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One person’s trash is another’s portable dishwasher

Discarded Chair

I’ve been strolling the neighborhood lately, humming (to the tune of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over”):

Summer’s bustin’ out all over,
All over the sidewalks and the curbs!
Since the trash man no one’s dialin’
Every homeless person’s smilin’
They can sleep in comfort, just like in the ‘burbs!

Why this explosion of song? This homage to Rodgers and Hammerstein? Because I’ve discovered that, like in New York City, San Francisco’s summer is not only when lovely flowers of every genus arrive on the landscape, but when tons of discarded household items do, too. The trash pickup guys take their time picking it up, so all of us who want to acquire more junk can leisurely admire the items we find right outside our doors. Lucky us.

And we often do make good use of what we find, it’s true.

One morning en route to the gym, my housemate Dr. Sheldon Cale discovered a sofa at our near corner with a man sleeping on it. He only discovered the sleeper because he saw a foot with a sock on it sticking out from under a blanket that had seen better days. Checking to see if the man attached to the foot was alive, and seeing that he was not only breathing but waking up, ever-generous Sheldon offered the yawning gentleman a choice of sandwich: PB&J or Tofurkey, and then went to workout.

Another June morning, en route to the market, I saw an overstuffed chair with a shirtless young guy tucked between its substantial frame and the ripped away covering. Chilled by fog, the ingenious guy had improvised with Naugahyde, and was snuggled, snoring as I passed. When I returned, the young man was gone, but the chair remained.

For two weeks thereafter.

On another walk, I saw one armoire, plus two chests of drawers. My friend Adair reported sighting at least seven discarded mattresses around her neighborhood. She mused on Facebook: “Bedbugs? Or practice camping?” Indeed. Not one or two mattresses, but seven. With several more, a production of The Princess and the Pea could have been staged and those items put to good use!

Speaking of which, not only are viable things discarded in our neighborhood, it happens all over the City. When we first moved here, Sheldon, the same PB&J/Tofurkey humanitarian, found a dishwasher on a Cow Hollow sidewalk and rolled it home. It even had a sign on it, “It works,” so taking it home seemed a good solution to littering. Many of us finding fun, usable things, pick them up and carry them home. Why not? We all do it. Our world is over-filled with things, so repurposing and sharing seem smart. Neighborly, even.

But, it’s leaving the things that nobody wants curbside for weeks at a time that’s the problem.

Do we blame the garbage people? Say it’s their job to clean up after us, no matter when or where we leave our old stuff? I don’t think so. San Francisco offers many ways to take care of the parts of ourselves we want to get rid of. We have an old microwave cluttering our garage, which I’ve been tempted to put out on the street, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. So I did some research:

The San Francisco Department of Public Works supplies trash barrels, and I can call them at 415-554-6920 ( with trashy questions. They even hold disposal workshops. I could also call Recology at 415-330-1300 (, or other companies to schedule an inexpensive and timely pickup of that deceased microwave. And finally, there’s the San Francisco Public Disposal and Recycling Area, affectionately referred to as “the dump” and home to designated piles on which to toss tired things. Drive there and unite your electronic, oversized, hard-to-categorize stuff with its hundreds of useless mates, then drive away clean and legal. We’ve taken stuff there before and found it a fascinating, oddly beautiful place. (501 Tunnel Avenue, 415-330-1400,

Did you know the dump even has an Artist in Residence program? Sculptors are given studio space and permission to scavenge for materials. After dropping off your goods, you can browse and see wonderful objets d’art made from trash. A unique experience to say the least. Who knows? If you take your stuff to the dump, you may not meet as many interesting people colonizing your curbside discards, but your dead hairdryer or old pots and pans could be immortalized into works of art that inspire us all to reflect on how our trashy ways affect the world around us.

And that would make an altogether better song, wouldn’t it?

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Read more in Evalyn's "For Better and For Better: A Story of Divorce, Dachshunds and Everlasting Love," coming eventually to a bookstore near you. E-mail: [email protected]