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From the Sidewalk to Your Living Room


That morning: an empty space. That evening: a cozy retreat.  

Apparently, a lot of Manhattanites had been told the same thing. When we got to the pickup site, we found ourselves at the back of a very long line of lost-looking people: That, plus traffic, meant we didn’t get on the road until close to 9:15 A.M. The sky was beginning to look ominous and filled me with trepidation. Most truck-rental chains charge not only by distance but also by the duration of the rental. Stiff tariffs are accrued if one keeps a vehicle past a certain number of hours. These financial factors dictated the territory we were going to cover, and to that end, I devised a looping route that took in the maximum number of neighborhoods: starting in the Bronx, heading down the east side of Manhattan into Brooklyn—where Boonmongkol and her empty apartment were located—and back up to drop off the truck. I also factored in friends’ reports of prime neighborhoods (the Upper East Side, Gramercy Park, Park Slope) and what I’d witnessed myself. I have since been told that a good haul is practically guaranteed in the Twenties and Thirties west of Ninth Avenue.

The Bronx proved fruitless, so we quickly headed for the Upper East Side, operating under the presumption that wealthy people toss better junk. We started cruising at 106th Street and First Avenue and hit pay dirt eleven blocks later. Seven moving trucks were lined up outside a humongous building on East 95th Street. Teams of postcollegiate types ran back and forth barking orders at each other, trying to hasten their progress as big black clouds gathered. We parked and turned off the engine. With several moves going on simultaneously, I felt sure that we might benefit, not just from the sheer volume of discarded furnishings but also from pieces left on the street in the resulting confusion. The items going in and out of the building seemed of good quality, if a little dorm-roomy.

As Jake and I waited to pounce, the heavens opened. Inclement weather means two things when scavenging for home furnishings. Rain dramatically reduces the competition from other hunter-gatherers, but it also ruins upholstery within moments. Ideally, one ought to witness an upholstered item actually being placed on the street.

We had been sitting in the truck, watching the behemoth building eat and regurgitate Urban Outfitters home furnishings for a few minutes, when we suddenly saw a full-size box spring sail through the air and onto a pile of garbage. Without words, we ran across the street to fetch it. It looked like it was in great condition. I surreptitiously gave the mattress a cursory sniff, though the wind and rain cut my inspection short. We put it in the back of the truck, where I confirmed its good condition, and returned to our seats. Thirty seconds later, a lone mover came out with a mattress. He looked slightly confused about the disappearance of his first deposit, but a modicum of pride prevented me from leaping out to claim the mattress. As soon as he was back inside, we grabbed it. “Hey!” the guy shouted as we tried to scurry away. “If you are taking stuff away, I have a bunch of other crap you might want.”

We followed our new friend Eric into the basement of his building with some hesitation, but it turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave of household items. With his help, we picked up a bed frame to go with the box spring and mattress, plus a sofa, lamp, microwave, blender, toaster-oven, and a wireless router and modem. Though nothing came directly from the seven-truck maelstrom itself, the building did afford us a major score.

The truck was half full when we hit the road again around 11:30, heading south. The weather worsened to a sustained downpour as we zigzagged, and we got as far as Murray Hill without adding to the truck. Then, on Second Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets, Jake spied a grouping of bric-a-brac that included a Chinese-style coffee table and matching nightstand, some sturdy wooden folding chairs, a VCR, and a small television. After we stopped, parked, and loaded these items into the truck, I noticed a scribbled sign on the door of the tenement building behind the pile that said FREE STUFF, NOTHING FANCY, 2ND FLOOR. Upstairs, a half-dozen people were frantically picking through dishes, mirrors, electronics, and more of the Chinese furniture that we’d seen outside. Jake and I helped pick the apartment clean, even down to the trashy romance novels.

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