Stuff 3: Books 8 August 26, 2016

Scrap metal dealers, part two.

With the filing cabinets still taking up valuable wall space, I called as many dealers as I could find online, a half dozen of whom said they only did industrial pick-ups. Then my eye fell on a small ad where a guy claimed to pick up household discards, specifically including filing cabinets, saying he recycled them in an environmental responsible manner.

What more could you want?

file8421301531796When I phoned the next morning, New Guy sounded like a college kid with some kind of truck who’d dreamed up a great summer gig. He said that for sure he could do the job, leaving me happy on several levels.

Aside from the burden off, I could test an idea I’ve been entertaining lately: that it’s a smart time to start mobile businesses, with baby boomers downsizing and too many younger folks without steady jobs. I picture crews of young women and men patrolling the city on bikes or in second hand vehicles, some of them recycling saleable commodities, others selling services to an ageing community as home organizers, bookkeepers, handymen and –women—whatever—while working themselves into other careers. Or not.

After taking down my address, New Guy said he would haul the cabinets away for free, and promised absolutely to be there at noon the next day, even though it was Saturday.

Which was great—until he didn’t show.

When I called New Guy’s cell at 2 p.m., I woke him up. He didn’t sound hung over so much as still drunk. Yeah, he mumbled. Come over next week sometime maybe. If I can find guy to help get the buggers down from yz second floor.

By then, a neighbour I’d talked to while mowing the lawn had offered to help me bring the filing cabinets downstairs and put them on the curb. I told New Guy this and said to forget it, thanks.

He seemed to wake up. “Call me when they’re on the curb,” he said.

I laughed. “First come, first served.”

New Guy turned surly. “Saves me the gas anyway,” he said, and hung up.

We’d had an elderly neighbour on the corner when we first moved in who told me she’d been been born in her house soon after it was built, which would have been around the end of the First World War, since most of the houses on our street were built in 1915.

The bone grubber

The bone grubber

Elsie liked to reminisce about the old days, when the neighbourhood was noisy with men driving horse-drawn hacks: scrap metal dealers, rag and bone men, ice men, milk men, coal delivery men, farm families selling eggs and the honey bucket men who emptied the outhouses at the back of everyone’s property. My futuristic environmental dream of responsible recycling is of course a picture of the past. Or, hopefully, the past minus the casual anti-Semitism Elsie fell into when mentioning the local rag-and-bone man, even though she’d obviously liked him.

“He was a real character,” she said, chuckling nostalgically.

My grandparents and parents used that phrase. He was a real character. I’d never parsed it until my own encounters with the modern-day scrap metal no-shows, when I thought, Yeah, they’re characters, all right. Meaning not so much unpredictable and unreliable eccentrics, as I’d thought my parents meant, but characters in stories. Rag and bone men, honey bucket men, scrap metal dealers: they spurred stories told across the back fence. Did you hear what old so-and-so did this time? With an indulgent chuckle.

These days, they become characters in blog posts as we gossip online. We’re probably less indulgent than earlier generations. Being on faster schedules, we have less time for unreliability. Yet we still tell stories, and maybe we’ll be telling more if my little dream comes true.

And it might be, with a spin.

By this I mean the Überization of society. Maybe Über is the past, version 2.2, otherwise known as dystopia. Sometimes it seems as if we’re all going to turn into Übers, everyone doing casual, freelance jobs on our own hours, turning our cars into cabs and our homes into hotels. It sounds pretty sweet at first, especially if we’re the ones calling low-cost Über cabs or enjoying cut-rate Airbnbs, and not the ones driving or renting them. But with Silicon Valley behind it, I’m afraid the Überization of services means we’ll work increasingly long hours at decreasing pay levels, while the neo-robber barons, beta version, take a bigger and bigger bite.

Looked at that way, it’s dis-spiriting, although there’s a caveat: multi-national operations have the advantage over no-show scrap dealers of more or less working.

I ended up worrying that my kind neighbour would wreck his back while helping me carry three heavy metal filing cabinets downstairs. After thanking him, I booked a corporate 1-800 junk removal service, punching in a time on their website, receiving my confirmation e-mail .0005 seconds later, and looking out the window the next afternoon at the appointed time to see two pumped young men in uniform getting out of a spiffy 1-800 truck, even though it was Sunday afternoon.

Inside, after surveying the cabinets, one of the very pleasant young men quoted me a removal cost double the guestimate provided on the company website, as he’d no doubt been instructed. I talked him down a little, but by then I was so passionately sick of the whole subject of filing cabinets that I just wanted them out of the house, as the corporation no doubt knew I would.

We agreed on an inflated price and the beasts were gone in 15 minutes, although the work that followed—tearing up the carpet, cleaning the room, moving in another bookcase; all the chores listed in my un-illustrated, non-bullet journal analog daytimer—wasn’t finished End of Day so much as End of Three Days, given the essential but entirely boring matter of quarter-round, which had to come off before the carpet came up, not to mention the state of the floor underneath.

However. I started out with the subject of books, and Second Life Books. And now I’m there.