It's that time of year again. Leases end and sidewalks bloom with the trash of people moving out or moving in waiting to be transformed into 'another man's treasure' by a thrifty passerby. My Cypriot mother would be appalled if she knew that I had stopped, halfway through my daily walking 'commute' home from campus, and was poring over a microwave left on the sidewalk on Dana Street.
Nothing about the microwave's looks felt like its use was meant to be prolonged. Nothing about its placement gave the impression that it had been engineered to attract people passing by. It was on the ground, inconspicuous. Too low, even for a short person like me. Nothing, that is, besides the scribbled piece of paper that rested flat on top of it, which I was staring down on:
'WORKS BUT DOESN'T HEAT UP. MAYBE SERVICEABLE???'
The fact that I had stopped despite this sign was itself a sign that the practice of giving my neighbors' junk a home had gotten under my skin. A custom I had considered so alien to my nature had found its way into the very bloodstream of my consumerist desires, triggering thoughts such as: 'It wouldn't be too bad if we had a microwave'; 'I hate warming food on the stove anyway, too many dirty dishes and no dishwasher'; 'It will be perfect for making that instant porridge I bought from Costco in bulk last year'. Let's face it: I am officially part of this curious, yet splendidly rewarding and not to mention sustainable, practice of contemplating my neighbors' junk as potentially great new additions to my home.
In the interest of transparency, this was not my first sidewalk acquisition. I've been this way for a while now. Last summer, I was taking a leisurely stroll to the park when I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, what looked like a robust, red piece of furniture on the side street to my right. I promptly changed course, and looked around to see whether there was any competition in the vicinity eyeing the prize I had spotted. The coast was clear, but I still picked up the pace, arriving in front of a beautifully plush, cherry-red armchair that looked like no one had sat on it since it arrived, packed in boxes, from IKEA. I snapped a couple of photos and sent them to my boyfriend, who doubles as my roommate. When 20 seconds passed and he had not responded, I began calling him. Four calls later, he picked up.
'Hi. Did you see my text?'
'Okay we need this armchair. We need to take it home ASAP. Can you leave work NOW and go rent a UHaul? It's got to be now! NOW!'
'It's 3:00 pm.'
'Well what am I supposed to do? I need to stay here and make sure no one steals it!'
'Let's pick it up at 6:30pm when I'm done'
I scoffed. 6:30 pm was too late and he knew it. I hung up and rummaged through my bag for pen and paper. I wrote:
'WILL PICK UP. PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE.'
And put my faith in the goodness of humanity. When we went back at 6:30 pm the armchair was gone.
I also have experience on the supply side of curbside trade, even though my passion for that part of the business is much less pronounced. The defining moment of my supply career was when I left a 200 lb couch on the sidewalk between Dana and Centre Streets two summers ago, a mere three weeks after buying it off of Craigslist in a moment of panic, after confronting a hauntingly empty living room. When no one picked it up three days later I called a friend who I knew had a UHaul that day and begged him to take it away. I couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for such heavy sidewalk pollution. He happily removed it - for free - and I now occasionally sit on that couch whenever I visit him. I secretly hope he's cleaned it in the meantime, because I hadn't. Upholstery cleaning is way too expensive - a major reason why avoiding curbside couch-hoarding at all costs is a prudent move - and anyway deep inside I knew I couldn't live with a hand-me-down, green-and-pink pinstripe couch.
So there I was, towering above a microwave that worked but didn't really - if it didn't heat up, what did it do? - trying to calculate whether the cost of fixing it would be less than the cost of buying a new one. I'm pretty sure I've seen microwaves going for as little as $50. Or maybe I made that up and they were more expensive? I bet Target has cheap microwaves, but I can't get there since I do not own a car. So perhaps this is my best shot at a cheap - a FREE! - microwave. But where would I get it serviced? I whipped out my phone: 'APPLIANCE REPAIR CAMBRIDGE, MA'. No prices were listed. What would M (aforementioned boyfriend/roommate) do? He's always cautioning me against getting carried away with enthusiasm over sidewalk treasures. And Black Friday deals. And the clearance rack at the Gap Factory Outlet in DTX.
I heeded the memory of his advice and walked away from the microwave, but not before taking a photo of it and making a note of the street name and number, just in case. I could hear my mother's voice straight from Cyprus telling me this was the right thing to do:
'How much would service cost?'
'At least $30. I think.'
'And a new microwave would be between $50 - $100?'
'New one, no questions asked!'
I'm pretty confident about my decision as I walk the remaining blocks to my house and wait for M to get back from work so that I can finally brag about this rare moment of sidewalk self-restraint. I go online and see that to fix a microwave that doesn't heat up would actually cost closer to $50, depending on the brand. I sigh, yet another incident confirming that my curbside acquisitions are based less on actual need and more on a well-honed shopping impulse for things-that-seem-like-deals-but-are-actually-not.
Around 6:10 pm, M sends me a photo of a light-blue couch next to a parking meter. It would work perfectly in our living room.
'Couch??????' reads the text.