I like Netflix and Prime Video and, occasionally, Apple TV. But lately, my favorite channel has been the Cleanup Week channel.
You see, I’ve set up my workspace in a room that overlooks the street. It is typically not the most exciting view, although the drama and action have picked up considerably during “Cleanup Week.”
Strangers haphazardly backing up on lawns to load a 60-year-old refrigerator. People rifling through boxes of mismatched dishes as if they are panning for gold. People dumping off their junk on someone else’s boulevard.
In terms of watchability, Cleanup Week is sweeps week.
It’s amazing how this yearly ritual affects perfectly sane and normal humans. Ordinary-looking matrons squabbling over a broken futon. A man pulling into someone’s driveway, beside a giant pile of trash, to instead drive off with the perfectly good basketball hoop that is obviously not meant to be discarded. People waiting till night time so they can furtively dig through the garbage by flashlight beam. (Apparently, this is more dignified.)
It’s like socially acceptable looting, except the items taken usually have little value. Yet I understand the thrill of the chase. Really good curb-cullers have all sorts of stories about the time they discovered a fully functioning, expensive stereo or a valuable antique on the boulevard.
And even I must admit there’s so much promise in discovering other’s throwaway treasures. I actually think Cleanup Week exemplifies human optimism at its finest. No one asks why someone has decided to get rid of that normal-looking office chair. They don’t worry about lumbar support or squeaking wheels or the fact it feels like you’re sitting on a pile of scoria. Just by looking at it, they know three things: It LOOKS normal; it looks better than the chair THEY have; and it is free.
And so they roll it home, squeaking all the way, until they also discover it feels like sitting on a pile of scoria. Then they dispose of it at next year’s Cleanup Week so it can bruise someone else’s tailbone.
I must have been feeling that sense of scavenger’s optimism when I discovered my last real Cleanup Week find. Years ago, when I still worked as a reporter, I accompanied a Cleanup Week savant on a hunting mission for boulevard bounty.
I came home with an authentic midcentury chair, complete with teak legs, shoehorned into the trunk of my Impala. The webbing was torn, the cushions smelled like they had been rescued from Johnny Depp’s man cave and the wood needed to be refinished, but my fellow bargain-hunting buddy insisted these things could easily be fixed.
Of course, these things could be easily fixed — if you were an experienced DIYer as she was. I am not, so the neglected chair sat in my garage for two years. When I got divorced, this Chair of Many Promises moved with me. In fact, it moved three times. It always wound up in the garage, greeting me with a silent reproach of all the things in life I’d never quite got around to finishing.
Finally, when Kondo-ing my condo, I listed it on an online garage sale. Because I knew it was authentically midcentury and had the potential to be a valuable chair, I listed it for $5. However, I foolishly told the truth in my sales pitch, mentioning that I had plucked it from the boulevard.
A young woman immediately responded — not to bid on the chair, but to harass me for putting a price on something I had gotten for free. An online argument proceeded, with me pointing out the chair’s great bones and the fact that “pickers” will find a dilapidated coal bucket at the dump, then stick petunias in it and sell it for $75. She proceeded to label me as “dishonest,” because I actually told the truth on a platform where every other profile pic uses a Snapchat filter and everyone’s family apparently travels to Aruba whenever they aren’t busy running marathons or buying lake homes.
As online disputes go, this one also went nowhere, although so many people bid on the chair that it ultimately sold for $35.
That’s the last time I went boulevard-browsing.
Let’s just say it curbed my enthusiasm.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.