Mom closed on the purchase of our Oak Bluffs gingerbread cottage in 1984, and being how it was January and we were holed up in New York, we transacted remotely. The house keys arrived in the mail, and anticipation ate at us all winter. At the first hint of spring thaw, we came and opened up our prized acquisition, and lo, we discovered mattresses inside. Lots of mattresses. Mattresses in every room. On bed frames and on the floor. Ancient mattresses, bloated and stained. Newer mattresses, barely used but cheap and thin.
Surely all these mattresses weren’t in the house when the broker showed it to us in November. Neither was the mystery flour we found strewn all over the floor, walls, and – yes – mattresses in the room off the kitchen. Then again: it was dusk and no lights were on at the time of our first sighting. Plus, our lenses were deeply rose colored, because this was the house of our dreams.
Flour is readily vacuumed. Excess mattresses are another matter. We consulted the neighbor. Did he know anyone who hauled away junk? He chuckled. “Just put the mattresses you don’t want at the curb. They’ll be gone in a day.” Which is precisely what happened.
I’ve come to know that the junk hauling industry on this Island is not positioned for growth. For the haulers I know – all multitaskers in the Vineyard survival mode of toiling at more than one thing – I figure hauling junk ranks last among their income streams. Because for every orphaned object, no matter how pitiful, there is most likely a Vineyarder who will take it if it’s free or cheap. The cane seat may be busted. The veneer may be chipped. The fabric may be cat-scratched. The cord on the mower may be broken. A whiff of mold may waft from the dresser drawer. The “e” key on the typewriter may be stuck. No problem. It will find new love on this Island. Unless it’s a bulky-style television, even if it works. It may sit curbside forever. Or at least until the neighbor accidentally backs up over it with his pickup. Which, in the case of my TV, is precisely what happened.
But yes, even an old typewriter with a bad “e” finds love: I once helped two sisters of a certain age dispose of the contents of their longtime summer bungalow. Not one, but two mid-century Royal clunkers found new owners with ease. Ditto, the Fisher stereo cabinet, circa 1970s, with the arthritic turntable arm.
This discussion isn’t about good junk so much. It’s not about an item in decent repair or close enough, given a coat of paint, a squirt of WD-40, or a tap of a nail. It’s certainly not about the remains of a renovation project, such as leftover plywood or those kitchen cabinets of the 1980s. You can find a happy taker of good junk even in America. No, we’re talking what my friend refers to as shabby sh** – an item so sorry that even our thrift shops or the West Tisbury Dumptique will give both you and whatever it is the side eye and the boot. It’s the kind of item a yard sale vendor relegates to the “free” box. There is almost always a Vineyarder for it.
Who exactly is this Vineyarder? Well, we’ve got many a collectible collector whose heart may beat faster for the well worn than for the well preserved. Did you drop grandma’s meat platter? Weep, sweep, and call that mosaic artisan in West Tisbury. The collage artist will take an ornate picture frame, broken but otherwise inspiring, off your hands. The window restorer won’t resist a sash of multi-mullioned Sandwich glass with a cracked pane or two. The bicycle guy in Oak Bluffs will re-chain, re-seat, and resell your kid’s castoff to the next lucky child for a friendly price. If it’s cheap enough, the extreme “Island car” with mouse-eaten cables and salt-pitted hubcaps will find a taker. The tinkerer will embrace a non-working lamp in anticipation of a rewiring project on a cabin fever day in winter. That lamp may remain in the shed, unwired, forever. And indeed: old mattresses left curbside on a dry spring day will vanish to a summer crash pad. Whither the enterprising guy who, for little or nothing, used to haul rusted, busted refrigerators, stoves, and water heaters to some scrap metal dealer off-Island?
Nowadays, the Vineyard junk trade enjoys the perks of the digital age. On social media, the junk cult hangs out in hyper-local marketing sites. Whoosh: a piece of junk, bad or good, that might have taken days to get rid of in olden times (pre-2008) finds a new owner in minutes, if not faster.
The old-school curbside pop-up boutiques still do brisk business, as do the get-it-free-or-cheap classifieds in our newspapers. The evidence includes an Adirondack chair with a deeply rotted footboard that I scored on a street in Oak Bluffs. I restored it with a piece of treated lumber hanging around my garage. In a less clever move, I placed the freshly repainted chair at the end of the driveway to dry in a patch of sunlight. At least two passing cars slowed to eyeball the chair before I hustled it to the safety of my porch. The unwritten rule applies: if it’s curbside, it’s free – good junk, bad junk, and all.