The most impressive curbside rescue I ever saw, was in Cuba. The resort where we were staying had a bend in the road at the bottom of the hill overlooking the sea. Noticeably absent there, the metal guard rail that was supposed to be a buffer for cars that might turn too wide and end up in the ocean. Off the highway within a stone’s throw, was an amazing home-made house, (coincidentally) made from highway guard rails, pounded flat into walls and roof. I felt for the owner, it must have been a lot of pounding. And yet his house was neatly done, adequate to the weather, and partitioned inside for privacy by hanging blankets for walls. He showed us around with pride, very happy about the fact that he had an old turntable to provide himself with music from a pile of worn 33’s and a generator out back to power electric lights. He lived in the middle of a banana grove. You could literally walk out the door and pick a banana. But really the thing that stuck with me, was how he got a “free” dumpster-dive domicile for the price of a bit of sweat equity.
If you want to get rid of something fast, put it on the curb and put a “free” sign on it. People do whisk things away, usually when you are NOT looking. Once we put out some larger items and a man came and unabashedly took some of the things and put them on a large carry cart he had with him. He told us happily that he was retired, but on trash days he picked up scrap metal which he would sell to dealers for cash. He told us that this weekly hobby provided him with some free exercise and about six hundred dollars a month in pin money.
I have at times been guilty of dumpster diving, though I am fairly selective in my junk. I have picked up some things that have inhabited my own garage for a while and I never found a use for them. Other things, I have fixed. One I was particularly happy about was a wheelbarrow that was perfectly sound except for the fact that its tire was flat and the owner was too lazy to fix it. Off to the hardware store, and for $40 I picked up a hard wheel that required no inflating, and a three-quarter inch steel bar for an axle. The wheel housing required a bit of makeover to accommodate the new wheel, but with a hacksaw I cut the bar to length and fashioned makeshift bearings from a piece of copper pipe. Soon I had a restored wheelbarrow, that is still doing heavy-lifting in my yard.
It’s always a cost/benefit equation, wondering if something is worth fixing. I guess it depends on how you accord value. Most often we go to price tag... replacement cost for a new version as opposed to time and sweat equity put into fixing something. Oddly, new can be cheaper if you are talking man hours, and yet… I just hate to see things thrown away, that require a bit of love and care to be serviceable. It’s a different way of looking at value. Seeing something automatically relegated as trash makes me wonder up front if it could be restored to usefulness, even to beauty if someone cared enough. There is an intrinsic value to anything that is invisible to the naked eye. It requires the ability to see something as it could be with a little help. Think of how a mother sees her children and you will get my drift.
It happens pretty often in my house, because my wife is ardent in her belief that everything can and should be fixed. This has made for some interesting YouTube fact finding ventures, where you can figure out how to fix just about anything. Sooner or later you are able to MacGiver your way through most things if you have some basic tools. I remember when we first bought a home, I had to be resourceful because we were pouring so much money and sweat equity into doing everything over. I mean EVERYTHING. I remember picking up tools from yard sales, that go-to list that included some things like nut drivers, screwdriver sets, and some basic power tools.
Today I had an overhead shop quartz heater taken apart on the kitchen table. It would not heat. I assumed the fuse was blown or that there was a reset inside that would restore the breaker to on setting. Sadly, a lot of things that are electrical are put together with proprietary screws that are designed to keep people like you and me out. They require a special screwdriver that only the manufacturer has. And so it was that I scrutinized the triangular hole in the screw heads, wondering how I would take them off. I ended up removing them with a small vice grip clenched around the screw head hard enough to twist them off and replace them with screws of the same thread but a conventional driver. I have to admit, this one lost me. There were just too many screws in the process of going down that rabbit hole, trying to find a way in to the guts of the thing. My wife, who has more mechanical sense than I do, and more patience perhaps, came to the rescue. She found that the problem was merely a missing screw, which rendered the pull cord useless because the inside mechanism was on the wrong angle. Replacing the missing screw, we plugged it in, and found that the heater was suddenly working again. My wife smiled. I am not sure whether the triumph was sweeter for her, or for me. Sometimes two heads are better than one, even when you have to admit you have been bested.
Then there was the patio umbrella. It had picked up in the wind, and landed with a bounce that bent one of the struts. The bend was sufficient that when I tried to straighten the strut, it broke off. It was aluminum, hollow and vulnerable close to the points where it had been drilled for screws.
I had to take a breath. A new umbrella is not that expensive, but it was the sense of waste to throw a 90% whole umbrella on the curb, for the lack of a bit of effort. Perusing the break, I found a scrap piece of aluminum downstairs in my shop, and cut it to a size that would fit snugly inside the hollow of the strut. Then I drilled a sequence of holes, and rounded up some metal screws, lock washers, and nuts. It took a bit of fussing, but the repair held. It had the pitiful look of one who had been injured, like a man who walks with a brace on his leg. The evidence of the prosthetic cure is there for the world to see. The patio umbrella just has to limp into the future with enough dignity to hold its restoration with grace.
Fixing things always makes you wonder. You have to look at something and find value. Is it worth fixing? There is utility value… replacement value, and then there is intrinsic value, the odd value that is placed on something that may be worthless except for that fact that you care about it. You see value where others do not. It always makes me wonder about our Maker, the one who has to look over life’s damaged goods and assess value. Why fix things? it’s an odd question. When others are very quick to condemn things to the dumpster, God looks instead and says “I think I can fix that”.