I think there’s a gene that most of us working-class types have, and that is we want to find a real bargain. Personally, I figure so much in my life — most of which is out of my control, such as those quarterly estimated tax checks I write on money I haven’t even earned yet — costs so much, that I deserve a break from time to time, right?
And, while that leads many to head down to Chief with a fist full of coupons and many other folks to walk up countless driveways to peruse what’s available at area garage sales just to see if he can wear another man’s pants, there’s no question that the best bargains are the ones that don’t cost us a penny.
For those who remember the sitcom “Sanford and Son” that ran for eight seasons back in those disco days of yore in the ‘70s, there are those Fred and Lamont types who always peel an eye for one man’s trash that may very well morph into their treasure.
Of course, for the cynical in nature, they think that which has been placed by the curb is far more likely to vanish once they get back home if they put a sign on an item that says, “10 dollars” rather than if they put a sign saying, “Free,” but that’s another topic for another day.
As an inveterate walker, during my frequent perambulations around my neighborhoods, I’m always on the spy for what’s been kicked to the curb. It seems to me that out of all the items that wind up there, the most common is the garden hose. Since I’m always looking for a hose upgrade, I’ll admit, I have slung one over my shoulder and toted it home from time to time to test it. Invariably, the hose has worked like a charm, which begs the question, “Why, on earth, are these people throwing away perfectly good hoses?”
Often Lady Jane is my companion on my walks, And, being the prototypical country-frugal gal, she’s not only someone who can play the JCPenney coupon game as well as LeBron can hammer home tomahawk dunks but also someone who keeps an eye on the curb area.
One of her proudest days is when she spied in a large collection of discards, one which had every bit the look of a move-out, a smaller tote cooler, one so new it actually still had the sticker on the side. A few seconds later, grinning like the proverbial canine in a butcher shop, following a quick bend at the waist, the cooler was in her hand without her barely having to break either a stride or a bead of perspiration.
Since much of real life reminds me of my beloved Seinfeld, I can’t help but recall a particular episode where George is caught at his girlfriend’s mother’s house snagging a partially consumed éclair out of the kitchen trash and taking a bite while there for a party.
As Jerry pointed out, if you go beneath the rim of the receptacle, you’ve sort of crossed the line that divides the bargain seeker from the wretchedly unfortunate.
Recently, while working in Gallipolis, an Ohio River village in Southeast Ohio, after dinner I was walking along the water in the boat-launch area downtown. While walking, I noticed in a trash receptacle a large, still-sealed plastic container containing 250 individually wrapped Atomic Fireballs, those cinnamon-infused jawbreakers, which have been around since the days of the real penny candy I remember in my mid-’50s Chicago days.
While there wasn’t a thought on my part to go beneath the rim, within five minutes, I saw another well-dressed fellow river gazer passing the can, staring intently at the plastic jug just beneath the rim and scooping those balls of fire up and walking his treasure back to his Ford Ranger.
Given my frequent travels in New England, as a child visiting my paternal-side relatives of my Boston-born father, and as an adult enjoying what I think is the absolute perfect place to be to gaze upon the array of mid-October colors, I’m well aware of the frugality of the region’s residents. Nowhere will you find more consignment shops, guaranteed. Walking around villages’ residential areas, I’ve also seen many an array of items as diverse as old work boots and pots and pans and pictures frames and such neatly arranged down by the curb, especially in Kennebunk, Maine. Since Mainers don’t state the obvious, there’s no need for a sign indicating the items are free for the taking. The orderly arrangement indicates the encouragement to use what they no longer need.
And so it is in the old one-man’s-trash-is-another-man’s-treasure world. There’s a lot out there that is indeed ripe for the taking, just as long as you remember the one lesson George Costanza forgot. Stay above the rim!
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.