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Salvador Dalí: The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)
" … the sales price prominently displayed: Free."

The first place The Muse and I rented when we started our exile, sat on a street with a 25 degree slope. Too steep for the moving van to park there, so the driver parked on a flat spot a couple of blocks away and ferried stuff down to the house in a smaller van. One crew of movers would leave furniture and boxes on the sidewalk and another crew carried them inside, but the van crew moved much faster than the ground crew could, which left a pile of temporarily excess inventory on the sidewalk. Anyone who's lived in any American city could have predicted what happened next. I stepped out of the garage to find a car stopped next to the cache of boxes and someone pouring through one of them looking for FreeShit. The FreeShit Market remains an under-recognized portion of our much-vaunted free market system. In any city, anything left curbside becomes a free good. In Manhattan, for instance, the cost of moving furniture easily exceeds the fair market value of that furniture, so it's common practice to simply move that old couch out to the curb where it will be quickly scavenged or eventually hauled away as genuine trash. Most get snagged before garbage day. Finding these treasures tends to make someone's day.

The Muse and I have benefitted greatly from the FreeShit Market over the years and have come to understand FreeShit as somehow sacred.
Sure, we possess many items we purchased, most often at estate and garage sales, but some of our most treasured possessions came without cost to us, discards. Many came with stories attached to them that increased their inherent preciousness. Most had just outgrown their usefulness for their prior owner, who wanted to avoid the hassle of accounting for its transfer and so simply let it go. Most stuff attracts some interest and it can be more than difficult to affix a price to it, so it makes much sense to consider those items priceless, though this practice seems distinctly anti-capitalist. Not every activity really deserves to be engaged in with thoughts of making profit, and some simply cannot be done if any thought of money threatens to enter into them.

When we left the second part of our exile, we conducted a garage sale in the basement, that place having no garage. It featured a hide-a-bed couch and a refrigerator (both in perfect working order), along with several choice tsotchkes with 'treasure' written all over them for somebody. We put out word on two neighborhood listservs and were soon overrun with interested parties who could not believe that we were giving it all away for free. We'd considered picking up a few bucks by charging some nominal something, but couldn't face the price-tagging and subsequent accounting. We'd rather have spent the time visiting with neighbors and strangers who could not quite believe their good fortune. Neither could we. We insisted upon sharing the stories each item held, so the new owner would know the provenance and, I suppose, so that our presence there might outlive our actual presence there. We left lighter along several dimensions than when we'd arrived, books mysteriously balanced having passed forward our passed possessions. They'd lost their magic for us but regained it the moment they exchanged hands.

It's become fashionable to hire mercenaries to oversee sales for estates and such. They muster online auctions of sorts which attract The Muse, who buys stuff for pennies on the dollar then implores me to drive halfway to Kansas to pick it up. A few of her prior purchases seemed destined for the FreeShit Market the moment I picked them up, but a few have become treasured members of her permanent collection. HeadingHomeward eventually leaves me feeling generous, especially when I consider how in the heck I might pack up some of the out-sized and misshapen stuff we've accumulated. Some, I ferry down to the Goodwill where I'll decline their invitation of a receipt, apparently useful for tax purposes. Deducting FreeShit spoils the whole purpose of the FreeShit Market. Some, I'll simply leave on the verge with a crudely-lettered sign inviting anyone passing to just pick it up, the sales price prominently displayed: Free.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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