As the man retrieved the year-old deck furniture I had just lugged into the container marked "Metal Only," I figured he deserved an explanation. I pointed out the split down one leg of the bench and the chunk of aluminum that the winter freeze had popped out of another.
"No problem," he said. "I have a spot in my yard where this will look good but no one will ever sit on it."
We talked about where I had bought the furniture, cheap foreign imports and the decades we had each lived in this city.
"I'm sure this isn't the best treasure you've ever dug out of one of these bins," I said, hoping for tales of the local recycling center burping up a shrink-wrapped "butcher cover" of The Beatles' Yesterday and Today album or a grease-stained paper bearing Col. Sanders' 11 secret herbs and spices.
Instead, he said much of the stuff that made its way into the facility deserved to be there. It was mostly junk. Disposable. Valueless.
"I prefer antiques," he said. "And those pretty much dried up around here 10 years ago or more when they finished tearing down all the old houses for apartments and offices. Everything we get here tends to be new. Stamford is a new city."
I've heard debates about whether Stamford is part of New England or New York, but never a statement that it was just plain "new."
This place where Indians once roamed, or so claimed the Stamford Museum staff that annually filled my brain with such tales during elementary school.
This place with a Revolutionary War-era earthen fort where a classmate once found a musket ball as we roamed the grounds during a field trip. (I wasn't suspicious then, but now I am convinced it was a plant by hippie preservationists.)
This place with public beach bathhouses that look like they doubled as bomb shelters during the Eisenhower administration.
For a while, I lived in a newly minted suburb of Dallas. It was a sea of Spielbergian tract housing punctuated by sparkly warehouse-sized supermarkets and freshly bleached concrete strip malls that regularly sprung up like dandelions. Depending on my route and choice of clothes, on most days the underwear I wore was older than the structures I drove past.
That was a new city. Bland, but new.
Then, the more I thought about what the current owner of my old furniture said, the more I realized he was right. Progress creeps here, bit by bit, until even the new seems old. You become immune to it because the change is usually so slow. You just accept what has become as what has always been.
I thought about the places where I worked here in my teens. The supermarket where I sorted returnable bottles is now a mega-bookstore. The bookstore where I once stripped magazine covers for return is now a dress store. The supermarket that then became a dress store where I helped my sister do inventory is now a health-food grocery.
However, I rarely think of those childhood stores anymore; their replacements have become, to me, old, too.
Circle of life. So on, so forth.
"Sometimes new is good," I said to him. I pointed to a shopping cart, its plastic yellow seat bearing the one store name my wife can't say without a grimace of pain -- Caldor. "You have to admit the Target downtown is quite an improvement from that dank old place."
"Meh," he said. "As a discount store, Caldor was ahead of its time."
We introduced ourselves, shook hands and went our separate ways.
My Uncool Past
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