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Big Deal

Read Wednesday, 12 Sep 2018

At a garage sale, Michele Lee tries to find purchase on the passing of time.

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Illustration of two arrows pointing up, and the text 'This way up'

I was walking back to the garage sale from Cedar Bakery in Preston. It was midday. The sale was coming to a close. And what a sale. Not just a few salad bowls and old uni textbooks. This was premium.

Premium, and now, free. Everything Must Go.

It was Owen and Geoff’s garage sale. They were my former flatmates and they were leaving Melbourne. I’d known Owen for half my life. Back in Canberra, he was in the year above me in high school. We’d met formally on a photo shoot where we were volunteered by our teachers to model for a brochure promoting arts and ACT high schools to Asia. For the photo, I’d worn a black leotard to match my black hair and I’d arched into his arms. It was the kind of brochure your mum might keep for you, and that you might drag around your earliest share-houses in a box marked ‘School Shit’; share-houses where you slept on frameless mattresses next to bookshelves assembled from bricks and planks of wood.

By the time we found ourselves living in the same city again, here in Melbourne, Owen and I were working professionals. He’d been with Geoff for as long as I’d been with Andy, and we all wanted to rent a grown-up home. West Brunswick. A grand family double-bricker with a deck and a pool. We had Ottolenghi dinners. A regular cleaner. NBN. It was grown-up, indeed, and we rarely had pantry moth infestations. But, after a while, the owner of the house wanted to move back in. Owen and Geoff went north to a townhouse rental in Preston. Andy and I went north to a narrow weatherboard house in Coburg that we bought. Now we had a baby, too.

‘A grand family double-bricker with a deck and a pool. We had Ottolenghi dinners. A regular cleaner. NBN. It was grown-up, indeed, and we rarely had pantry moth infestations.’

Though Owen and Geoff were known to procrastinate on life decisions – to get a spoodle or not to get a spoodle – they were now leaving their Preston place, and Melbourne, with a decisive bang. The bulk of their hard-found treasures, their gorgeous kitsch, accumulated over many years and many op-shop outings, was now on display in the garage and under a marquee out the front. Ready to be sold. Or just taken.

Please. Take. Our. Shit.

It was midday. Impatiently so.

When I’d first arrived at the garage sale, I’d vultured my way through their cast-offs, recognising many remnants from the grand home we’d all once shared. I’d bought a picture; it was a photo printed onto thick card, taken from behind, of a woman with two children in baby-blue ballet tunics walking along Errol Street in North Melbourne. ‘I love this!’ I’d wailed. The fact that it was no longer hanging on anyone’s wall, the fact that it was now worth a mere dollar, had had me frowning. Perhaps that’s the effect of ageing – viewing each change as a tiny death. Always grieving the past, always ready to begin a sentence with ‘Back in the day’. Or perhaps I was longing for some sort of glorious rebirth. Geoff and Owen were off to the 2018 Gay Games in Milan, followed by a holiday across Europe, before moving back to Canberra, with its crisp winter mornings and one gay club (still, after all these years). On to a new apartment.

Obviously they would have to furnish it. In Melbourne, as the garage sale showed, they’d indulged in a cluttered 70s vintage décor with a touch of disco quirk. In Canberra they’d be minimalist, they’d declared.

From under the marquee, I became pragmatic. Because, yes, even if I was at a metaphorical funeral, the seasoned consumer in me could still be distracted by bargains. I scooped up some free shoes that perhaps Andy would wear. Geoff put the shoes into a reusable Woolies bag – a little too quickly, so I couldn’t hesitate. Then he sat, prince-like, carefree, junk-free, on a couch (presumably for sale) by the marquee, drawing in passers-by. And Owen fretted, as he does, standing and pacing.

Illustration of a moving box, with a front door and windows on one side

I left and never made it back. The garage sale was going to morph into a farewell party and I wasn’t going to stick around for it. I went home, to Coburg. It was a cold and wet night, with that Melbourne miserable-ness that I quite like. Darkness was falling. Our chickens had marched themselves off to bed. I sat in my newly renovated kitchen with my baby and with Andy, who was sick and in a state of miserable-ness that I didn’t quite like. He was hunched over like a parody of a crone. I made a one-pot dinner.

‘But we don’t want to spend too much money on a bathroom cabinet,’ I said. Andy and I were eating meatballs, like the ones you get from Ikea. We’d been going to Ikea a lot recently. We were refreshing our kitchen and bathroom with the help of Ronan, the Irish builder who happened to live around the corner. (Ronan had a soft Irish lilt and a dog called … Paddy! And Ronan loved potatoes! Honestly!) We had told Ronan we were on a budget. Andy and I weren’t planning on living in this house for much more than five years. We were being property-savvy, investing a little coin now in order to trick some younger, future version of ourselves into buying from us; into falling in love with our Ikea Ringhult handles and slate-grey Godmorgon bath vanity.

‘Is that picture from the boys?’ Andy said. I’d hung it in the baby’s room.

‘A towel too,’ I said.

Later on Facebook, I saw Owen’s post. A photo. All the remaining items that hadn’t been poached from the garage sale were stacked neatly on their curb. First in, first served, he’d written.

Please. Just. Take. It.

We. Are. Leaving.

Milan was waiting. A new minimalism too. Rebirth.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.