My garage sale, and the barrel that tried to poison me


Had another garage sale this weekend. It was a neighborhood garage sale, and there was no rain,  so traffic was better at this one than the last. But I made less money – about $40 total – although I had less to sell, too. I hadn’t been planning to make much money unless someone were to buy companion’s stereo set for what it was worth, which no one did. But I got rid of clutter, like a plastic garden chest with a crack in the lid, a few zinc paint pails, two of the tin toys mentioned in the last blog (I kept three), some clothes, a couple bottles of nail polish, and I don’t remember what else.

I got less than five hours of sleep the night before, having woken up around 5:30 a.m. to the sound of upstairs cat readjusting himself on the windowsill. This type of sound would not usually wake me up, but I must have been overexcited about the sale because I thought the sound was rain and I shot up in bed to look out the window. There was no rain, but I was awake and too hungry to fall back asleep. Less than five hours of sleep usually makes me an unpleasant person to be around, but I managed to be nice to people – I just had to take a break in the afternoon by spreading out a rug I had for sale and napping on it in the shade of a pine tree while my neighbors kept an eye on my stuff.

Companion arrived at the end of the sale and I threw most of the leftovers in his truck. A neighbor and I filled the truck bed with our stuff, which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside – oh, to get rid of so much junk! Then we trucked it all to St. Vinny’s, which can get a lot more money for it than I possibly could at a garage sale:

  • shoes
  • an apron
  • a runner rug
  • a music CD
  • a small mixing bowl
  • a can opener and other miscellaneous kitchen tools
  • 3 books
  • a set of coasters
  • 2 DVDs
  • a duffle bag
  • a hand-powered clothes washer
  • a purse
  • a glass tumbler
  • 2 lamp shades
  • a picture frame
  • a soap dish
  • Groundhog Day on VHS
  • a couple of baskets
  • a velvet skirt
  • Goretex pants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 3 tank-tops
  • and costume fairy wings

After dropping the stuff off at St. Vinny’s, we came back into my house and I of course immediately spotted more things that I want to get rid of. One of my neighbors is talking about having another sale next month, and my thought at 3 p.m. as I was cleaning up was, “No way in hell”; but now it’s changed to, “What a great idea!”

One thing that I neither sold nor dropped off at St. Vinny’s was a set of half-barrel planters. Dekalb and I sawed them out of a 14-gallon wine barrel that I was given this winter by an acquaintance who no longer makes wine. I’m not usually one to destroy wine barrels (I’d rather use them to age cider), but this one deserved it because it sent me to the emergency room.

This is what happened. I sanitized it after receiving it, filled it with clean water (that’s how you store barrels when they’re not filled with booze), plugged it, and stored it in the laundry room. A few weeks ago, I accidentally knocked the plug off while cleaning something in the utility sink. I caught a whiff of sulfur and thought, “That’s not good. Guess I’ll have to clean it again.” And then I tipped the barrel into the utility sink to empty it.

Bad idea. The stench of hydrogen sulfide was overpowering. I started breathing through my mouth, opened the laundry room windows, and picked up downstairs cat to get her to the fresh air upstairs. I went back down to the basement to close the laundry room door, but by this time the entire level reeked much worse than rotten eggs. I went back to the laundry room to start rinsing the barrel out (thinking this might cut the smell) and set up fans in the windows. But after getting the first fan in the window, I realized my eyes and throat were burning from the fumes, so I went back upstairs and called poison control.

I was hoping for something like, “Drink some water and stay out of the basement,” but when the woman at poison control found out I had a headache (when don’t I have a headache?), she told me to call 9-1-1. I thought that was a little extreme. I told her I would go to the emergency room, but I wasn’t going to take an ambulance. She said her concern was that it wasn’t safe for me to drive. “I don’t even own a car,” I said. “I’ll get a neighbor to drive me.”

So my neighbor Haley took me to the emergency room, and I sat there while they made sure my symptoms didn’t get worse, and after an hour or so of my symptoms not getting worse, they decided I was probably okay and sent me home. The highlight of the brief stay was that you can now watch Animal Planet on the hospital TVs, and so I spent the last 15 minutes of my stay watching My Cat From Hell and talking to the TV screen: “Well of course your cat’s going to bite you if you pet it like it’s a dog!”

The incident created an interesting story for my winemaking discussion board, and everyone agreed that the barrel should never be used for winemaking or cidermaking again. But no one could come up with an explanation for what had happened.

My best guess is hydrogen-sulfide-producing microorganisms.

When Dekalb and I sawed the barrel in half, we discovered that the inside had been coated in wax, and that powdery mildew was trapped inside the wax – presumably where air pockets had formed as the wax softened and resolidified with the weather and during cleanings. It would have been impossible for me to kill that stuff without dismantling the barrel. I don’t know how my acquaintance got along with that barrel for so many years.

I would like to get rid of the half-barrels, but I am torn. I feel they should make up for the suffering they’ve caused me by covering the $100 emergency room co-pay, but they insist that the most they could possibly sell themselves for is $10 each. Harumph.

0 thoughts on “My garage sale, and the barrel that tried to poison me”

  1. I found an interesting article about fungi that grows around distilleries, coating everything with black mold. Maybe not the same as your barrel, but a good read.
    Reading about your sale reminded me about the Ikea shelf brackets that Bernie left at my place. Maybe you could use them!

  2. I found an interesting article about fungi that grows around distilleries, coating everything with black mold. Maybe not the same as your barrel, but a good read.
    Reading about your sale reminded me about the Ikea shelf brackets that Bernie left at my place. Maybe you could use them!


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