Thursday, September 17, 2009

Smile When You Call Me 'Trash Picker'

Yesterday a store in the same building as our video rental place caught fire. It was a repair shop for hairdryers, and apparently there was some kind of short circuit, which is generally not real surprising when you get a lot of hair dryers together in the same place. Luckily, nobody got hurt and due to the nature of most of the construction here in Salvador the fire was pretty much contained to the one store.

I walked by yesterday as they were hauling big bags of charred trash out to the front of the building yesterday. It stank of burnt plastic, a smell I will always associate with living in New York City during the aftermath of 9/11 - all of lower Manhattan reeked of burnt plastic for weeks afterwards.

I was eyeing the trash, and ignoring the smell.

I'm the kind of guy who keeps a list of things I need, or might need, in my head at all times and if I see free stuff that is potentially useful I compare it against the mental list, searching for a fit. I also keep a supply of (some would say dubious) materials at home in case I have a job I need to do, and if I need something, I compare the need against the materials at hand.

I had a match. It wasn't in the big, stinky bags full of charred whatnot, thank goodness. It was a set of steel utility shelves. I already have a couple of these, but I have many things that do not have shelves so I have been looking for new shelves to put the things on. Steel is without a doubt the material of choice for this kind of thing here, as wood attracts termites, plastic sags under any amount of weight, and particle board just kind of dissolves in the humidity.

There were actually several sets of shelves, but most of them were completely blackened and twisted and useless- the one I spotted had what looked like some nasty plastic/smoke/carbon glaze on the half or so, along with some melted dryer parts stuck to it, but the bottom was pretty much fine.

I wanted it.

I went inside and checked out the black orifice that used to be the store. Several people were taking dozens, maybe hundreds, of charred hairdryers and putting them into big cardboard boxes. The storefront directly in front of the ex-store had had it's plastic sign completely melted and dripping from the heat. I asked them where the owner was, and would they be interested in selling the shelving out front. When I tracked the guy down, looking very occupied and solemn, he didn't think twice- he said sure, took what I offered without argument, and went back to the probably thousands of other things that he had to deal with at that moment. One of the ladies who had been filling boxes with hairdryers helped me sweep the debris off the shelves. I told her: "My wife is going to kill me."

My wife really doesn't approve of the bringing-trash-home ethic I have cultivated over the years. It should be said I don't do it very often- there are lots of other people here with a much more vested interest in anything that is free and possibly of value, so the pickings are slim. And homeless people will sometimes try to sell trash that is 'theirs,' which usually doesn't interest me. Not like the good old days in New York. There, you can brag with like-minded trash pickers about the great stuff you found for free sitting on the sidewalk. The wife doesn't see it that way. Generally it's just trash to her, and since she's a clean person, she doesn't want trash around. Fair enough.

But you gotta have vision in this world!! I mean, if you look at the pictures of my house before I bought it, you'd have thought it was a piece of trash as well. And it kind of was. But I saw through that, just like I saw through the blackened smoke scum on the shelving to the wonderful, orderly, tool-storing shelves they will become!

Then, as I lugged the rather heavy shelves back to the house, I started to think about what Evani might object to. Being rather superstitious, I thought she might think it was a bad idea to bring something that had been in a fire into our own house. And I, not being entirely un-superstitious, started to agree with her. Suddenly I wasn't so sure about my marvelous find.

To her credit, Evani was more alarmed by the black gunk on my hands and clothing than by the actual shelves themselves. Maybe she's getting used to my scrounger ways. As it turns out, she saw some designer on TV take a set of these shelves, paint them red, and stick them in a bathroom, and said they looked great.

I like this idea. I'm going to buy some red paint for them.

6 comments:

Leo said...

Best trash quote ever: "But you gotta have vision in this world!!" Way to be positive in such a slim market. Lord if we only had craigslist.

markuza said...

Dude we have craigslist: http://salvador.en.craigslist.org/ It's just that it only seems to get used by gringos looking for accommodations. At least here in Salvador.

Anonymous said...

I understand the lack for good trash on the street in Brasil compared to good pickings in rich southern Ontario.
I lived in Belo Horizonte last year for a six months and needed some extra pieces of furniture in my furnished apartment. I took some small wooden crates off the street for tables (put a nice cloth on them and they were great for the living room!) and felt like I was taking them from a less fortunate person so when I moved back to North America I put them back on the street. No guilt then.

Anonymous said...

I understand the lack for good trash on the street in Brasil compared to good pickings in rich southern Ontario.
I lived in Belo Horizonte last year for a six months and needed some extra pieces of furniture in my furnished apartment. I took some small wooden crates off the street for tables (put a nice cloth on them and they were great for the living room!) and felt like I was taking them from a less fortunate person so when I moved back to North America I put them back on the street. No guilt then.

Pedra said...

Vilma loves the "Free" signs here in Portland and has scored some good stuff. Every time we ride by a free box she says "Olhe Cheryl...free" and then we usually burst out laughing because she used to give me all kinds of shit for looking in the boxes and now it's her who usually wants to look and I'm the one who rides on by.

-Cheryl

markuza said...

Anonymous: My wife would shoot me if I tried to use wooden crates as tables. Then again, the TV sat on an old 'engradado' (plastic case for beer bottles) for at least a year... I personally eye wooden crates all the time and have several in the house. Someday they may also return to circulation.

Pedra: Portland is such a civilized city. How nice to put out a 'free' sign! I usually just put anything of potential value in front of the house and it's gone in a couple hours.