The Perfect Market
Just today I cam across this piece about Oakland's Bulky Trash Day. I'd written it for my wife Serena's zine "Have You Seen the Dog Lately" a few years back. It seems to belong here. I hope you enjoy it.
People, let me tell you: I love Bulky Trash Day. For its simplicity, its efficiency, its punchy elegance (such an ‘80s word), its seamless nocturnal logic. Whaddya mean, you never heard of Bulky Trash Day? Where you been living?
Okay, it’s an Oakland thing. Other towns no doubt have it, but I live in Oakland, so I’ll tell you about Oakland Bulky Trash day. Each neighborhood gets a crack at it once a year. The garbage company, Waste Management, sends out a postcard to notify residents when Bulky Trash Day happens in their neck of the woods. Each household can put up to three cubic yards of extra trash out for pickup. Man, think of it: 9 foot long by 3 foot wide by 3 foot high! Got a few caskets hanging around that you don’t need? No problem! Just stash them by the curb on Bulky Trash Eve!
Yes, there are rules…you can’t put stuff out days ahead of time (fines!), and you can’t put out toxic stuff or funky stinky ass moldy living stuff. It’s more for your run of the mill rusty old half bikes, scary loose wire microwaves, 1988 vintage electronics in a hopeless state of disrepair, and of course super ugly olive green ripped vinyl college couches with three legs. You get the picture. The spicy items are there too…all the knick knacks you no longer need can be handily stuffed in the odd spaces left after you move your big chunks into place.
Yes, you say, it’s nice to clean house and get all this crap hauled away for free, but why is this maroon so damn excited about taking the garbage out? Can’t you see? There is a primitive beauty in my new holiday of BULKY TRASH EVE. The City of Oakland, through its agent Waste Management, creates a perfect roving nocturnal market. Our garbage day is Thursday so, for us, Bulky Trash Eve comes on Wednesday night. The excitement builds in late afternoon as you and your neighbors start hauling the booty out to the curb. Let the scavenging begin! See anything you like? Hey, is that a one-of-a-kind Dog Boy lamp in Mr. Nagamoto’s Bulky Trash pile?? It’s mine! As darkness falls, the parade of funky 30-year-old Chevy and Ford pickup trucks with wooden slat payload bed extensions troll up and down the street. They are predators looking for prey… who are these people? Will they fix that old refrigerator and put it in their house? Will they sell that beat up (huge) TV for $17 to some bizarre storefront on San Pablo Avenue? Will they have a big yard sale? Who knows, but they are the real pros… they are in early. They are scoring items that will be traded, sold, refurbished or cherished. They work fast—the trucks are bulging, bursting with loot as dusk falls, and the waves of bohemians and college students begin in earnest. Not quite as practical, they arrive on foot or in 12-year-old Honda Accords that don’t quite fit that stereo console into the trunk. But they are savvy enough to avoid paying for dishes, frying pans, kiddie pools, bar-b-que tools and a host of other household and/or tiki-lifestyle essentials.
I’m hoping by now you see how efficient and cool this is. It works for everybody! You can get a lot of crap out of your house, basement, yard, attic. Anything remotely useful has about an 87% change of getting snapped up. The giddy energy and nocturnal revel nature of the whole thing lends a festive, surreal air, almost like an obscure fiesta day in Mexico—something cool, spontaneous and weird is going down that has its own sublime internal logic. It’s a bit like the expectant mystery of Christmas Eve I felt when I was nine. This instant market/free exchange of goods disappears completely the next morning complements of the city garbage trucks.
We had our Bulky Trash Day on my street this past fall. It was my best yet. Not only did we get rid of the reviled red scare chair (ancient vinyl ripped up dirty greasy uncomfortable handed-down-from-Greed-Pig-Boss menace), but I dumped 20 old frames from my screen print business. People snapped this stuff up! But listen, here’s the best part! Serena and I had been trying to pawn our old computer off on someone for six months. Maybe some readers know how that goes. NOBODY WANTS OLD COMPUTER! Tweren’t a bad rig in its day (1998), but a 266 MHz chip, 6 GB hard drive computer just doesn’t make it in this high-powered era. That sucker was loaded with Photoshop, Pagemaker, Flash, Illustrator and Microsoft Office for starters! Not bad for free. Well, I took a Sharpie and wrote a list of the software on top of the beast, then set it out on the sidewalk with the printer and manuals (sorry, still using the monitor). That sucker was gone in a matter of minutes! I felt good about that, I really hope someone is getting some good use out of it.
A final note, Bulky Trash Day is not without some tragic endings. Like a few years back, we put our old couch out. That’ll be the first thing to go, right? Sad to say, the cushions were snapped right up, and who wants a couch without the cushions? Thus it was with horror and revulsion (okay, maybe a bit of fascinated glee) that I watched as the dusty old thang was crunched to splinters in the maw of the merciless garbage truck!