Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beyond Trash

Last week I read an article from the Associated Press about a homeless man who found a set of disregarded plans for New York's proposed Freedom Tower in a trash can in Lower Manhattan. It got me thinking about other important items people throw away and the strange, serendipitous way these same objects become part of other people's lives and take on whole new personalities, appearances, even functions in their surrogate homes.

In a city where bulk-trash day is more event than chore, I count myself as one of New York's numerous and proud dumpster divers. This is not to say that I literally get into the trash with the browning banana peels and used paper towels, but nevertheless I can't help but search for promising finds among other people's cast offs, which often become center pieces in my own home. To those living outside of urban areas, this may seem vulgar or somehow unconscionable, but I prefer to think of it as low-income antiquing.

Living in Williamsburg has afforded me the opportunity to outfit my apartment with some of the most interesting and eclectic pieces of urban antiquity around. Every Sunday, it's become a conquest of mine to carry home at least one bit of neighborhood bounty from the streets around my apartment, even if it means lugging it a considerable distance. Lately, I worry it's becoming an obsession. Walking down the block, trash piles command my full attention. I beg for broken chairs, with their peg legs and worn wicker, or dressers without cabinets, like a child pleading for ice cream.

I make a case for these objects, maybe because of their historical value, but more likely for the memories of they hold of an era (once characteristic of Williamsburg) that is slowly going the way of other invaluable relics, like the dinosaurs and the woolly mammoth. Time waits for no one, but as a collector, I feel the kind of God-like power to save or sacrifice more than these objects, but the neighborhood itself. 

From the glass cabinet doors-turned picture frames to the mint-condition bread box marked with the logo of some long-defunct company, there is a history in these special finds that, like the layers of earth covering the remnants of an ancient city, remains always in transition, a fragile link between our world and that which is no longer. 

If you're interested in taking home a Williamsburg treasure, here are a few tips:

-Make sure to get up early. 
-Weekends are usually yield the best finds, since people have time to clean out their garages and basements. 
-If you see something you like, don't wait. It may not be there when you get back.
-A little cleanup is almost always necessary, so don't balk if the item isn't department store quality.
-Keep your eyes open. Sometimes the real gems are hidden among the trash. (No pun intended)

Happy hunting,

Silent H

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