Monday, July 7, 2008

Day one hundred and eighty seven ... Barrel Day.

What a load of junk.

That's my inevitable reaction as I drive around on any given Monday during the warmer months.

It's a reaction to the heaps of remnants from various yard sales on the lawn of what seems like every fifth house in a row.

Now, if it were out for the trash, then it'd be a different story altogether.

If it were out for the trash, it would have some allure. If it were out for the trash, I might stop and poke around. But that stuff--the stuff that didn't sell--that stuff is damaged goods and I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. 

I can just picture the countless, foreign pairs of eyes that have already scanned it, searching in the data bases of the mind for a possible need for a sea-horse trivet, or a 8-track player. I can hear the myriad arguments of so many thrift-seeking couples on the virtues and caveats of adopting a video-disc player, complete with a pristine copy of Reds ...

... and I just keep right on driving.

To me, I don't care if it has a "free" sign attached to it. If it isn't clearly and wholly meant for the guy with the gloves, jumpsuit, and grimy brow, I don't want it.

Let me explain.

I was born a trash picker and I will always be a trash picker. It's something I'm quite proud of and something that has more often proven beneficial than not. 

When I was a kid, in my house, we didn't call it "trash day." We didn't call it "garbage day." No, we had a classy name for it.

We called it "barrel day." 

It was, by far, my favorite day of the week. I was late more than a few times to my grammar school, due to a lucky find along the walk that I just had to run back and deposit safely in my yard. After a few too many scoldings I reverted to hiding my lucky items along the way under a bush or behind a garage to retrieve on my return route. 

Those days were particularly long and arduous to get through.

Conversely, the walk home was always close to my personal best.

I would scurry back to 1073 Bedford St., sometimes with the odd alarm clock that was missing an hour hand (a slight annoyance at best, as my design was on the gear littered insides), or a swivel-chair that was short a wheel (a jet pack has no need for wheels. Wheels are for the earth-bound. I was a rocket-man, and I needed a seat for when the g-force hit me ... that and a few other things). And these items--all individually important to me--I may, or may not have shown to my mother. As time went on, and my room started to clutter, I would sometimes have to develop elaborate ruses to smuggle in the odd golf bag or hair dryer. My mom respected my privacy, and I, in turn, respected the fact that she respected my privacy.

That poor woman.

If something was put out on the curb that was decidedly scrumptious--perhaps an egg timer or a movie projector--it was almost as if it was a dare. It was like someone said, "This thing is broken and I dare you to find a use for it."

And more times than not I would accept this silent, nonexistent dare and have at it.

And over time, I developed into the recovering pack-rat that I am today.

I remember one of the first times I got the feeling that I was living a unconventional lifestyle. 

My grammar school teacher, Mr. Aguiar, one day asked the class, "Can anyone tell me what day today is?"

Me, being the astute, confident, and intelligent lad that I was, thrust my hand skyward, almost falling out of my chair in the process. And, with the wide-eyed innocence of a child who was seconds away from bursting at the seams--my hand popping off of my wrist if nobody called on me soon--I furiously waited until Mr. Aguiar called my name.

"Yes, Fred. What day is today?"

"It's ... it's barrel day!"

And those kids who were not already staring at the freckle-faced, pudgy kid in the plaid shirt and bib overalls, turned, slowly, until the whole room was facing me and chuckling as I cautiously lowered my hand--my wide, perplexed eyes staring expectantly at Mr. Aguiar, who, meanwhile, was rubbing his stubbly chin and smiling an innocent and amused first grade teacher smile.

"Um ... can you be more specif ..."

"I mean ... it's Wednesday, Mr. Aguiar. It's Wednesday.

"That's right Fred, it's Wednesday. Very good."

And I sat there and folded my arms feeling extra good for knowing both answers.

And throughout my life, from place to place, and town to town, I have always loved barrel day.

Perhaps I feel like I'm providing a service.

Perhaps I partly that I feel like maybe I can find a use for the poor, discarded object that the former owner had overlooked. Did they not spend enough time with the car stereo or adding machine to find it worth keeping? Or even worse ... maybe it was an extra and they didn't have anyone to give the other one to.

Well I'm anyone, and I've got just the spot for that.

Whatever it was, I was there to help out and find a home--my home--for the disenfranchised and overlooked.

Such an altruist ... a greedy, selfish altruist.

But this "free" stuff, as I have alluded to, has absolutely no pull on me. I mean, if it has made it all the way through the rigors of the weekend tag sale--the highball entry price, the mark-down, and the inevitable 10¢ bin--and it shows no sign of moving, then I can only assume that there is no point in me stopping by and looking at it, only to come to the same conclusion--that I don't need a dog-eared copy of Harold Robbins', The Lonely Lady, or a Dale Earnhardt dart board. And the gas I used idling by the side of the road could be put to better use driving to the store to buy a brand new set of corn cob holders--and by set I mean that there's at least two for each ear of corn.

And I see chairs out and tables out and exercise equipment with a "free" sign out on the lawn and it just makes me wonder what someone has done to it to make it an untouchable. To bring it to this final, desperate, place in its existence where the owner is not even interested in fetching a penny for the item, yet they won't put it in the sweet spot--out for the trash.

See, when it's out for the trash, that means that it has a shelf-life. It has only so long before our guy with the gloves, jumpsuit, and grimy brow, swings by on his chariot and makes off with it. He may not even look twice at what he has in his hands. Not like his wife would let him take home that Muppet Babies serving tray, or the red velvet chair that just needs a matching cushion. No, she probably has put a moratorium on anything without a Target receipt accompanying it. And he's just going to throw it in the back of the garbage truck and move on to the next house.

And he's going to blow right by the stuff on the lawn with the "free" sign on it.

No, even the garbage man knows that that stuff is a load of junk.

But the trash?

The trash is in demand, and it doesn't even have a price tag.

In fact, it isn't really out there to be taken and used--it's just trash. It wasn't meant for me. It was meant for the land fill. 

But sometimes, what we don't want can become quite desirable as long as it's not put out there for everyone and anyone to take.

Free? I bet. Good luck with that.

But trash? Now that's got some zing to it.

The things people throw away ... I mean really.

If you happen to see me rooting around on your curb on your barrel day, pay no heed. I still need a few other things for my jet pack. Yes ... just a few other things ...

Thanks for reading.


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