Columns

2013.07.24 One man's trash...

By HEATHER WALKER

“I know, let’s have a garage sale!” Yet another rash decision made by my neighbor friend Eileen and me (as if the 6’ tall “German Johnson” tomato plants in her backyard weren’t reminder enough that we have no business making plans together).  

“Let’s sell the stuff and be done with it.” 

“Yes, let’s. It’ll be fun.”

Our boys are the same age, so we were both harboring approximately 5 cubic tons of plastic toys in our closets and basements. To add to the stockpile, she offered 10 years worth of unused scrapbooking supplies, while I scraped together an assortment of expensive, albeit preposterous high-heeled shoes. 

Each of us spent nearly a week finding, cleaning, sorting, repairing and pricing items from the catacombs of our homes—mostly Transformers, Bakugan, superhero action figures, Matchbox cars, Nerf guns and other barely used, but highly coveted, boys’ toys. Of course there was also the food dehydrator, pool vacuum, exercise bike and broken lawn mower—not to mention the item everyone was looking for—a Nintendo game system.

What began as good fun, quickly turned sour. The process began to make me sick. For three days I was dizzy and barely coherent. I couldn’t string together complete thoughts of more than a few syllables before my eyes glazed over, and I sat catatonic, unwilling to look at or touch another “gently worn” item. It was clear we had made a mistake, but what could we do? By then our living spaces were overrun by dusty, unwanted goods. There was no turning back. The realization reminded me of the scene from Macbeth when he, too, recognized that he was “in blood stepped in so far that should [he] wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” 

The deed must be done. And by 7 a.m. Saturday, we were, at last, armed and ready. 

Our tables were neatly displayed and organized. We had our change box, bookkeeping notebook and “We accept credit cards!” sign. While I was discouraged by the lack of early-morning shoppers, Eileen remained optimistic in a Field of Dreams sort of way, “If we have it, they will come.” 

Sure enough, they came. The pace was relaxed but steady, and the cash rolled in for most of the morning. Will you take $3 for this VCR? Yes! Will you take 50 cents for both cars? Yes! $15 for the bike? Yes! We knew our objective was to get rid of the unwanted items, but we also wanted to make it worth our time. After all, the week’s worth of preparation was a week of our lives we would never get back (and frankly I wasn’t sure I would fully recover). 

While most of the customers were friendly, one exceptionally pushy woman insisted she would give me 10 cents and take my gold sandals. I insisted she would give me 25 cents. (I mean, the nerve! You don’t tell me what you’re giving me, as you walk away with my unwanted, unworn shoes! And besides, all our accounting was done in increments of .25. Sheesh!)

Traffic began to slow by 2 o’clock, and sales were all but dead by 5. As expected, we had about half of our inventory left over. Should we remain open another day or donate the rest to charity? Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the decision was made to close up shop. We quickly boxed up what was left, kept a few items that seemed too valuable to just “give away,” and carted the rest down to the Salvation Army trailer. 

As many of you know the trailer was not only crammed full but was spilling over by two or three times maximum capacity. As we jumped out of the truck, I was struck by the tragic reality of it all. So much conspicuous consumption. So much waste. I felt guilty adding my clear garbage bags of “like-new” stuffed animals, designer heels and home furnishings to the pile. What would become of them? Would the Salvation Army bring another trailer? Would my cast-offs go to a good home? Would someone, please, redeem us from our greed and folly? 

Alas, no. 

It seems the Salvation Army did not send a second truck on Sunday, and eventually the rain came.  By Monday we learned that wet goods were of no use to the charitable organization, and the remaining items would therefore be picked up by Modern Waste and dumped into a landfill. Fighting back bitter tears, I went back to the pile, ready to retrieve my stuff—wet or not. I would find a home for those sweet Webkinz and red, leather Nine West boots if it was the last thing I did. 

But wait, what was this? They were gone! All my prized, unwanted things were gone! Someone who needed them took them and put them to good use (or sold them for a profit on eBay, but who cares)! They were gone and so was most of my guilt. 

Now, who wants to go shoe shopping?