7/13/20 “That Got me to Thinking…?” Chapter 5 “Free Stuff!”
By Bruce Williams
After 15 years, I got a new lawn mower because Old Steady had rusted through in one patch and you could see the blade twirling underneath, so I figured it was time. I pushed it out to curb and within an hour it had miraculously vanished. The perverse enjoyment I get by rolling stuff out to the street and putting that “free” sign on it just to see it disappear overnight is immense. I’ll only give it about 24 hours, but in all of the 15 years so far we’ve been in this house I’m shooting nearly 100%. Old treadmills, fat-backed TVs, automatic garbage cans on the fritz, bikes the kids have outgrown…you name it—gone. And it’s more than just avoiding a trip to the dump. Repurposing is part of it, too, but moreover it’s the sheer gamesmanship. The sport of it. The risk I take weathering the wife’s tsk-tsking and that juicy, “I told you nobody wanted that old junk.” The racing heartbeat I get when I go to check if it’s really finally gone one last time as I shutdown the downstairs before going up to bed for the night. You know, middle-aged man type fun.
I went to light my grill a while back—gas tank on, knobs turned, match tossed…then the odd, frantic scritch-scratching as a huge rat shoots out the bottom, bolts across the lawn and down a hole I’d never noticed before underneath the portable basketball hoop. Unnerved, I grab the hose and stuff it deep down the hole and turn it on full blast (I’m sure even PETA wouldn’t mind—everybody gets the heebie jeebies from fat, aggressive rodents). Once I’m positive he’s not coming back up I return to the grill, still lit. I leave it on for another full hour, figuring I could purify it with fire—the marinated flank steak patiently waiting in the fridge. After the hour passes, I revisit the flames. It’s got to be okay now, right? I stare at it inquisitively for another five minutes, then quietly turn it off and disconnect the tank. I resignedly roll it around the side of the house out to the curb and walk back inside, unsure. I grab a piece of typing paper and a Sharpie, scroll “FREE—WORKS” landscape-style across the sheet and walk it out to tape it to the now-cooled hood, sheepishly returning to my cave to shop new grills on my Chromebook. Two hours later when I checked from the front porch, the offending rat-stove was gone.
The only failed attempt at curbside donation was my daughter Lou’s dresser from IKEA—the one that tipped over when she climbed it like a staircase as a four-year old and broke her left leg—I’d forgotten to anchor it to the wall and will forever feel guilty about it (though her now being the fastest runner in the family somewhat alleviates that). Well, seven years later it had now overstayed its welcome…covered with Lou stickers, harboring a broken bottom drawer and with a missing facing piece, my wife looked at me with her subtle head shake as I wrestled it to the curb, chuckling at my own brazen effrontery. A few hours later and no bites, I took my car to do a some errands feeling a little more deflated than was justifiable as I glanced in the rearview at the lonely bureau. Returning back after a few stops, I surprised an unknown neighbor as he’s there tentatively testing the drawers, his young children circling their bikes in the street about six doors down. My timing is terrible—it’s like I shook a cowbell at a deer…he leaves the drawer half-ajar and shuffles off down the street towards the bikes, head down like he’s invisible and never to return. The dump ended up getting that one (the joy I get throwing stuff over the cliff at the landfill is another whole column in of itself, so I’ll leave it alone for now).
I guess it’s just “free stuff” that people can’t resist. That’s why when it’s sample day at Costco (remember those?) you can’t maneuver your cart anywhere without bumping into a polyestered somebody waiting for a microwaved pizza roll like it’s the Miyazaki ribeye from Canlis. It’s the same reason you have 23 of those little mini tubes of toothpaste from your dentist in one of your bathroom drawers—they’re portable, great for traveling and…wait for it…gloriously FREE!