Each spring the City of Portland holds Heavy Item Pickup, a program of the public works department that allows homeowners to dispose of large, unwanted items on the sidewalks for collection at no cost. This year, like years past, they are threatening to cut the program due to budgetary constraints.
Items must be larger than what would fit in a normal trashbag and cannot be hazardous waste. It's a chance to chuck out that exercise machine you always meant to use but never did. The streets reek of good intentions never realized.
In my younger days, the weeks of heavy item pickup were marked on my calendar as a national holiday. My friends and I would go out with wish lists of items. We would mobilize our squad of vintage Volvo wagons, complete with roof racks and bungee cords, to caravan our well-plotted path. Someone needed a desk for his basemant workshop, another scavenger was hunting for twisted metal for an art project and another needed flowerpots. We all scored. In spades. We even got picky. One lucky plucker found a bowl that she sold for $4,000. I swear this is not an urban legend.
I was looking around my house today, amazed that so much of the furniture that I rescued from the heap is still leading a happy life. A rewired lamp, a reupholstered couch, a recaned chair. Back when time was aplenty and cash was scarce, plucking was an excellent solution.
As the quantity and quality of the piles have diminished, so has my luck. In the heyday there was a shift in homeownership and folks who had lived here their whole lives were selling their houses. Decades of attic and basement clutter went curbside. Often times you would see signs on appliances with a note, " Works Good."
On Munjoy Hill this week residents worried that visitors to the annual garden tour would be put off by the unsightly rubbish. I disagree. I am with the anthropologists who study cultures by analyzing their trash. If you want to know more about people's values, rituals, customs and beliefs, look no further than their refuse.