Freecycling, or Garbage Picking for Suburbanites

When I moved recently, I decided to get rid of a lot of furniture. After ditching my ancient, dilapidated computer desk near the dumpster of my old apartment in the hopes that some indigent nerd would scavenge it, only to see it sledgehammered apart by the maintenance crew, I thought I should engage in “free-cycling,” the hip new way to recycle, or to get crap for free. I had used it before to get some free weights for weightlifting, and give away spare workout equipment. People looking for this kind of stuff tend to be prompt and courteous, because weights are expensive- over a dollar a pound- and they get snatched up very quickly.

Furniture, on the other hand, seems to be a bunch of soccer moms looking for bargains. My first giveaway, a leather sofa and loveseat, went great. A black couple picked them up with a U-Haul, brought a friend to help lug them out, and I still had a furniture dolly, it went swimmingly. They were delighted to get my 12 year old couches that were still clean and in good shape, despite having absorbed more gas than a fleet of Hummers over the years. Then I was giving away a microwave, and after two no-shows that wasted my time, another black gal showed up promptly, with her car right outside, a blanket on the back seat, ready to go. In minutes, I’d gotten rid of clutter! It was great. Then I decided to freecycle a steel book shelf, a drafting table, a coffee table, and some old vinyl LPs. The nightmare began.

The guy looking for free records called on a rainy day and said he was outside, so I ran out there, and went up to the only cars parked out front, getting soaked. About five minutes later he rolls up, and opens his door like I’m a servant, talks on his phone the whole time, and doesn’t even say thanks. Next time I’ll just drop them off at the Salvation Army, hipster doofus. He’s probably got my records all covered in hipster pubes already. The stories get progressively worse. A mom with a kid in art school wants a drafting table; I give her photos, she wants to know if the table has a light. Look gift horses in the mouth, much? Come see the damn thing. How much time do you want me to spend giving away things to you? She said she’d come at four, didn’t show up until eight, when we were out at dinner. I gave her my phone number, but she didn’t call first, so she complained that no one was there. Then she says “she knows my building and has picked up things before, just leave it with the door man.”

It disappeared, so I assume she got it. It makes me wonder if people selling stuff don’t cruise Freecycle sites and then turn around and sell things. It doesn’t bother me, actually. I’ve sold things on eBay and Craigslist, and it’s a gigantic pain in the ass. One guy showed up with a two twenties and a hundred dollar bill for a $60 item, I wonder if he thought I’d give it to him for $40 if I didn’t have change. I made him drive to a gas station and get change. Nice try. But anyway, my personal favorite was the woman who showed up for the solid metal bookshelf. I gave her the dimensions and told her it was very heavy, so bring friends and possibly a hand truck or furniture dolly. She showed up alone, with a broken cart. She also had a quad cane, so I would be doing all the furniture moving this day. I lugged it down to her car, which turned out to be a Dodge Intrepid with a trunk full of broken down power tools. She kept saying I could get it in the back seat. This is a two door car. The shelf was the size of a freezer chest. Maybe if I took a hacksaw to her car and made it a convertible, it would fit. No joke, I moved more furniture in my Mustang convertible than you can in a Ford Escape. So she pulls out two power drills from her trunk, saying I could disassemble it. Because she really needs this book shelf. If you need it so badly, bring some of the family you were talking about to help lift the damn thing.

Of course, the batteries are dead in the drill. I told her I’d leave the bookshelf in the hallway, if she could find friends with a truck. She looked very disappointed, and I did feel bad. I know how it is to need a bookshelf, and have to stack your hundreds of books against the wall instead. I wish she had rope, and wanted me to strap it to the roof of her car, because I would have loved to tell you the tale of my steel shelf getting dragged all the way down Bloomfield Avenue in a shower of sparks. But she finally gave up, and an upstairs neighbor eyeballed it, and took it for her own. So there’s a happy ending, it didn’t end up in a landfill.

When I was a kid, “garbage picker” was a derogatory term, but we all did it. People still throw out perfectly good things, like white boys, as in Better Off Dead (obligatory movie reference). So, Freecycling has a purpose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s an archaic reference to when someone might give you a horse, and you’d check its teeth. When you are given something, check it out later in the privacy of your own ingratitude. Then you can throw it out, or re-freecycle it, if you’re a picky garbage picker.

© 2010 Tommy Salami