A slightly edited version of this article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 7/17/04
Page A6, Opinion; Copyright 2004 by Beth David
Link: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/07-04/07-17-04/a06op608.htm

Fairhaven's day for trash and treasure

According to the Town Meeting Warrant, it’s called “Bulky Item Pickup Day.”

However, you’ll hear “heavy garbage day,” “big trash pickup,” and many variations thereof.

In case you haven’t guessed, it’s the day Fairhavenites get to throw out all the stuff that’s too big for the normal trash pickup.

On Fridays in June we can see our tax dollars (to the tune of $69,600-plus this year) hard at work removing the clutter that has accumulated in the sheds and cellars, garages and carports of Fairhaven.

This annual rite, in and of itself, would only merit a quick news item. However, things are never so simple in this place that I call home.

In addition to old lawn chairs, exercise bicycles, water heaters, grills, and swing sets, Bulky Item Pickup Day brings out the human scavengers like no other modern event in these parts. Young and old, in new cars and old trucks, the polite and the rude, the slightly embarrassed and the stridently bold, all converge on our little ‘burb to sift through the leavings.

Nary a soul can pass by this stuff without at least looking, not even the neighbor who insists: “Another person’s trash is another person’s trash.”
My quiet little street had more traffic than Acushnet Avenue on a warm summer night.

That’s because it’s only fair to get your stuff out early so people can pick through it. My niece got highly entertained hiding behind the tree as a constant stream of scavengers rummaged through my pile.

Hiding was not necessary, though. Many of the scavengers waved to me as I sat on my swing. Some even said “thank you.”

There is no shame in rescuing something usable from the trash. All Yankees know this.

The trick is figuring out what’s usable and what’s not.

For example, the year the stuff stayed out for weeks (the town apparently gave the contract to two guys in a pickup truck who were not up to the challenge), any sharp observer doing the West Island Crawl could see items that disappeared from one house suddenly reappear at another house two weeks later.

Sometimes junk really is junk.

Then there’s the man who goes around picking up every lawn mower. Doesn’t matter what kind or how old. If you put out a lawn mower, it’ll be gone the next day.

Bulky Item Pickup is one of the events that bonds rich and poor, longtime residents and newcomers.

This year, on the busy neck, an elderly man wearing colorful summer clothes and a big smile stuffed plastic toys into the massive trunk of a late model Lincoln Continental Town Car with out-of-state plates.

Then there were the two very well dressed women cruising slowly in a shiny Lexus. They stopped at every pile on my street. It’s unclear if they actually took anything, though.

As for the people who create these piles, the human need to save everything “just in case we need it later” is a strong instinct to overcome. Getting rid of pure junk is difficult enough. Trashing the stuff that works would be nearly impossible if not for the scavengers, who give hope of new life for the doomed item. A sign on a coffee pot indicating it works assured my old friend a new home.

I proudly report that most of my old dishes, a cracked plastic table, and my old bicycle got rescued this year. A different bicycle mysteriously appeared in my pile, but, that’s a whole different angle.

I just don’t understand why no one took that perfectly good vinyl window, though. It took extraordinary willpower not to return it to the shed (where it had been in the way for four years). Next year, I’ll be sure to put signs on everything usable.

After all, I wouldn’t want anything to go to waste.