Richie Black reflects on the existential angst of council pick-up day.
“Why? Get rid of it. It’s junk.”
I have a friend who is entirely practical when it comes to holding onto items which some might say have sentimental value – but others think are crap.
She dispenses with preloved items with due diligence, including former partners. Rather than ruthlessness, it’s undertaken with a sense of good health – of relieving oneself of waste products.
Recently I had to try and get rid of some old heritage items. Their value was incalculable according to the currency of sentiment. But time and mismanagement had eroded their discount-furniture integrity.
I steeled myself and contacted the council for pick-up. City of Sydney Council could take them away, quickly, painlessly and – presumably – with due respect.
I wouldn’t say I’m a hoarder – but I do find it hard to throw things out sometimes. The more worn, dilapidated the item – the more welded to a time and a place they become.
My old lucky cricket hat that is now apparently gestating new forms of fungal life? A treasure. That bottle of tomato-chutney an ex gave me last year? Mate, hands off.
That bewildered looking puppet donkey I bought in Greece and serves absolutely no redeemable purpose? The National Trust should be notified of that.
As with any other items of ancient cultural significance, say, Keith Richards, one’s feeling for them lies partly in an admiration for their eternal stoicism in the face of excess and abuse.
Unlike Keith, there is poignancy in that this excess and abuse wasn’t self-inflicted. They were innocents at the mercy of time, elements and, in the case of a pair of hiking boots that saw me through a European holiday, my feet.
“What’s it good for? It’s completely useless.”
This friend was talking about a glass table that was missing some screws and the end of one leg. It had been one of my first writing desks. All but useless for its original purpose now, it remained stoically poised, always on the brink of collapse. For me, that was part of its charm.
Then there was an old mattress that I’d kept propped up in my spare room. It had a storied career. Admittedly, any mattress has a storied career. That doesn’t make them any less disgusting after a couple of years. But this one had a real legacy.
“It’s still useable as a mattress – when guests come over.”
“It’s got stains on it. Do you know what those stains are?” (I’m fairly sure they were wine stains, for the record.)
Nevertheless, I dragged the mattress outside in readiness for the appointed council pick-up day – and rested it against the fence out front. I saluted it sadly. Wished it well on its voyage to the hereafter of my memory.
Similarly, the table – in a gruelling process that I had to convince myself wasn’t an act of defilement – was disassembled and left on the side of the road. It looked so sad, sitting there in bits. Divested of its original meaning. Naturally, I wept.
“Someone will probably take it an half an hour,” my friend said.
Somebody? Who are these people? Are they qualified to own my trash? I don’t want just anyone picking up my detritus.
For example, when it comes to the “bin chickens” who often raid my recycling bin (not, I assume, just for kicks but mindful of the Return and Earn container refund scheme), I frown at them disapprovingly.
It’s a frown that says meaningfully, “Hey! Get your hands off those empty wine bottles!” They get the message, I guess. And, look, part of me thinks I’m doing a public service by emptying those wine bottles for them.
At least, I thought, the table could be put to some use. As long as the constituent elements were treated respectfully.
True, I thought, the used mattress was an unlikely prize for any would-be scavenger. My best hope was that it would be appropriated into a Duchamp-like art installation. Unlikely maybe, but I did think its stains had a particular artistic imperative.
Unfortunately – cruelly – pickup day coincided with a sustained bout of inclement weather. A deluge hit Sydney. That, and a minor pandemic scare, presumably caused logistical problems for the always beleaguered council. Pick up was delayed.
Anyway, my crap was left in the street. For several days, it lay abandoned. Beholden to scavengers, I thought. Surely, I thought, they’d want my unwanteds?
But no. The mattress became sodden with rain. As the hours went by, it became increasingly doubtful any art gallery would accept it.
I held greater hopes for the table. Perhaps it could be used for a round-table discussion of some importance? Let’s not be hubristic. I’m not talking about convening negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe a reconciliation of various factors of the NSW Labor Party?
Then something awful happened.
Yes, the glass top was taken. But that just added a twist of cruelty to the abandonment of the other elements.
The rain dripped from the abandoned table legs like tears. Meanwhile, the mattress flapped disconsolately in the deluge. As lank and sad as Greg Hunt’s hair.
I became increasingly restless as the days went by. I set up a vigil in my front garden, watching for signs of anyone that might want to take it away.
Why was the public so reluctant to pick up my waste? Sheer snobbery, I think. I screamed invective at my fellow man.
And then, finally, (actually a couple of days later), the council arrived and took everything away. They went “about it” sometime early in the morning, when I was in the shower.
I opened the shutters and peered through the grimy windows to see an empty street. A silence. Something you could feel.
And then I went onto Ikea’s website – and began to look for more items I could, eventually, leave by the side of the road.
Richie Black is the deputy editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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