In May, the stoop sale spores activate all over South Brooklyn. My previous home in the canyons of midtown had neither stoops nor sales, and when I moved across the bridge these moveable feasts were proof of a friendly paradise. How straightforward, how practical, how American! Meet your neighbors, and sell them stuff! Train your kids to pitch lemonade, that they may grow up to name prices without blushing!
I can’t picture my Irish neighbors selling cast-off dresses and CDs to one another. We are too indirect to sell on our doorsteps, or to stick orange price tags on the flow of goods from house to house. We give our stuff to school jumble sales and charity shops, or hand it to “the Traveller lady” who goes door to door. But here, the little stickers are frank: two dollars for the unwanted scented candles, twenty for a flatbed scanner. Need change? And how’s it going? Enjoying the fine weather? This is a country that sells cupcakes to get the president out of office.
(It’s not about money. All over brownstone Brooklyn, people set out cardboard boxes labelled “Free Stuff”. Kitchenware, children’s clothes, old board games, furniture… The bounty of books alone is magnificent. Brooklyn is full of writers, editors, reviewers, and readers, and they sacrifice the extras on their steps. Even on a choosy day, I come home with a book for every mile I walk.)
Stoop sale announcements plaster the lampposts. Sometimes whole blocks organize a collective bazaar. Yesterday Cynthia, my future landlord, invited me up to see Sterling Place in full commercial bloom. The neighbors sat in their deckchairs, fanning themselves and catching up after a long winter of rushing indoors. Kids hopped from foot to foot in excitement at their lemonade takings. Whole phases of lives were on sale, from Peg Perego strollers to old LPs.
Next-door to Cynthia, a card table was stacked three copies of this book, five copies of that.
“How much are these?” I asked, holding a picture book on massage.
“Do you work in publishing?”
“I’m a graphic designer,” he said. Then added shyly, as I flipped through the pages, “Those are my hands, actually.”
“In the pictures? Get out!”
“The hand model’s hands were too big. In every shoot they kept covering too much of the girl’s body. I was demonstrating shots, and eventually they said, ‘Well, can we just use your hands?'”
He had moved here from California last November. It was a great neighborhood, he said. The Q train was fantastic; express to Union Square. And the park, and the library…You could get street parking for your car most days, once you learned the street-cleaning regulations. (In New York City, you have to move your car to the opposite side of the street once or twice a week, to allow the street cleaning machines to pass.)
In a spirit of neighborliness, I bought the book with Joey’s hands, and three others I didn’t particularly need. We are soon to share a bedroom wall, so the least I could do was buy stuff from his stoop.