a hand-lettered card catalog in dozens of boxes.
There were other things as well, furniture, old records, an upright piano that a certain local newspaper publisher (who arrived later at my suggestion) could not resist. I sent some text messages to friends that this was one not to miss. The old, classic East Hampton house itself was a fascination if you could see past the crowd of people and all the stuff. It would restore beautifully in the right hands.
While various organizations offer holiday house tours, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Perhaps the best way to see others’ dwellings is to go to yard sales on a weekend. Mind you, I did not say least-expensive; such sales can be dangerous to your wallet and end up costing more than even the special previews — with cocktails — that often precede the organized tours. Yet there is much more to be learned, or at least speculated about, at a sale than a carefully scripted fund-raiser.
These days, with my own house filled to the windowsills with children’s things, pets, and who-knows-what-all, I tend to resist buying much of anything at sales. We already have too much stuff, and just sorting it out to give away would take weeks. Nonetheless, I, like the bumper-stickers proclaim, stop at yard sales — especially if the house looks interesting.
I had left the estate sale with a couple of books and three bent-back kitchen chairs by the time the cops got there.