As the effects of the recession continue to wallop L.A. businesses and their employees, there is one area of the L.A. economy that flourishes, perhaps in large part due to the recession – the yard sale.
People who are struggling will have yard sales, and people who are struggling will patronize yard sales. It’s really a win-win situation – except, perhaps, for those with a show business background, many of whom are the ones putting on yard sales. For them, quite often, the yard sales represent failure. There may be no business like show business, but for their careers, there is now, literally, no business.
If the traditional first rung on the Making It in Show Business Ladder is the young aspirant stepping off the bus at the Hollywood Greyhound station, bright-eyed and filled with hope, its flip side, the final rung on the Not Making It in Show Business Ladder, can be found throughout my beloved Fairfax District neighborhood in Los Angeles. Home to a multitude of show business hangouts, “the Fairfax,” as we residents refer to it, is also, clearly, Yard Sale Central. Abundant with dogs, single people and Orthodox Jews, the area features yard sales every weekend, offering the remnants of countless unrealized show business dreams.
These yard sales provide a great opportunity to meet your neighbors, find bargains, and basically get an entire picture of someone’s life, life style, resume, psychoses, taste and online dating profile – all laid out before you on the lawn, driveway or front stoop in the form of prior possessions. An urban archaeologist or a conceptual artist might view it as living art, “A Life on a Lawn.”
What fascinates me is the telling nature of the stuff. Amateur detectives or anyone interested in his fellow man can have a field day. In what other casual human encounter can you within five minutes and without ever having met or spoken to the person involved, determine that he or she has a fixation on Don Knotts movies, has read every self-help book available and owns an entire wardrobe of clothing from the early 1970s? But there it all is in plain and unashamed view.
The show business households are fairly easy to spot. There are video and DVD “For Your Consideration” screeners and scripts sent by networks and studios; jackets and T-shirts bearing TV show and movie logos; framed movie posters; and countless books on writing, directing, producing and acting. The resulting conversation is generally the same:
BUYER: So, who’s the actor?
SELLER: I am – or was.
BUYER: Would I have seen you in something?
SELLER: I had a small part in “Revenge of the Nerds,” did a few Taco Bell commercials and some plays.
BUYER: And now?
SELLER: Oh, uh, the work was just really unsteady, so we’re moving to Minnesota. We have family. I’m gonna work at my father’s hardware store and Donna’s going to have our baby.
BUYER: Good luck. How much for the “As Good as It Gets” video?
SELLER: I don’t know – (shouting upstairs) Donna, how much for the videos?
So there it is. The material ghosts of years of show business dreams, lessons, hard work, classes, auditions, occasional successes and frequent failures, all for sale and awaiting new homes. Their owners, having abandoned The Dream or, more likely, having been abandoned by it, have no more need for those things being around as reminders of failures, efforts wasted, accomplishments that might have been. So the items sit, displayed on the lawn, like puppies at the pound, given up by the previous owner, waiting to be adopted by the next. There they wait, alongside unwanted gifts, possessions once popular and treasured, baby books and furniture, and, as required by Yard Sale Law – a wooden salad bowl set, a Trivial Pursuit game and a George Foreman Grill. Hey, even the Heavyweight Champion of the World is selling kitchenware now. Maybe working in the Minnesota hardware store won’t be so bad. At least the air will be better.
Ironically, because of their bargain prices, these show biz castoff items are frequently purchased by those same just-off-the-bus hopefuls now beginning their show business careers. They’re delighted to pick up “The Working Actor’s Guide to Los Angeles,” “The Secrets to Auditioning for Commercials” and “Making a Good Script Great,” all for five bucks. Score!
And so the money changes hands, from the young aspirant who’s all about possibility and potential to the grizzled veteran of the show business wars who clearly and no doubt sadly sees his younger self in the purchaser’s eyes. The end of one dream and the beginning of another. It’s Hollywood’s Circle of Life, moving us all through despair and hope, played out on countless weekends in countless yards in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.
Mark C. Miller is a marketing communications specialist who was a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and is now a humor columnist for the Huffington Post.
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