Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Man's Treasure...

The pot to my discarded coffeemaker is sitting on my curb lawn. So is the filter basket. The coffeemaker itself is gone and so is the rest of my trash. But there sit the thermal carafe and basket, stark white and forlorn. They were not even good enough for the garbage-pickers.

Do you have garbage-pickers in your part of the world? We do. And our street is a hotly contested avenue of prime garbage-picking real estate that was the cause of at least one boisterous and noisome argument that I was witness to a couple of years ago because it took place right in front of my home. We are prime trash-gleaning territory, let me tell you. But first, a primer of sorts might be in order for those of you who are not, perhaps, part of the refuse rescue and, cycle.

I live in a charming established neighborhood of mostly colonial homes and some story-and-a-half houses built in the early half of the 20th century. The lots are tiny and the homes are only a driveway's width apart from each other. The streets are lined with old, old gracious silver maples and there is no parking on either side of our narrow avenue. Every home has its mail delivered right to its door; same with the daily news. On every Tuesday evening the neighborhood drags its trash and bluebagged recyclables down to the curb for the next morning's pickup. We can set out anything to be taken: the usual trashcans of household garbage along with appliances, furniture, branches, etc. Many times, I have taken the extra time to arrange certain items rather conspicuously and attractively, such as old tv trays, outdoor furniture, planters, and the like. Then we all go inside and wait for the garbage-pickers to show up.

As soon as it is dusk, we hear the familiar rumbles and clanks of battered pickups. They've arrived. These vehicles cruise slowly up and down the street, checking out what is placed on the curbs. Sometimes the pickers come alone. The driver leaves the engine to idle as he jumps out and inspects each pile. Sometimes they bring one of their kids--usually eleven or twelve years old--or even their wives. Gutters, aluminum siding, any metal goes quickly--it can be sold for scrap. Then the other items are inspected. Once, I heard a woman say loudly, as if she was hoping I was listening, "I can't believe they're throwing these perfectly good plants away! What's a few bugs?"

Once, our basement flooded. Our curb lawn looked like our house threw up. It was a garbage-picker's paradise. I watched fascinated while a kid with an absurdly huge head rode his bike away, somehow balancing two big stereo speakers on his handlebars. I still don't know how, or why, he did it. Don't people realize what's in the water when basements flood?

Anyway, a couple of years ago, two garbage-pickers ended up in a face-off with each other in front of my house. One accused the other, in no uncertain terms, of being in his territory. Seems as though this angry garbage-picker has been scavenging on our street for pretty much his entire career and every other garbage-picker (but this new guy, apparently) knows it and stays away. Much gesturing and posturing ensued, but the Original Garbage-Picker won. I guess you can't argue with Seniority, even if it's in the Garbage-Picking Realm. The other garbage-picker surrendered his stuff, got in his pickup with the scraps o' plywood side panels, and left in a huff. Since then, things have been serene on our little street on Tuesday nights.

But I'm miffed about the coffeemaker. Why take just the maker and not the carafe and the basket? I already know why the city's garbagemen didn't take it. I've had that conversation already. I had occasion to call the city's sanitation department before because the garbagemen left so much crap all over my lawn. Here is what went down on the phone:

Me: Hello. I have a concern regarding the city workers who are supposed to collect my trash.

City Worker: Yes? How can I help you?

Me: Well, they leave a lot of garbage on the lawn. It's not there in the morning when I leave for
work, so I know it's not coming from an animal getting into the cans. They are spilling it
from the cans and not cleaning it up.

CW: Well, ma'am, they can't go picking up garbage at everybody's house.

Me: Excuse me? Did you just say that they can't pick up people's garbage? Isn't that pretty
much their JOB?

CW: Well, ma'am, if they stop to pick up SPILLED garbage on everyone's property, they'll
never get their route done. You'll just have to pick it up. I'm sure it's just a little bit.

Me: Well, ma'am, if they didn't SPILL the garbage, there wouldn't be a problem. How about
YOU come out and pick up their mess for me? It's just a little bit. Or better yet, how
about you ask Mr. _____ (insert mayor's name) to come out and pick it up for me?

CW: Ma'am, you don't understand--

Me: You are absolutely right about that. Good day.

So, today, my carafe and basket are in the garbage can. Waiting for next Tuesday. As part of the regular trash.


  1. Anonymous6:44 PM

    What a great story! We live in the country and have our "garbage pickers" too. It's pretty much a guarantee that anything set out by the side of the road will be gone in less than an hour. I totally understand the coffee carafe issue! One time I set out a black "pleather" (that's plastic/leather-look combined for those of you who don't know) sofa that we had unwillingly inheritated from an Aunt who had it in her basement. It had that horrible musty smell that some old basements have. Anyway, someone came along and cut the entire back of the sofa away and took it and the cushions, but left the rest!!! Go figure. Within ten minutes, a van comes along and this HUGE woman (easily 6'5") picks the sofa up by herself and puts it on top of her van and drives away! Can't beat that for entertainment!

  2. Anonymous7:32 PM

    I must admit that my days as a high school student were largely spent garbage picking, although less because we needed or wanted to sell the goods and more because there was nothing else to do. I remember one time we found a couch, some end tables, and a big broken TV that we grabbed and the set up in our old physics teacher's front lawn - only a coffee table and a recliner short of an entire living room.

    On another note, I had to read Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage for a course I took as an undergraduate, and apparently near the Mexican border there are garbage pickers that grab old appliances, cart them across the border, and have mechanics fix them up and sell them. The group that wrote the book has dug through landfills and taken inventory of what they have found, and whereas most products are found nearly in proportion to how many were produced in the past and how quickly they are disposed of, the number of appliances found was extremely lower than they had expected. Apparently there's a good chance that the washer or dryer you threw out in the past decade is actually in someone's house in Mexico.

  3. We get that here on the North side too.

    Say it with me...
    E-L-Y...R-I-A... I love my hometown.

    And I don't think the mayor would be able to come pick up the garbage, he's preoccupied with keeping his lil riverwalk nice and clean because he apparently thinks its the only thing in our fine city.

  4. kg--what is your protocol for viewing the garbage-pickers? i always make sure i watch them surreptitiously. i'd just be mortified if they saw me seeing them.

    ih--as you know, i am all about recycling. if there are some mexican families now getting use of my old maytag and amana, then i'm thrilled.

    danielle--the most annoying thing was that the woman did not see the blatant irony in her remark, even when i pointed it out to her. unnoticed irony is a tragedy.

  5. It looked like your house had thrown up on the lawn--I love that line.

    My 11-year-old son is a garbage picker here in Belgium. On "big trash" day, I allow him to make the rounds on our street. He's looking for scrap wood to use in his various creative projects.

  6. I've noticed that we have a "regular" team of garbage pickers as well. I've never had a turf rumble, so our guy must be pretty tough. They take stuff almost from our hands, they come so quick. I wish that big leaf sucking machine was as reliable!

  7. Anonymous7:18 PM

    Great post! When I finally got my new computer, I put my old computer out front near my blue recycling bin.

    We have to make a special call to have appliances and computers picked up. I went inside made the call about the pick-up, then had to leave the house. When I got outside, not even ten minutes later, someone was outside looking at the computer.

    He asked if it had been mine and if it worked. I said "yes," but that it was really old and slow. He said that it was okay, he wanted to learn to use a computer. I wished him "good luck" and he drove off in his truck.

  8. CW: Well, ma'am, they can't go picking up garbage at everybody's house.

    It is a tragedy (so is ignorance). She sounds like the type of person that you could say "do you understand you just said garbage men aren't supposed to pick up garbage-that makes no sense whatsoever" and she'd think YOU were the stupid one. People like that make my head hurt.

    She must use the phrase "aint it" alot. That, by the way, is my number one pet peev in THE ENTIRE WORLD.

  9. I, too, am familiar with the phenomenon, though we didn't call them garbage pickers, because they didn't pick through the garbage, per se. If you had something you wanted to discard that might be useful to someone else, you put it out before garbage day, on a weekend. Furniture would disappear by the time you got back up your stairs. We called them scavengers, but in a nice way. The people who pick up your discarded coffee maker and other assorted broken items are dealers. They fix them up and sell them to second hand stores. That's why they took your coffee maker, and not the pot or the basket. The machine can be fixed and resold, and the dealers have more pots than they need.

  10. Score! Our broken washer was snagged within an hour of its placement on the treelawn.

  11. Pomo--Oh no--these people PICK. They go through everything that's not in a can or bagged. Boxes are opened and piles are ransacked.

    danielle--it took that long? lol.


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