As I walked to the subway this morning I passed a low armchair put out for garbage day. Its iridescent blue-green upholstery had been quite nice at one point. Before someone was stabbed to death while sitting on it. It had good bones at least.

I don’t pick up furniture off the street for a couple of reasons, which I’ll list in reverse chronological order. In my neighborhood, it seems people don’t throw out anything out until it is absolutely ready to shit the bed. The sidewalk is overrun by 3-legged dining room chairs, mattresses assaulted by entropy, and brokedick halogen lamps that no one really liked to begin with. These items are the DNRs of the scavenging emergency room. I can only imagine how inordinately depressing the apartments in Williamsburg are.

Also, I have a spectacular amount of crap. (This makes it hard for K, whose previous apartment was so austere it made Bauhaus Desau look like Liberace’s rumpus room.) As much as I’ve tried to sway him with arguments such as “wouldn’t it be great to be able to keep all our china* in a sideboard?” or “wouldn’t it be great to just *own* something called a highboy?” he is resolutely opposed to the Collyerization of our apartment.

Finally, I have learned the hard way what happens when you pick furniture up off the street. (I will apologize in advance to Maud, as I was saving this story to tell her in person someday.) Many years ago, when I was living in Savannah, I made the mistake of moving into a flophouse owned by a silver-tongued devil who shall remain nameless. Located in the neighborhood known as the Beach Institute, I soon discovered that the house itself was historically significant in that it was one of the first houses in Savannah built and owned by a black man, way back in the 1870s. In fact, we were a featured stop on the Negro Heritage Tour that went down the street twice a day. (One day I actually caught a snatch of what the tour guide was telling people as they passed by. Something along the lines of “….do you believe people actually live there?”) The sad truth was, the house was held together by primer and a prayer; a forceful sneeze could have knocked it over. And even if our landlord had actually been planning to renovate it (and quickly it became apparent that he wasn’t), it was a historic building, which meant miles of red tape. So when a hole the size of a Labrador Retriever appeared in one of the bedrooms during a rainstorm, the landlord’s response to our frantic phone calls was, “Don’t worry, I’ll come over and put a tarpoleon on the roof.” Tarpoleon. Not tarpaulin. Envision this as spoken by Foghorn Leghorn. (An unnecessary linguistic embellishment on the story, perhaps, but you gotta understand: this man was as dumb and useless as a bag of assholes.)

So, the house (and many of Savannah’s houses like it) being of a certain age, it had no closets. (It did have a trunk room, but someone was living in it.) There is a thriving armoire business in Savannah. For around 100 bucks, you could get a quasi-antiquey monolith that you could hope to sell to the tenants after you or smash to pieces with a fire axe when the day came. My roommate Nancy didn’t have a lot of money, so rather than buy an armoire she was making due with a jerryrigged shower curtain bar in her bedroom.

Then one night, a few blocks from the house, I drove right past an armoire that someone had thoughtfully sat out on the curb. I pulled over and ran over to assess it. It seemed ok. It was missing its handle, which I guessed was why someone had taped it shut. Looked good to me. I went to get Nancy, who had a hatchback.

We worried that in the few minutes that had elapsed someone else would get it. But when we got there, it remained. “Did you look to see what’s inside?” she asked me. I hadn’t, so I ripped the duct tape off and pulled the door open.

It was filled with clothes.

We immediately set to loading it into her car. It wasn’t easy; Nancy was at most 5 feet tall and the added weight of the clothes inside made the armoire, which stood almost 6 feet tall, more ungainly. Getting it up the front stairs and down the narrow hallway to her bedroom was no small feat either. But she was happy. That night Nancy and the other roommates and I went through the clothes and wondered why anyone would have thrown them out: there was a tuxedo and several vintage dresses.

The next day, after Nancy went to work, Ash, one of the other roommates, came home. She wanted to see the armoire. “It’s in Nancy’s room,” I shouted from the kitchen.

Have you ever heard a banshee shriek? Me neither. I imagine they sound something like Ash. She tore into the kitchen and jumped onto the counter in a move so swift and deliberate that in another scenario one might have described it as graceful. Amanda, one of the other roommates (yes, there were like 6 of us, if you’re keeping track), appeared in the doorway. “We have a problem,” she announced, and beckoned to me.

The armoire, which was sitting in the middle of Nancy’s bedroom, looked fine at first. The door hung open. As I approached it, however, I noticed movement. I squinted. The wood seemed to be moving. I looked closer.


Thousands of them. In every crack, joint, and seam. Streaming from everywhere, covering the surface of the armoire. “What are we gonna do?” Amanda said in a very tiny voice.

And suddenly, my senses rallied. “Go get me two sets of rubber gloves, some duct tape, and a tarpoleon, dammit!”

After we donned the gloves we stood on either side of the armoire, chucking the tape to and fro with speed and agility unseen outside of the Harlem Globetrotters. I felt confident that after a quarter-mile of duct tape, nothing was getting out. Of course, that wouldn’t protect us from the roaches that were crawling within the boards themselves. Which is why we taped the tarpoleon around it next.

You read these stories about farm boys who have their arms ripped off by threshers yet they somehow manage to walk back to the house to dial 911 with their noses. Similarly, Amanda and I summoned the strength to hoist the armoire (which I’m sure was heavy *without* the 300 pounds of bugs) into the air and run down the hall, down the front stairs, and down the sidewalk. In situations like this, screaming helps. We dumped it a few doors down in front of a crack house. And then we cried.

A few hours later, we saw someone else loading it into their pick-up. I wanted to say something. Sort of. We’d just spent the afternoon crushing bugs and bombing the hell out of the house with Raid. My moral compunction was dulled by inhalants.

Besides, there are some lessons you have to learn on your own.

Epilogue: So that was 8 years ago. And that’s exactly why I still don’t pick anything up off the street. No matter how tempting. Because the appeal of street furniture is directly proportional to its weight in bugs.

*We don’t actually own any china.

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