Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gone in a Quincy Minute

            Maybe this is the way the world keeps going.

            Things break, we throw them away. They are made to be replaceable. You cannot get parts for them. The things we buy may be well made, with hearts of iron and bones of steel, but the soft tissues is plastic. It's the dial, the switch, the contraption on the dashboard, the dial in the window that goes.

            The microwave that "wore out," the toaster-oven that stopped working. The door on the refrigerator got out of alignment. It's still cold inside, but the door won't shut properly so the motor runs constantly. These things must go. They are not repairable. No one sells the medicine for them. No general practitioner for all things material sets up shop among us.

            When our things break down, we do what everyone does. We throw them out. In the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, the means of disposal for almost everything  (and everything so far we've tried to get rid of this way) is to lug the item out to the curb on garbage pickup day.      

            But sometimes you don't have to wait for pickup day. You simply deposit your item on the public side of the curb stone, turn your back, and it vanishes. You lug leftover shingles from the house repair project to the roadside, walk back indoors and hear the vehicle that gleefully acquired the stuff you wished to dispose of drive way.

            We gave up on an outsized barbeque grill that was not, confidentially, very old but proved to be the wrong size for a small household. Its capacity was enormous; Boy Scout troop size, regimental. My wife, who purchased it only to discover, upon assembly (hers, not mine; I stay the hell away), that it proved to be twice as large as she had imagined convinced me it was not evil to buy a smaller grill to replace the oversize one, for "convenience."

            We did so. I dragged the awkward metal skeleton of the rejected item to the curb on the same afternoon, as it happened, that some skilled operative arrived to attach the new microwave to the new shelf. He was driving some sort of van. He looked at the grill on the curb, and on entering the house spoke the sentence I knew was coming.

            "You don't want it?"


            He signaled outdoors, and his wife and kid hopped out of the van and hauled the oversize grill into the back. Repairmen sometimes arrive at our house with their family in tow.

            So last night, I am taking out the trash, hefting a week's worth of newspapers, enough weight to keep me from expanding our subscription list. Then come the other recyclables; then the unredeemable trash (mostly plastic wrappings and kitty litter). And then the moment arrives to unburden our lives of the old portable electric radiator. I have used it for years. It is full of perfectly satisfactory metal and the part that makes the heat probably still works, but I broke the plastic on-off dial a half a year ago. Anne jerryrigged it together; then she broke that finagle, and we eventually got to the point where we couldn't turn it on. This greatly diminished its usefulness.

            The time came for our final goodbye. I heaved it up; it was heavy, awkward. I took care in manhandling it down the porch steps and settling it down in a stable position (I had broken a wheel too) on the curb next to the serious, routine garbage. It was dark out.

            By this time I was aware of hearing what could only be a car engine, idling. It was the only car with its engine running anywhere in our inordinately peaceful neighborhood. Sometimes, however, people stop at this corner and pond their next move. Were they lost?

            I turned. The woman was already out of the passenger seat.

            "We're going to pick that up," she said, with a certain hypothetical tone to her voice. "If you don't mind."

            "Of course not. But it doesn't work," I added, entirely unnecessarily. She knew that.

            She said some version of "it doesn't matter." And then she repeated the same phrase as before: "We're just going to pick it up."

            Pick it up? Are you, madam, impersonating a garbage truck?

            But no, it's not garbage. It's stuff, material, metal in this case, on its way to being redistributed.

            The man was now out of the car, the trunk popped, and he's shuffling things around back, discussing the new arrangement with his wife in a foreign language, making room for their latest 'pickup.'

            They were gone, in a Quincy minute, before I made it back indoors.

            I wondered where my old portable electrical radiator was going and what it would be doing next. But in a way I knew.

            It was going to remake the world.