Althouse | category: trash



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"I see that you're going to get rid of your piano. Good luck with that. We couldn't even give ours away so I took it apart and cut it up..."

"... and got rid of it by putting it in the trash over a 4 week period. I broke up the string harp with a sledge hammer. Used a drill to loosen the strings then just cut them off." 

Said William50 in last night's "Snow Car" café

He was referring to something I said in passing in an earlier post — that I had looked up "Flatter!," because it was part of an image on a card that I found in the piano bench, which I was emptying out because I'm getting rid of the piano. 

Breaking up a piano made me think about this great 80s video where they destroy a piano: 

And since you mentioned the harp inside, we must remember when Harpo Marx went nuts on a piano and extracted the harp:

But here's how I responded to William50 (who may not have  noticed that I'd already revealed in the comments on the other post that I am paying a professional piano dealer to move the piano out of our house and to dispose of it properly):
Meade suggested doing something like [what you did]. I see multiple reasons to prefer to pay a reputable piano dealer $360 to swiftly spirit the whole hulk out of the house. 
1. It's a lot of work taking the thing [apart] and lugging it [out to] the street, consuming time and effort and possibly resulting in injury to yourself and damage to doorjambs and floors. 
2. It would sit out there on the terrace for all to see and to find ugly and offensively wasteful. 
3. It will burden the city -- and the taxpayers -- to need to pick up these pieces and carry them away. 
4. The reputable piano dealer is experience[d] in disposing of pianos and may find an actual home for the intact piano. 
5. The piano will sit in its usual place, unmolested, until professionals come in and skillfully remove it in one piece. This is a company I have used 3 or 4 times in the past to move this piano from room to room, and I [trust] them to do it well. 
6. I like supporting a good local business! They deserve to be paid for the work that they do. You don't have to use your own labor just because you (or your partner) can perform labor. We're doing a lot of painting this winter, putting labor into that, but if I had a local business I trusted to do this work well and without needing to spend too much time in our house, I would be glad to pay someone. 
7. $360 may sound like a lot, especially if you believe your beautiful piano should be worth at least $5,000, but I choose to live in the real world, where prices are determined by supply and demand. Accept reality and make your time living in it as good as you can. Maybe you enjoyed sledgehammering a piano. I hope you did!

Recently, I threw some books in the trash... well, the recycling bin... but you know what I mean: I threw books out.

I wanted to tell you to help you. I'm prompted by "We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking. 'They’re more like friends than objects,’ one passionate bookseller says. What are we to do with our flooded shelves?" by Karen Heller (WaPo).

Book lovers are known to practice semi-hoardish and anthropomorphic tendencies. They keep too many books for too long despite dust, dirt, mold, cracked spines, torn dust jackets, warped pages, coffee stains and the daunting reality that most will never be reread. Age rarely enriches a book.

“Nobody likes to throw a book away. Nobody likes to see it go into a bin,” says Michael Powell of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore. Owners never want to see their hardback babies pulped. Bibliocide seems particularly painful in this fraught era of banned books. Hence, the sprouting of Little Free Libraries everywhere, and donations to public ones for resale, which enable staff to purchase new books.

Yes, there are Little Free Libraries all over my neighborhood here in Madison, and I considered taking my doomed books out, one by one, and tucking them away in other people's little front-yard book cabinets, but they didn't belong there. They would crowd up the space inappropriately. I'd be using someone else's amenity to relieve myself of a guilt that I shouldn't even feel. What were these books? Out-of-date law school casebooks, books that served purposes that are now much better served by websites, books that had been sent to me but were never of any interest, books that were some author's calling card and never really meant to be read at all.

“We don’t want them to die. I love them. They’re a part of me,” says author and Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, 77....

That's true of some books, but not others, unless you're much better than I am about choking off unworthy books at the entry point. I've found that the more books I can kick out of my house, the better concentration of good books I have. I have taken piles of books to the used book store and sold them for whatever they decided to offer me, but some books really ought to go straight into the trash. It's like when you clean your closet. You have the clothes you keep, the clothes you're going to take to Goodwill (or give to someone you know), and the clothes that belong in the trash (or rag bag). You shouldn't — out of misplaced guilt — add the throw-out clothes to the Goodwill bag. That's doing more work to impose more work on them. Be rational, and throw them out.

I avoid creating new trash, but pretending the trash you have is not trash is not helping. I used to buy stacks of books and have them all over my house. Now, I mostly only buy ebooks. And I've worked on ousting many of the physical books from the house. For a long time, that meant taking old books to the used book store, but I had a strong barrier against throwing books out.

But just last month I crossed that barrier. I was tired of looking at one particular pile of books that I'd wanted to be rid of for years, and I knew it would be stupidly inefficient to push them onto someone else to involve them in what I didn't want to have to see as destruction. I took responsibility for putting them in the trash, and I'm proud of it and I'm talking about it for the sake of efficiency, de-cluttering, and relief from the false sense of obligation to preserve books. I'm saying this for your sake: Some books should be preserved, but don't preserve objects simply because they are books.

With the exception of rare and antiquarian collectors, few owners know the monetary value of their holdings. Invariably, they overvalue them. That well-thumbed encyclopedia? Worthless. Textbooks? Updated umpteen times, probably shifted to digital. “Very expensive books are a big nothingburger,” book scout and estate buyer Larry Bardecki says, especially coffee-table doorstops. Best-selling hardcovers from 10 years, 50 years or a century ago? Possible literal pulp fiction.

“Everyone who wants one already has it,” says Bardecki, who makes as many as three house calls daily, often for Wonder Book. “I’m looking for books that not everyone has.” Authors prized by one generation are not necessarily valued by the next. “Everyone had a volume of Tennyson in the 1870s,” Roberts says. “Nobody reads Zane Grey.” Don’t get him started on Dan Brown’s 2003 “The Da Vinci Code.”...

“David Foster Wallace was immensely popular and prices spiked for a while. We couldn’t keep copies in the store,” says Zachary Greene, also a manager at Second Story Books. “Over the past few years, demand has really tanked.”

"Doug Greene, 34, bought a 200-year-old rowhouse in Philadelphia five years ago, and after doing a gut renovation, found he didn’t want to bring mass-produced furniture..."

"... into a space he’d so painstakingly restored. So he taught himself how to make furniture, and he and his girlfriend, Ashley Hauza, now have a home where he handcrafted nearly every stick of furniture from solid wood. There’s a western red cedar waterfall bench. There’s a white oak bed frame with a hand-cut bridle joint."

From "'Fast Furniture' Is Cheap. And Americans Are Throwing It in the Trash. The mass-produced furniture that sold furiously during the pandemic could soon be clogging landfills" (NYT).

Is the NYT shaming the people who need or choose to buy inexpensive items for their home? After all, you could learn to "handcraft" your own furniture and spend oodles of time transforming "solid wood" into chunky items like that western red cedar waterfall bench. I suspect the wood alone would cost more than an equivalent bench from IKEA. The idea seems to be that cheaply bought stuff is readily thrown in the trash, whereas if you invest your time in crafting things or just spend a lot of money on expensive things, you'll be keeping them around, moving them arduously to your next apartment and the apartment after that.

I love the language "found he didn’t want to bring" — Greene found he didn’t want to bring mass-produced furniture into his special space. A lot of people "find they don't want to bring " insufficiently refined items into their house, but they accept the good-enough wares of IKEA and Wayfair.

I remember when simple, tasteful mass-produced consumer goods were celebrated. Here, because of the chance that they'll be thrown out, they are sneered at.

The article quotes a professor of industrial design for the proposition that IKEA and Wayfair furniture is "designed to last about five years." Do you find that to be true? I have IKEA shelves that seem like they'll hold together for 100 years. Is the idea that I'll grow tired of them more quickly?

The professor does say: "I relate to fast furniture like I do to fast food. It’s empty of culture, and it’s not carrying any history with it." Is that really about clogged landfills? Seems to me, fast food gets absorbed and processed the same way as fancy food.

"Frying pans were popular; now they’re not. No one wants toasters. Pens are good, pencils are not. Electric cables and wires go, as do electronic gadgets — even old broken laptops."

Says Vicki, "the 78-year-old woman who has been running the [Ludlow Street Free Store] for almost two decades," quoted in From "One Woman’s Quest to Rescue the Trash of the Lower East Side 'I accept the fact that I am funding my obsession'" (New York Magazine).
She starts setting up around 9 p.m. on any night it doesn’t rain, schlepping bags of salvaged goods from her small one-bedroom apartment down five flights of stairs and arranging them on the stoop..... A free store doesn’t need her to stick around and monitor what’s taken.... Around 3 a.m., she returns to pack up anything that remains.... ...Vicki spends the same energy and time saving a stack of cans of creamed corn as she does a pile of fur coats. 
Like many of her peers who came to the Lower East Side as punks and artists and squatters, Vicki is trying to live by the environmentalist and pacifist ideals she’s held since she was younger....  But she has long found antiwar work disheartening; as she says, “I have been spectacularly unsuccessful at saving the lives of my fellow human beings. But it turns out I’m somewhat better at saving things.”...

Oh, my! I've got 14 tonight! Let me know which TikTok videos won you over this time.

1. The mouse is going to eat your food, so why not embrace reality and construct a cheeseboard for the little darling.

2. Painting the one who says "I am too ugly to be painted."

3. So you say girls don't have hobbies?

4. The awesome high dive.

5. "Michigan is the Texas of the Midwest," etc.

6. How to deflect passive aggression.

7. The Jesus miracle nobody talks about.

8. The little girl has serious problems with the family dog and the family decor.

9. Sticker review suddenly becomes a phone-camera review.

10. The scar experiment.

11. Stand in awe of your ability to retain fat.

12. When you're in the mood to eat a wicker chair, what should you eat?

13. How exactly did kale become a thing?

14. Instant Karma Karen.

"A company that rents Dumpsters in six Wisconsin cities, but not in Madison, has a page on its website devoted to Dumpster diving, which states it's not illegal in Wisconsin."

"It advises people to read the signs around the Dumpster, and warns that if there's a 'no trespassing' sign or if the Dumpster is enclosed by a gate or fence on private property, not to go diving.... The benefits outweigh the risks, [Travis] Flannery said, as he pulled a new dog crate from his storage unit in the basement of his Cross Plains apartment building. He estimated it retails for $100. He also recently found an aquarium and filters still wrapped in plastic. 'I used to be in the fish hobby,' he said. 'This is a rimless, glass fish tank, brand new. If I can’t sell it, I'll use it. Fish tank filters new are $40 apiece.' Also in his locker were bottles of soda, collectibles for children, tote bags, strings of lights, throw pillows, blankets, seasonal decorations, artwork, dog food, cat litter, pet toys, dozens of picture frames with the glass still intact and the unopened coffeemaker, which is sold online for $40. Flannery said he learns the return policies of some stores from their online posts. There are stores, he said, that will get a case of something and if one of the products has broken open, the whole case is thrown away instead of just the open one. 'Here's a case of bleach,' he said. 'Why throw this away? It's bleach.'... So far, he's been caught twice, first by a Madison police officer. Flannery said he was with a friend and the officer asked what they were doing. 'We explained to him that we were Dumpster diving and just looking for some stuff that retail stores throw away,' Flannery said. 'He asked us if we were illegally dumping or anything of the sort. We said, 'No, we are actually taking things.' And he told us to have a wonderful night.'"

From "Confessions of a successful Madison Dumpster diver" (Wisconsin State Journal).

"I was painting less and less, fearing that if I got going and found it difficult to stop, I might end up like Van Gogh, a troubled artist with a room crammed full of pictures."

"Plus, I resented having to stretch a canvas over a frame, and I never liked the smell of oils and turpentine. I had lost patience with painting... In the mid-1980s, the art world was still wallowing in German neo-expressionism—large paintings with raw, overdramatic brushwork—whereas I was drawn toward Dada’s countercultural tendencies... It was at this point that I put on my first solo exhibition, Old Shoes, Safe Sex... One solitary review in Artspeak described it as 'such a neo-Dadaist knockout... Duchamp would have enjoyed these tributes....'... Around this same time, a couple of pictures of mine were part of a group exhibition in the East Village. When the show closed, rather than take the pictures home with me, I just chucked them into a dumpster. Dumpsters are everywhere in the streets of New York City, and you could probably find a number of masterpieces in them. I must have moved about ten times during my years in New York, and artworks were the first things I threw away. I had pride in these works, of course, but once I’d finished them, my friendship with them had ended. I didn’t owe them and they didn’t owe me, and I would have been more embarrassed to see them again than I would have been to run into an old lover."

From "1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows" by Ai Weiwei. 

As someone who studied painting and made a lot of paintings, I completely identify with the line "I resented having to stretch a canvas over a frame," the dread of yourself in the future in a room crammed with your own unloved pictures, and the desire to trash them all quickly, and thank God for dumpsters.

ADDED: It's interesting that he wrote "I didn’t owe them and they didn’t owe me" and not "I didn’t own them and they didn’t own me." That is, he wrote something that was translated that way. Anyway, it's about relationships, not property.

"Fur coat? It is said that nobody wants fur these days, but animals do. Rehabilitators, like those at Sacred Friends, in Norfolk, Virginia, cut up old coats and..."

"... use the scraps as little capes and stoles to keep sick animals warm... peta wants your pelts, too. The organization donates them to the homeless ('the only humans with any excuse to wear fur,' according to its Web site), and lately it has shipped fur garments to Afghanistan and Iraq for use by refugees.... Your old bras are welcomed with open arms at the Bra Recyclers, a Phoenix-based enterprise that has sent more than four million bras to homeless shelters, schools, foster programs, and other nonprofits all over the world. As Elaine Birks-Mitchell, the founder of the Bra Recyclers, explained to me over Zoom, bras are not just about fashion. For girls in developing countries, they make it possible to play sports and attend school without embarrassment."

From "A Guide to Getting Rid of Almost Everything/Once you’ve thanked and said goodbye to the items that do not spark joy, what can you do with them?" by Patricia Marx (The New Yorker).

"I see that you're going to get rid of your piano. Good luck with that. We couldn't even give ours away so I took it apart and cut it up..."

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