"Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum." Lucretius
“What is food for one man may be bitter poison to others."
Garbage and Garage. They’re similar phonetically and materially, at least when it comes to a sale. I recently passed a poorly lettered yard sign which at a glance, read, Garbage Sale. I thought, “What honesty. A bold purveyor of trash!” But my surprise was short lived. As you have already surmised, the sign was for a garage sale.
Even at 60 miles per hour, trash is trash. It was pretty clear that this seller had high hopes and buyers would need low expectations. You can imagine what was on display. Lots of rickety, outdated baby equipment, plenty of worn out plastic- riding toys, playhouses and kiddy kitchens, decrepit lawnmowers, tired furniture, scads of forlorn clothing and tables full of DPSA.* Trash is very brave. It frequently masquerades as treasure, having taken a cue from its owner.
There were few shoppers at this sale, and this paucity made the scene even more pathetic. I wondered if the sellers had regrets. I’m sure they regretted the poor turnout, but what I really wondered was whether they regretted having gotten themselves into a place where putting their unwanted, used goods on display for the world to see was the best way out.
“Airing one’s dirty linen in public” came to mind. As did a modern version of Lucretius, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
With a nod to food for one being poison to another, I confess I’ve been looking for a morsel myself. That’s why I was paying particular attention to the garage sale. I’m on the hunt for a one-gallon gas can. One that was manufactured before the government decreed that all gas cans should have some fiddly valve that has to be engaged for the spout to function. Why the old ones were deemed “unsafe” is unknowable unless you work for the Consumer Product Safety Division. If anyone has an idle can, you’ve got a willing buyer. Name your price.
But I digress. The mysteries of the garage sale persist. Why do we own so much trash? Why do we imagine it to be treasure? Must consumption be all consuming? Why don’t we learn from our mistakes? Should it not be a wakeup call when we take to vending our castoffs from our front yards?
James Thurber believed, “Better to have some of the questions than all of the answers.” I’ve got the questions covered but am coming up short on answers. One possible response to our mysterious love affair with trash is that we’ve forgotten that if everything is precious, then nothing is. Simply calling things treasures doesn’t alter their essential trashiness. Real treasures need breathing room. Resuscitation is easy. Get rid of the trash and the good stuff springs back to life.
* DPSA (noun): A deceased relative’s acronym for DAMN POOR SIT ABOUTS. That’s eastern North Carolinaese for trinket, knickknack, gimcrack, or tchotchke. Feel free to spread this usage. The originator would have been flattered.
“You can’t have everything…where would you put it?” Apron Aphorism