The guy at Gillman’s Hardware didn’t need much prompting: “That’s what you do when you’re rich and spoiled,” he said. I’d explained that I’d found a grill on the street the night before while walking my dog. All it needed was some turnbuckles to firm up the legs, and maybe some black rust paint. Eleven bucks in hardware for a grill worth a couple hundred. “When I was their age, I was busy fixing things. They just throw ‘em away.”
Living in that neighborhood had advantages. I could walk uptown in six minutes, ride my bicycle to my office in ten. The house was small and shabby, but it was just me and Gabe the terrier, and our needs and income were modest. The downside was the fact that I was one of only three or four grown-ups anywhere nearby. The rest had long-since fled. I like college-aged kids, but the guy from Gillman’s was not off the mark: these kids were, if not “spoiled,” then simply loud, careless, and exasperatingly self-indulgent.
Toward the end of the spring semester, the scavengers would arrive. These were folks who usually kept their distance when the students were around. But midway through exam week they would descend in force as the tree lawns became a treasure trove of discarded futons and shower caddies. The graduates, it seemed, no longer needed all this stuff that had carried them through these four reckless, fleeting years, shedding it happily as they strode into their golden futures. And all that week and the next, you’d see the pickers cruising by, the beds of their heaving Fords and Chevys swaying back and forth like fins in water.
I tried to rein in my own scavenging impulses, worried about how it would look to be seen rooting through student trash. Still, on my daily walks with Gabe I made a point of exploring new paths home, since who knew what gorgeous prizes were sitting out for the taking—like, for instance, a perfectly good grill. One fine evening I observed an odd encounter: a sorority girl and a scavenger meeting at the curb, the young woman doing her best, I thought, to disguise that small trace of curled lip, and the local looking past this soon-be-gone with almost perfect disregard.
And as I was putting the finishing touches on my new grill, it occurred to me to say a word for my benefactor: “Young master of the universe, I pray that you will never fall from fortune’s fond embrace. But if you do, I ask the Holy One that you might come to recognize a less-blessed place where you don’t despise the cost of a can of Rust-Oleum.”
– Dale Ehrlich
Dale Ehrlich teaches ESL at Miami University in Oxford. And since he’s originally from Cleveland, he uses the term “tree lawn” freely and unapologetically.