The Great Flea Market Fundraiser Experiment in Human Dynamics
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Ebb and Flow.
Several times a week, I hear how terrible today’s teens are. They’re rude, they’re overly-emotional, they’re “profane little bastards,” they’re devious, they’re Goth, they’re (gasp) all in black. My own generation seems to forget our teen years and scowl at them, but most of the derogatory comments come from my parents’ generation—men and women in their 60’s and 70’s, who also freely deride me for being barefoot in my own backyard. I’ve thought that maybe my own girls are just different and that their friends and acquaintances are different. I’ve never had any problems with any of them. I take that back. One. AKA “She Who Is No Longer Allowed in My Home.”
But today we did the Great Flea Market Fundraiser Experiment in Human Dynamics. That’s right—the Niceville High School Forensics Team held a multi-family garage sale to raise money for their bus trips to debate and drama competitions all over the Southeast. It was freezing cold, blustery, and miserable for the first few hours when we couldn’t set up for the early birds literally standing in the way and moving items into our path and tripping us. But Shannon and I prevailed, unpacked both our cars, set up, sold enough to reimburse the 2 trips I’d paid for in October, and hauled the rest back home to put on eBay. Definitely easier ways to make money but we supported her academic career and she put in her hours like a trouper.
As we packed up at the fundraiser site, we noted some really stellar moments and some that still have us shaking our heads. Human dynamics, I told Shannon. The funny thing was that the bulk of our sales came from teenagers. It was funny to see how the generations stacked up in our little experiment that we didn’t know we were conducting.
Early on, an older man who bought 3 classical music CDs for $1 each expressed concern that several teens were standing at the table behind me where I’d displayed pieces of my personal jewelry collection. He was afraid they’d take off with everything on the table. And they and their generation did, $5 and $10 at a time and with my best wishes.
During the course of 4 hours, we had a steady stream of high school students of both sexes through our booth, most of whom I’d never met. Without exception, they were friendly, polite, and eager to buy. They either did or didn’t have the money, but they didn’t harangue, guilt- trip, beg, steal, or lie. In short, they were exactly the best customers anyone could hope for!
These kids were willing to pay for what they got or forgo what they wanted.
The conversations were fun, too. Discussions of the different stones, what they were, where they were from.
The story of how Alexander the Great had demanded allegiance of the Celts who swore only by the Sea, Sky, and Earth. Whether I should get a triskele or sun wheel tattoo on my back in the upper middle (vs the lower tramp stamp position) or on my left shoulder (left of center, I am).
My own generation was a bit different. For those shopping with their teens, they were generally very pleasant and uncomplaining, being good role models. Some of those who were there alone, though, exhibited some perplexing behavior, most of it stemming from a supposed misunderstanding of the price.
Like the woman who insisted four items were a set and that the $1 each was for each set and kept asking if I’d just give them all to her for $1 and was incredulous that I wouldn’t. Like the woman who put two pieces of obviously not-a-set bone china together and called them a set so she could get them at half price. Like the woman who switched prices on an item. Like the guy who tried to move some more expensive necklaces into the $5 section of the jewelry table.
The dichotomy in my own generation was startling. They were readier to haggle, even where I’d set a firm price, and way too many were willing to pay for what they got but were willing to employ devious practices to get items substantially cheaper. I’ve seen some of the same behavior among my Spilled Candy customers, unfortunately.
But by far the most disconcerting experiences came from the oldest customers—or would be customers. I cannot explain away their behavior to my daughter. I could say that some were products of the Depression Era and are programmed to get as much as possible for absolutely nothing, but that doesn’t explain the incredible rudeness or their snarkiness when I wouldn’t give them something for less than one-tenth of the price. It also doesn’t explain away the sense of entitlement to something for nothing that came through loud and clear.
Like the woman who stalked away angrily because I wouldn’t sell her three pieces of Depression glass for the price of one (and I was worried she’d break them in her anger). Or the woman who offered my 75 cents for a blue topaz ring. Or the man who spent 30 minutes tinkering with the gas-powered edger I was selling—used once, in perfect working order, but I found a better tool. He stunk up the whole place cranking the thing and running it to test it, understood it was new and quite the bargain, and then wanted me to take $10 for it and was angry that I wouldn’t. But that was okay because I sold it 10 minutes later for the asking price, to a younger man who didn’t bother to crank it. Just three examples of the many who were downright ugly about getting something for nothing.
But my favorite was the woman who came over to the table with my personal jewelry on it and announced loudly to her friend 20 feet away that she’d found something that was “almost tacky enough.” Yes, with me standing over it. She picked up a ring and examined it closely, ranting about how tacky it and other pieces were. Then she explained that she’s a member of the local Red Hat Society and apologetically that she has to go to garage sales and flea markets to look for jewelry that’s tacky enough to wear to their Red Hatter events. She concluded that some of the pieces of my personal jewelry collection were indeed tacky enough but didn’t match her purple and red theme. She eventually, loudly, meandered off in search of other people to insult and the “almost tacky enough” ring sold a few minutes later to someone who adored it and wore it home.
We were almost done packing to go home when Shannon looked at me and shook her head. “I don’t understand some people,” she said. “It’s my grandmothers’ generation that’s so rude.”
I just smiled and reminded her that they feel the same way about her.