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Sat, May 25

One Man's Rant: No fads, no garage sales

Social scientists spend time uncovering trends about our common evolution as a society. Well, I’ve been doing my bit of forensic research. As a result of semi-exhaustive investigation, I’ve concluded that if there were no product fads, there would be no garage sales. In fact, I’m preparing an abstract introducing my astounding discovery for presentation to the American Sociology Association early next year.

Based on my findings, for example, most exercise equipment sold in endless TV infomercials are stored in small warehouses until they are shipped out to the garage for sale. These mini-warehouses are typically called closets and attics. Items not consigned to closet/attic duty are often found under the bed or behind the bedroom door.

I’m talking about exercise bikes, home gyms, treadmills, rowing machines, weight lifting systems, elliptical trainers and something called a Gazelle Edge thing.

I once surprised my wife with a machine on which she could throw both shoulders out of their sockets simultaneously while aggressively striding on pedals suspended by thin strands of rubber. I think the objective of this contrivance was to drive her to soprano-level shrieks of ecstasy/agony within 30 seconds of climbing aboard. I don’t think she ever reached the 30-second plateau since none of the neighbors called the police to complain of probable domestic abuse.

Of course, garage sales would never have captured the American imagination if Ron Popeil hadn’t entered the scene in the 1950s. He sold some 11 million Chop-O-Matics and Veg-O-Matics for $3.98 each. Then he introduced the Dial-O-Matic in the 1970s. His later infomercial products included the Spot-O-Matic (for removing stains from 100 percent cotton underwear) and the ever-popular Mangle-O-Matic for slicing fingers (good for a couple days off work or school) and the Strangle-O-Matic for dispatching rodents around the house.

Then, of course, there was the Wrangle-O-Matic for managing small herds of cattle in the backyard. Popeil sold a total of 16 million products — approximately 15,750,973 of these products ended up in neighborhood garage sales across the fruited plain from 1976 to 2008.

We must not forget Popeil’s Ronco Pocket Fisherman, a mini-tackle box, complete with a hook, line and sinker which reflects how successful he was in selling 2 million of them. I won’t even mention Ron’s smokeless ashtray — he only sold a million of those for $19.95. Since most smoking anymore is done outside, shoppers soon realized that there was a cheaper way to remove cigarette and cigar smoke. It was called the wind.

Small kitchen appliances rate high on the garage sale list under the heading of faddish wedding gifts such as ice cream makers, toasters, bread and donut makers and juicers. And crepe makers. And cheese fondue cookware.

Talk about fads, how about all those Beanie Babies sitting in cardboard cartons from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Krugerville, Texas? And Cabbage Patch Dolls? And Pet Rocks? And dusty little black audio speakers? And dustier audio tape cassettes of Engelbert Humperdink albums? In a future column, I may reveal Engelbert’s real name.

And finally, a garage sale would not be a garage sale without 37 Harlequin romance paperback novels displayed on a card table in the driveway. Each book cover features a shirtless, young, buff male with amazing pecks and fabulous hair within arm’s length of a panting, expectant female. I’ve never had the courage to actually open one of these works.

A future One Man’s Rant column may also investigate why since most garage sales happen in the driveway, are they still called garage sales?

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