EULOGY TO THE SPRINGS HOUSEHOLD EXCHANGE
By Lynne Heffner Ferrante
She opens the rear door of her car, and draws out a neat shiny baby blue box, tiny white flowers scattered over it like a galaxy of stars. She is just a local resident exercising her right to discard unwanted items at the infamous Household Exchange in Springs, yet she wears a somber look, offers no welcome, no social amenity; she just walks over to where I stand and asks me deadpan, would you like this? And I say sure and the others come running over to see what is in the box to see if I will give it up, because this is what we do. No, I say, pulling it to me, I want it for now, and they retreat to search through the remaining detritus and await the next car.
I retire to a side where someone has left an old wood grain plastic laminated flakeboard television stand with one wheel missing and lean my blue box on it in order to open it more easily and explore just what manner of treasure I may have acquired; the anticipation is almost greater than actual discovery. A shiver of expectation joins with the omnipresent chill here under the vast steel fabricated roof which presses up through my feet as I stand on the damp concrete of the staging area filled with books and strollers and dishes and clothing and broken toys and just stuff. There is continuous movement; eyes are perpetually on the ground interrupted only by rapid furtive glances towards newly arriving cars and trucks; it is an eternal mad ritual dance featuring a memorable sequence of shuffling steps.
The household exchange has been under fire by local administration, closed for a while now reluctantly opened again. Establishing authority, town employees come by frequently with their mini bull dozer to clear away everything, even the good stuff, thrilled to deprive us of any possible discovery. They gleefully transport perfectly useful and valuable items to massive dumpsters to be carted away at serious expense thereby defeating the very purpose for closing which is ostensibly to save money. This is not a very green recycling center which only serves to intensify our frantic quest; what if I miss something good hidden under that trash over there? An undercurrent of banter hums like a cloud of buzzing flies over and through the activity, scavenging is a social occasion, as well as serious business. A while back, so the story goes, someone found an original de Kooning painting, and another found a diamond bracelet. One local Bonnaker, a regular, claims to have found a crumpled up hundred dollar bill, one day in the zipper compartment of an old beaded evening purse. But lately no one knows just when the exchange will be open or closed. But lately no one knows just when the exchange will be open or closed because of the controversy and the fact that the place is closed more than it’s open. We, the old guard are doing our best to fight; forming a committee, writing letters, holding meetings to discuss and plan strategies. Just this afternoon, we have been picketing in front of the facility, en masse, with signs, keep the household exchange open, don’t impede recycling, green is good, open all weekend… and their answer is to shut down, in an attempt to scare us away. So there! That’ll show you, they pout.
But after a while, they open up again, made nervous no doubt when the press appears to cover the story of the demonstration. So now we are patting ourselves on our collective butts, remunerating ourselves for our civic action with one last look around for trophies, rewards for our civic involvement. We are high on the success engendered by mere engagement, by determination, by the force of our intentions. We are revved up by political activism. We will be heard.
While all this is going on, we have been discussing healthcare bills and enhanced military presence in Afganistan. The government is going to kill us says someone, highly agitated, asks me if I want government bureaucrats making my healthcare decisions for me. I ask her back if she would prefer out of control monolithic corporate billionaire bureaucrats making these decisions, along with four hundred per cent rises in premiums, while they reward themselves with six and seven figure bonuses and forty thousand people without healthcare die every year. I choke a little with frustration and I slip away to study the out coming contents of a new delivery. One regular yells after me that she does not want government messing with her Medicare. I shrink into my parka.