I found this handwritten message on a crumpled piece of scrap paper blowing around my neighborhood Saturday morning. I think I could name the author, but that’s not important and it wouldn’t be kind.

It begins: My family has locked me in my bedroom for the weekend again. I’ll have to smuggle this message out somehow. They do this every year about this time. They say it’s for my own good , and their’s.

It’s not so bad. I have the TV and some good books and when they bring my lunch I get the daily newspaper, but without the classifieds. That’s the whole point of my incarceration. I’m an incurable garage sales addict.

The obsession usually reaches its critical stage in the fall. Something in the crisp autumn air triggers a strong urge to cruise around in search of intriguing junque. It’s no coincedence that this is also the hunting season. Garage saling is my response to my elemental instincts by providing some of the thrills of the hunt that are not possible in the big shopping malls.

There is no stalking excitement in the malls. With the No-Questions-Asked return policies, there is small danger of the quarry being the victor. Thirty other guys can brag about getting the same big price break I did at the Sears chainsaw sale. Then where is the individual thrill of the kill?

The mall can offer nothing to compare with the triumphant feeling I got on that memorable day when I discovered a Shirley Temple doll hugging a Charlie McCarthy dummy behind a pristine Candy Lands game box in a cluttered garage. “What do you want for this old stuff?” I asked the man, barely surpressing my YAHOO! shout. “My wife’s making me clean up the garage,” he said. “Ten bucks should cover a good push broom.”

My family doesn’t understand how much this means to me. “If we let you out this Saturday, you’ll buy another stuffed moosehead,” they say. Of course I’d buy another moosehead if I could find one. Our living room is crying for another moosehead. Visitors must notice right away, with mooseheads on only three living room walls, it’s so unsymmetrical!

I’ve just returned from a family parole hearing. I nearly swung it with my unlawful imprisonment argument until someone asked, “What about that boat?” I must admit, she had me there, but it proves gargage saling requires the interrogational skills of a seasoned district attorney. “Does this boat leak?” I’d asked the Saturday salesman and he replied, “I can honestly say right now. It doesn’t leak.” (Or maybe he said, “I can honestly say, right now it doesn’t leak.) Two weeks later, swimming home from a fishing trip, I realized I should have asked, “Does this boat leak when it’s in the water?”

Garage sales prices are so reasonable you don’t have to have a present need for a particular item. My basement and attic are filled with potentially useful stuff like that. If I ever buy a Model T Ford, for instance, I’ve already got the seat covers. You may think that’s fooolish, but if I’d bought that rope ladder a couple of weeks ago, I’d be a free man now.

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