The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Objects: #4—Thrown-Out Stuff

by Andrew Tibbetts

My friend Judy (not her real name) knows the garbage nights of the rich neighbourhoods. She will often cruise over in a borrowed minivan and come back with great stuff. She has a Mr. Fix-it boyfriend, so even thrown-out speakers and radios and such, she’ll take a chance on. The worse case scenario: they’ll end up out front on her garbage night a few days later.

There was a short story by Laurie Moore that got edited at the New Yorker and they wanted her to take out the phrase ‘garbage night’. I couldn’t believe that. “Garbage night” is big news in the suburbs. It has its own rituals. It may not be particularly evocative for apartment dwellers but it calls up lots for me. Arguments with my sister about who’s turn it was. Lovely stop and start conversations with neighbours as you come back to the curb with each load. The yucky time I worked for a group home with a giant garbage bin outside that collected the bags until garbage night and how in the summer they were sure to be covered in a slime of maggots so that you had to take one bag at a time, wearing gloves, holding it the full length of your over-extended arms so that it wouldn’t drip onto you. Fun times!

And of course: thrown-out stuff. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Neighbours put out furniture that reminds you of your own living room in the seventies! Exercise equipment that looks dusty. Good looking stuff that makes you ponder your own sneaky recovery mission, but then what if, months later, you have those neighbours over! And they see it. And say, “Hey, we have that…. Oh….” And then there’s that awkward silence.

Garbage picker! That was a terrible insult in my elementary school. Nothing worse. Not even having cooties. Okay, maybe being a fag was worse. But garbage picker was about your deep character as reflected in your disgusting behavioural habits. I can’t scoop up thrown-out stuff as a result. I’m perma-scarred, on perma-guard against the accusation. So if my neighbours were throwing out Fabergé eggs I’d walk right by. Okay, maybe I’d rush right by, run to my phone and call Judy! Get over here now! And then I’d go back and guard the garbage from folks less damaged by school yard hierarchy experiences.

Garage sales are different. Those are cool. I like when entire neighbourhoods co-ordinate their garage sales and the streets become a bazaar some Saturday summer afternoon. The town of Manheim in Ontario has a great one. One year, I took my kids. I parked and a police officer noticed my expired validation sticker and gave me lecture in front of the town of Manheim. A lecture and a ticket. There were so many people gathered around, perfectly content to watch the show. My mortified children hovered by the car. I tried not to cry. He asked me, “so why haven’t you renewed it?” Folks leaned in to hear. I said, “lack of funds.” He said, “And yet you’re here at the Manheim garage sale? Doesn’t sound right to me.” I thought to say, much later when once the flight-defense response had lifted and my brain came back on-line, “Well, officer, I only have these two dollars, I thought I might get a used jigsaw puzzle for the kid’s birthday. It’s not much but it’s the best I can do since the wife died and I lost my job.” If you’re going to put on a show, put on a good one! Instead I hung my head, took the ticket, packed the kids up and left.

Why is it okay to buy someone’s old blender in a garage sale, but not pick the exact same blender off the front of the same lawn if it were a garbage night? Garage sale/ Garbage night. There’s not even that much difference to the phrases. Linguistic cousins? That little ‘b’ that wanders into the garage spoils everything.

We get to declare whether the stuff we don’t want is garbage or not. And if so declared, it’s only the very brave Judies of the world who defy that designation.

I had coffee at Judy’s house one morning when she first told me of her scavenging adventures. She gave me a quick tour of her home. “This came from R. street; this I got last summer, from, I can’t remember, maybe E. avenue; oh, this, this I love! It was poking out of a pile of old shoes, giant pile of old shoes, and this chest of drawers underneath, can you believe, walnut, perfect condition…” Her entire, beautiful home, furnished in other people’s garbage. A part of me was awestruck and envious. Another part of me felt sick and wanted to run.

*Photo from Maitland Street Garbage Night sometime in October 2008


Blogger Ms. Theologian said...

I got an office desk chair from the dumpsters at Harvard. We also got a recliner from a dumpster outside a supermarket, but I made my husband throw it out (again). It smelled like pee. I have limits.

Wed Oct 22, 12:32:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I'm officially in favour of Garbage Night, even though I've not heard the expression before. What a wonderful way to recycle. Too bad there isn't a way to make it less shameful. Let's hear it for all brave Judies!

Thu Oct 23, 12:42:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I'm a get rid of things person, I give our stuff to the Sally Ann, my idea, something comes in, something goes out, it works, I have little sentimental attatchments to things, the other day though I went to my girlfriends and she was purging her cupboards, in Fort Nelson, gorgeous work, I picked them up from her curb, she was also giving away a bread maker, I nearly caved to that also but....oh...and Andrew, do you re-gift??? I do!!!'s crazy man, crazy, happy to read the CWC. xo

Thu Oct 23, 01:54:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Maryanne Stahl said...

back in the day (before 2001) I was known for my habit of carrying all manner of rusted metal, sea-washed wood, etc. home to Georgia on the plane from my summer trip to the beaches of New York.

I have so much 'found' treasure, some of it hung on walls...

Thu Oct 23, 06:50:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous ruth taylor said...

When we moved up to Toronto from Guatemala City, I packed up the maximum baggage the airlines would allow without paying extra(plates, cutlery, blankets, toys), thinking that we'd be starting from scratch and could use every household item we could fit. I needn't have bothered. In Toronto, friends and strangers offered us their cast-offs of furniture, clothing, dishes etc. etc. and after only a month we had accumulated more stuff than we did in ten years in Guatemala. It was/is kind of overwhelming.

Our house still looks a little like it came from one long garbage night.

Thu Oct 23, 06:37:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

We have a special day set aside for residents to put out the stuff they think others might need.

I once put out a genuine imitation naugahide loveseat and chair. A lady came to the door and asked, "Are you really giving that away?" She was thrilled even though the vinyl was ripped in places.

Another time, I had my husband drag out a homemade table saw. It was about 100 pounds of pressed plywood with a circular saw built in.

A guy wrestled it into his trunk at dusk. Around midnight, he put it back.

Good thing someone else grabbed it before morning.

verification word: upething. pfff...

p.s. prayers please for my nephew Brandon Crisp, missing since Thanksgiving. I'm sure some of you have heard the news...

There will be an updated poster available Friday.

Thu Oct 23, 10:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous ruth taylor said...


A terrible and agonizing time for you and your family. My thoughts are with you and Brandon. I dearly hope he is brought home safe, and soon.

Sun Oct 26, 11:59:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Hi, Chumplet, I had heard about Brandon. My thoughts are with you.

Mon Oct 27, 09:59:00 am GMT-4  

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