Most years, our little town has a Festival of Trash. They don’t call it that, of course. If they called it The Festival of Trash, it would be more interesting, and become more popular, eventually turn into a rock-solid tradition, get famous, and make the town notable. Boosters of all kinds are continually trying to make the town notable with unfun fun runs and unjolly holiday fetes and parades with more people on the floats than the sidewalk. No one understands the organic nature of a successful tradition anymore. The Festival of Trash has potential. No one sees it but me, I guess. That’s not an uncommon sensation in my life.
Anyway, I like the Festival of Trash. Once a year, the public works department instructs the citizens to deliberately place threadbare sofas on the lawn on a specific day, instead of simply placing them on the front porch and sitting on them like the rest of the year. They suggest you place old mattresses, car tires, metal, brush, wood debris, and other similar detritus out on the curb as well. Town workers come around with front end loaders and trucks and so forth and pick it all up, and the town is made incrementally less tawdry.
It’s an early Spring thing. Early Spring is late spring if you’re not in Maine. The stuff can be put out on the curb for up to a week before the appointed date, but most people use only the weekend before Festival of Trash Monday. It helps to generally declutter yards and homes in preparation for the impending good weather. I’ve lived here for 6 years now, and the good weather continues to impend. I’ll be ready for it when it pends.
Very little is ultimately left for the trash man, because everyone turns the occasion into a gigantic swap meet. It’s considered very bad form to try to sell anything during the Festival of Trash. A few people have yard sales to coincide with the event, but they get snickered at. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk-stained couch for free? A kind of general reckoning happens. Like water finding its own level, vaguely useful things find vague uses in the eye of the beholder, and they get swapped without deals being struck. If you see it, you take it. Things that are no longer useful to one household get picked up by other households and put to use. I think it’s grand.
I find treasure, every year. We’re stupid poor, so it’s easy to find things we could use sitting on other people’s curbs. The whole town is poor, so you don’t find Faberge eggs or anything, but if you know how to make use of raw materials, there’s always something.
There are hardcore people that cruise the town in battered pickups towing rusty trailers. Some pick up anything metal, and bring their booty to the scrapyard for a meager payday, I imagine. We put out eight wood pallets left over from a year’s worth of heating pellets for our stove. They were gone in about five minutes. If you live in wealthy suburbia, those pallets would be repurposed and upcycled into home and garden projects only slightly less useful and attractive than the pallets themselves. Here in Uppastump Maine, they’ll be broken up and burned for heat, or burned in jolly campfires in the summer. I used to burn all the pallets I could get my hands on in my own furnace, but I don’t burn firewood anymore, so I gave mine away to an anonymous someone who will get some use from them.
In years past, we found a perfectly good 8-foot tall turned porch column. We used it to mount a birdhouse I made, and placed in our garden. Tree swallows have used it for three years running, and made our lives more interesting. A couple of years ago, we discovered four kitchen chairs out on someone’s curb. My wife said she was tired of dragging chairs from the dining room into the kitchen whenever she wanted to sit down at the kitchen table. The chairs were cheap wooden things popular in the 1930s and 40s. They had a sort of Art Deco veneer on their flat backs, and disreputable padding and cloth on their slip seats.
I put them in the car hole “for later,” and the moisture down there made all the veneer peel off. One Christmas season, I sneaked them into my basement, re-glued the veneer, sprayed them with shellac and varnish, and reupholstered the seats with jolly coral-colored cloth with a bit of crewelwork on it. I had to complete the whole process in little bits and bytes every time my wife went to the supermarket, and hide everything in the interim. I eventually put them under the Christmas tree as a present for my wife, who never suspected a thing. We sit on those chairs every morning and look out the window at our tree swallow house, and know the pleasure of possessions that are part of the fabric of your life, not just stuff.
I’ve made local handymen happy by putting out a busted tablesaw, and a broken compressor, and various other things that seemed valuable if you didn’t know better, so I feel I’ve done my part. I must say, however, that this year’s Festival of Trash made our lives better than I could have imagined. The Festival of Trash saved my bacon.
[continue reading about treasure from the Festival of Trash here]