The sidewalk in my Brookline neighborhood is a free-for-all – literally. The students are coming and more to the point, the students are going and leaving behind mountains of stuff: cat-shredded couches, chairs missing legs or seats, and a million giant garbage bags stuffed with the flotsam of student life: clothes, pillows, half empty jars of spices, posters, and … well, better not to speculate about the rest.
September 1 is called “Allston Christmas” in honor of this smelly phenomenon, but that’s a misnomer and a gross understatement; it happens all over greater Boston and goes on for a solid two weeks.
The sea of wretched refuse in front of my home has included serviceable and even pristine items, including desks, bookcases, plastic storage bins, cookware and dishes. I walk my dog early and late in the day, so I see it all: the ugly, the worthless, and the prizes. A decent kitchenette set out in the evening is gone by morning. Boxes of dishes vanish, sometimes en masse, sometimes piece by piece.
One night, I watched as a car pulled over and four people jumped out to circle a coffee table. They talked it over for a minute but apparently decided against it and drove away. The table was gone the next day, anyway.
Talk about a “free market.” I don’t shop this street bazaar, though I have rescued a few houseplants from the sidewalk and once doubled back to pick up a little yellow tin tea box from Japan, in its original wrapping. Mostly I just try to keep Toby from peeing on anything that might be useful.
But yesterday, I spotted a handsome, mahogany-red guitar leaning against a spindly tree, surrounded by a phalanx of lumpy black plastic bags. It seemed to be in pretty good shape; it even had all six strings. I glanced over my shoulder, grabbed it and walked home as fast as I could, as if someone was going to chase after me for stealing their beloved Silvertone.
I do not want a guitar, but there are programs that provide instruments to schoolchildren who cannot afford them, and this was going to make someone very happy.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be in nearly mint condition. So why had it been abandoned?
Did someone throw out their cheating ex-lover and toss all their stuff on the street, like in the movies?
Maybe a new tenant found it a closet and put it out with all the other junk that got left behind?
Did someone get tired of lugging the guitar from home to dorm to apartment to another apartment, finally realizing, “I’m never going to play this thing”?
Maybe they were embarrassed and waited for cover of night to put it in the trash.
Or was this a completely thoughtless act and proof of our culture of conspicuous consumption? It wasn’t an expensive instrument — no Gibson Hummingbird — but it was capable of creating sounds to soothe savage breasts, to give voice to passion, and protest and lullabies.
Or maybe, just maybe, the guitar on the street was the generous gesture of musician who finally got a better instrument and left the old one out in hopes that a starving artist would find it. In which case, mission accomplished and the world is redeemed: Let’s go with that one.