Monday, September 29, 2008

Brooklyn's free-for-all

There are few things in New York that are free for the taking. The New York Philharmonic provides free concerts in the parks, but only in the summer and you have to contend with large crowds and people chatting while the music plays. The Staten Island Ferry is always free, but who wants to go to Staten Island? The Tour de Bronx is a free bike ride around the city's only borough on the US mainland, but you have to ride around the Bronx.

When I lived on the Upper East Side, used furniture could be found for free on the sidewalk any day of the week. The beginning and end of the month were the best times to find a slightly-used bookcase or weathered-but-still-useful futon. A discriminating scavenger might be able to furnish an entire apartment with cast-offs if there was a run of good weather. (Rain tends to devalue items left on the street.) I took full advantage of this arrangement while I lived in the neighborhood. I still have a DVD shelf that I picked up from the trash room of my old apartment building, and I left my old love seat and several discarded pieces of office furniture on the street when I moved out. They were gone within hours.

In Park Slope in Brooklyn, it's possible to find a good deal on street furniture, but it's more likely that you'll find used books, CDs, and DVDs or videotapes on apartment stoops on any given day. Park Slope has an unofficial swap meet mentality. If you have a box full of old books that you don't want to keep but can't bear to give away, you leave them on the street outside your building. Other residents know that these books are free for the taking. I've seen lots of weekend stoop sales as well, but I don't know why anyone would bother with that when you can find the same junk a block away in someone else's castoffs.

The free stuff phenomenon isn't limited to the sidewalks. Residents in my apartment building leave old books and CDs on the mail-drop table just inside the main doors. Just this weekend someone left behind two or three boxes of books and stacks of CDs. The problem is that these are usually books or CDs that no one wants. Kate was excited to find what appeared to be a Peter Gabriel box set a few weeks ago, only to be disappointed when I read the box and discovered that it was actually an old PC game (for Windows 95!) with music by Peter Gabriel. She did pick up several CDs by The Rembrandts, none of which had the theme to "Friends." Most of the time the CDs are old, crappy albums by established stars or recordings by artists I've never heard of. Since I live in a building with families with small children, there are plenty of baby books and childrens' videos left behind. I've seen multiple copies of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" (possibly the same one getting passed around) and this weekend's offering included "The Baby Whisperer." I will admit to taking advantage of the book selection: I picked up "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis a few weeks back and I passed up a copy of William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" only because I already own it and lent it to a friend. Leaving stuff out for free is only putting off the inevitable trashing of said items. The superintendent takes whatever doesn't get picked up by fellow residents to the trash after a day or two.

However, this weekend in addition to the books and CDs someone left the armchair seen above. (Note the "free!" sign, just in case the placement wasn't clear.) Who could resist such a find? Alas, I was running out the door and didn't have time to think about how much I would want this chair, and when I got home it was gone. I'll have to get a faux-Victorian paisley-covered armchair somewhere else.

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