I am sitting in my study on a warm summer Saturday afternoon. My third floor tenant is moving out. I have offered to help, but he’s a big guy, as is his boyfriend, so they’ve got it covered. They load the basics into a U-Haul, drive it off to their new place, then return and unload miscellaneous items on the sidewalk. A pair of white chairs, a microwave, an air conditioner, a few fans. They put signs saying the items are free, and that they work.
I decide I could use the white chairs in my bedroom, since my old rocker has had a broken cane seat for going on ten years. By the time I make my way downstairs and out front, a Volkswagen has parked and a couple has claimed the chairs. No matter, I take a fan. An extra fan is always handy.
By the time I return to my study, my tenant has added more stuff to the sidewalk. An end table, a few lamps, two bookcases. I decide the floor lamp could replace the broken one in my bedroom. My bedroom has become the repository for broken household goods. In a big house there is no need to get rid of broken things, and since I hate to shop, only essentials are replaced. Since I never actually sit in my bedroom, a broken rocker and lamp hardly matter.
I get to the sidewalk in time to claim the floor lamp. It looks great in my room. I throw the broken one out.
Back in my study I watch the steady stream of pedestrians and cars that stop, analyze, and tote treasures away. The bookcases go fast, but the microwave has no takers. Some things, even when free, are not worth the responsibility of transport and redistribution. As for the lamp with the feather shade? It might get snatched up in a second in the South End, but here in Cambridge, it gets passed over time and again.