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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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White Elephant

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Originally published February 13, 2009

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group – East Bay

As I eyed the eager crowd around me, waiting to get into the preview of the Oakland Museum’s White Elephant Sale, I was having misgivings. My earlier reluctance at coming was flashing in front of me, sort of like an elephant charging at me.

Looking at those people to my left and right, I considered my situation. When it came to rummage sales, I was a novice. But, here I was, standing in line at what has been called the Bay Area’s biggest and best rummage sale. This crowd looked experienced, and I had a feeling they would run right over me.

They certainly wore the shoes for it. I saw people in stripy athletic shoes, well-worn hiking boots and those types of shoes designed for comfort where the proportions always seem slightly off.

The crowd also dressed for the occasion. Everyone here could chant the Bay Area mantra for all seasons: wear layers. They appeared perfectly comfortable standing outside on a cold Sunday morning in the Fruitvale district of Oakland. I could imagine them whipping off a sweater or two, as soon as things started heating up inside the warehouse, where the sale was being held.

By every indication, this crowd would move fast when the circumstances called for it. Despite the early hour, they were energetic, even boisterous. I predicted they would be off and running the moment the doors opened. I watched as a group of people handed off steaming cups of coffee to each other in line, without dropping or spilling, like a smoothly executed baton pass.

I decided it was in my best interest to study the warehouse map of the sale while I waited. If I did some quick cramming, it might give me a leg up. (At the very least, I hoped it would take my mind off how cold I was feeling in the two skimpy layers I wore.) I focused on areas of interest: “Hardware”, “household” and “garden” in the northeast corner. “Books”, “music” and “photography” on the west side, before “electrical” and just past “bric-a-brac”. “Furniture” right smack in the middle.

As I was closing my eyes, trying to memorize locations, I felt a sudden surge of excitement from the crowd. It was followed by the vibration of shuffling feet. I heard a jubilant cry as we started moving toward the open doors.

Once inside the warehouse, everyone shot out in different directions. I watched as a couple rushed to a far wall layered with paintings for sale. Others hurried to tables crammed with toys and games. In front of cases glistening with jewelry, silver and porcelain, people crowded around to get a better look.

I tried wading in cautiously but, before I knew it, I was carried off by a wave of people. I saw a sea of items come rushing at me: Dining tables, linens, arm chairs, desks, books, records, cameras, suitcases, exercise equipment, high chairs. I tried changing direction but still more things kept coming: Coffeemakers, toasters, blenders, margarita mixers, clocks, padded hangers, Easter baskets.

I needed to stop and catch my breath. Appearing like life rafts before me, I saw rows of couches lined up for sale on the warehouse floor. I sank down into one of them, hoping to stem the tide.

Looking around me, I could see the sale was in full swing. Triumphant buyers walked by balancing benches, lamps and end tables. Volunteer workers busily wrapped garden spades, baking racks, and drawer pulls for purchase. The cloth shopping bags that many people carried were beginning to bulge.

Feeling somewhat revived, I got to my feet. I wanted to make sure I did a complete loop of the warehouse, so I saw everything. I worked my way around until I was back at the front where I’d started. Having achieved enough for one day, I headed for the door.

As I was walking out, one of the volunteers called to me, “Don’t forget, the sale takes place all over again the first weekend in March.”

“I’ll be ready,” I replied.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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