WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Kit Salisbury knows that Grant Wood painted "American Gothic," that Bach wrote the Brandenburg concertos and that Merle Haggard sings "Okie from Muskogee."
He can tell you whose likenesses appear on all the U.S. coins. He can name the ingredients of eggs benedict and can identify the unnamed country on a map of Africa as Morocco.
He also can tell you, because he had to learn just recently, what knowing things like that leads to. It leads to a garage sale to end all garage sales.
Does the name Kit Salisbury sound a buzzer?
Game Show Winner
For four months last year, off and on, Salisbury became a folk hero to lobster shift workers, retired people, hospital patients and others who watch daytime television game shows. He astounded them with his range of knowledge, dazzled them with his gamesmanship, charmed them with his shy smile. While at it, he racked up $66,000 in cash and a list three typewritten pages long of prizes worth $133,750 retail.
"I had decided from the start that I wasn't going to keep any of the prizes," Salisbury said. "I would have to pay taxes on them, and I figured I had had a reasonably full life without them. So I decided to hold a garage sale."
He put an ad in the paper: "Game show prizes, 50% to 80% off." His driveway was woefully inadequate, so he hauled everything to the local flea market.
Readers didn't have to be told who was doing the selling. By then, Kit Salisbury was a local celebrity.
'Two Wild Days'
"It was one wild day," he said. "It was two wild days, in fact, a Saturday and Sunday. The first day, there must have been 2,000 people. Some just came to look, and some asked for my autograph. Imagine that. Most of the people who watch the show around here are in their 70s and 80s. So I attracted senior citizen groupies."
The game he cleaned up on was Tic-Tac-Dough. Salisbury knocked off 38 opponents in 26 appearances before he got licked. (He misspelled "misspell," leaving out the second "s.")
He did not put up for sale his seven automobiles, priced at $12,500 each, but made a separate arrangement with a local car dealer for $10,500 each; his own 1965 Mustang serves him just fine, he said. He did not sell his six expenses-paid trips, which were not transferable. He did not sell an electric typewriter, which he needed.
The rest he unloaded on that glorious day in garage sale annals.
He got rid of lamps, clocks, a few TV sets, two freezers, a microwave oven, luggage, clothes. He parted with dishes galore, flatware galore, jewelry, his-and-her tennis rackets, golf clubs, two rowing machines, two stoves, refrigerator, dishwasher and one of those telephones that does fancy things.
He sold pots and pans, more dishes, more clocks, carpets, furniture enough to outfit a small mansion.
Want a bale of Doritos? Gallons of Sunny Delight Fruit Drink? Smoker's Polident? Cough syrup? Floor wax? Salisbury was there to do business. He sold $400 gift certificates for $200. He sold a $420 stereo system for less than half. Bargain day on the Dixie Highway.
(The Dixie Highway is in Florida. Florida is one of 14 states on the Atlantic coast. Salisbury, without pausing longer than four seconds, can name the other 13. Try it.)
At last, all that remained--how could anyone live without it?--was a brass bottle opener with table stand and tripod. Retail price, $275.
"You can have it for $100," he told a man who seemed mildly interested.
"Give you $50."
'Clean Out the Attic'
When that was gone and the crowd remained, he phoned his mother. "Clean out the attic," he said. She arrived with used furniture, old books, knickknacks, the usual garage-sale fare, and that went, too.
(If you spell knickknacks as two words, you lose. Correct: knickknacks.)
Kit Salisbury is a 34-year-old provider for a wife and daughter of 2. His given name is Christopher. He took an anthropology degree at the University of Virginia, did graduate work in history at the University of Miami, "with never a thought," he said, "of the real world." When he finally gave the real world a thought, he went into the furniture business.
"All my life, though, since I was 5 or 6, I had one secret ambition. I wanted to be on a game show. They fascinated me.
"For some reason, I seem to remember things, facts, that other people forget, things like state capitals, presidents. I don't call it trivia, which I understand to be useless knowledge. Can knowledge be useless?"
One Out of 350
One day, a year ago, he saw a notice in the paper. Tic-Tac-Dough would audition for contestants in West Palm Beach. The first 350 postcards would be considered. One person would be chosen.
"I drove straight to the post office, that minute. My card was postmarked 7:20 a.m."
Salisbury makes a pleasant appearance. His hair is groomed, his pants pressed and he speaks in complete sentences. It was not surprising--though he said he was astounded--that he was selected.