OPINION: 'Lovely sunny day we're having,' I said buoyantly to the portly gentleman rifling impatiently through my old drawers. 'At least the rain has stopped.'
Flicking miserable eyes at me dismissively, he bent to check out a mangled umbrella at my feet. 'Hhhhrmmmmft,' he replied caustically, throwing an old beanbag over his shoulder and kicking one metal-toed boot into a collection of broken window blinds I'd acquired from some second-hand shop somewhere.
I continued unabated. 'So, whatcha looking for specifically this year?' I asked cheerfully. 'Chairs, tables, old ovens, microwaves? What's the 'hot list' for 2012? I've got a lovely chaise lounge that would come up perfect with a clean, and a wooden desk that someone in your immediate family desperately needs. Or how about a nice La-Z-Boy I bought from a lovely woman on a farm out the back of Opunake . . . ?'
The tubby man stared at me uncomprehendingly. His black eyes swept from my tippy toes in their rubber gumboots to the ends of my unruly rain-curled hair, and I felt a little uncomfortable.
'Know where that is? Not many people do,' I rambled on desperately.
Without a word, he backed away and felt for the handle of his van door. Inside, two school-aged children stared at me solemnly, one holding tight to a large teddy bear that had, quite frankly, seen better days. I waved an old skateboard of Eldest Child's at them and smiled, but they quickly turned away.
I wondered if Dad had just told them to beware of middle-aged white women appearing too friendly. And I wondered just what was wrong with my rubbish this year.
Let me explain. Inorganic rubbish collections are an exciting time for households where I live. Poised on the edge of the sea on Auckland's very northernmost extremity, there's not much that happens around here beyond the occasional power cut, out-of- control teenage party or hoon daring to drive 59kmh in a 50k zone.
You read it right - FIFTY NINE. It's frankly shocking.
We cluck our tongues at the occasional graffiti (usually spelt impeccably) and shake our heads when some little punk picks the tulips off their stalks in the village green for his one true love or elderly granny.
Sometimes some crim throws fast-food wrappers out the car window along the main drag, and periodically some old biddy drives her car through the hairdresser's window (don't laugh, it's happened twice this year).
As my neighbour pointed out the other day, the place is full of so much serenity that we're all in danger of falling into perpetual comas 98 per cent of the time.
However, the minute we start piling up the inorganic rubbish over one September weekend a year, everything changes as we bring out into public all those broken, soiled, obsolete, unloved and/or unwanted secrets we've been hiding away in dark closets for 12 months, to be banished by rubbish collectors forever.
And nowadays, it appears that inorganic rubbish collections have developed what I can only describe as a competitive edge.
'My pile is almost non-existent now,' Julie from 7a smugly drawled to me on Sunday.
'It's not surprising, really. This year we've put out an array of quality items . . . a Farmers lounge suite and a wooden outdoor table we picked up in Bali that set us back $100 in 1964.
"Someone discerning has picked up a treasure, that's for sure.'
A neighbour from the even- numbered side of the street nodded his head.
'Inorganic scavengers definitely go for top-notch stuff,' he said knowingly. 'They have a nose for a good 'find'.'
They both looked disdainfully at my rubbish, wrinkling their noses.
I looked at my ever-increasing pile. What the heck was wrong with my solid wood cupboards, the orange Freedom chair I'd found on Trade Me that clashed something terrible with my blood-red curtains, or the blow-up double mattress that cost me $129 when 12 visitors descended on us one terrible night in 2002?
Was the $50 suitcase we bought when Eldest Child was two and we got sick of using supermarket bags to lug his trousseau around in really that scungy? Did that trolley my dad whipped up for Quiet Middle Child more than 15 years ago - the one that kept him safe as he ripped along the footpath - really not qualify as "quality" in the eyes of scavengers?
Did the top-grade carpet that someone scrimped and saved to buy 40 years ago - then lovingly looked after for all those decades through hard times and good - really smell damp, look like a dog's breakfast and feel like a sack of needles underfoot?
It was then that I made a decision. I'm a writer, apparently a creative thinker, someone who knows how to get Eskimos interested in freezers. If I couldn't bloody well "market" my own rubbish, then who could?
Right after the portly black-eyed man disappeared, I noticed an elderly gent with stringy, long grey hair poking his toe into my box of encyclopedias.
'Got grandchildren?' I yelled from the mezzanine floor window, where I was making Quiet Middle Child's bedroom look less like a warzone and more like a quiet place for contemplative study.
He jumped. 'You nearly gave me a heart attack,' he wailed. 'And I'm only 42.'
Next to appear were three Pacifika women, colourful and laughing.
'You ladies look like you could do with a nice canvas rocking chair,' I bellowed. They shook their heads. A couple in a VW Kombi declined my box of toys, and three shifty-looking Goths said no to a pile of flowery drapes I'd ripped from the spare room.
By the end of the day, all I'd moved on was the back of a television, some metal spouting, the Freedom chair's frame and a grotesquely deformed palm in a pot.
Quiet Middle Child watched questioningly as I dragged the La-Z-Boy from Opunake back into the garage.
'One man's trash is another man's treasure, my boy,' I explained, 'and it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind.'
And with that, it started raining again.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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