Cleanup brings us closer

Thursday, April 18, 2002

April 18, 2002

Dear Julie,

It's Spring Cleanup Week in Cape Girardeau, five days when primal natures are revealed. We see the world as it was and still is, composed of hunters and scavengers. I am a hunter: Turkey on sourdough, please. DC is a scavenger, rifling the refrigerator for a few bites of leftover pasta.

The system works fine under normal circumstances. The problem is, scavengers sometimes feel the need to drag a carcass home, and during Spring Cleanup Week the smell of death is everywhere.

The city comes by and hauls away almost anything you don't want anymore. It's the scariest time of the year for people like me who live in houses besieged by knickknacks and broken appliances, fixtures and furniture that another occupant believes could still be useful someday.

Which busted lamps and bad paintings piled in our basement were originally ours and which ones were scavenged is impossible to tell anymore. Neither kind hardly ever gets thrown away.

I can almost hear your environmentalist conscience twitching at the idea of dumping a year's worth of rampaging consumerism at the side of the street. Spring Cleanup Week sounds like the disposable society run amuck. Truth is, it's more like a big recycling bazaar.

DC usually is one of the scavengers who roams the city in the days leading up to Spring Cleanup Week. She has designs on a chair up our street. "Very retro," she says. Very broken, too.

A rusted TV tray in front of the same house is an American icon, she says. So is Marlon Brando, but I don't want her bringing him home either.

Some things are just irrevocably broken, I occasionally argue successfully. I lugged an air conditioner that didn't run to the curb. A day later it was gone. So was the broken VCR.

This is the way a healthy human ecosystem should work. People who can't fix things give them to people who can. They are fixed and used or sold to people who can use them.

Problems arise when people who can't fix things go scavenging things that need fixing. This creates a rift in the cosmos. It obstructs the flow. Things feel stuck ... in our back yard.

DC doesn't agree, of course. She is a preservationist. Objects have inherent value to her because they are old or because they have a certain style, even if there are fissures in them.

She reminds me that someone tossed out our dogs Hank, Lucy and Alvie, too. Who can do anything but surrender in the face of that kind of logic?

I have but one mission this Spring Cleanup Week. It involves the cracked marble sink DC found during a midnight scavenging run a few years ago. She still thinks it will make a nice bird bath.

My mission is to move the sink from the position it has held these many years -- leaning against the foundation of the house in the back yard -- to a new home next to the curb.

I must accomplish this mission by this morning. The challenge is that DC is aware of my intentions toward the sink. Surveillance will be thorough. Camouflage and skullduggery will be required. Maybe sleight of hand.

She's checking the basement and yard to make sure nothing has disappeared. I'm looking in the same places to make sure nothing new has appeared.

When hunters and scavengers marry, trust is the first casualty on Spring Cleanup Week.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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