A little respect for my junk?

Like many city folks, I live on a street that seems to invite scavengers. The days before rubbish pick-up are always fruitful for those van-driving hunter-gatherers. In a given week, the curbside offerings might include a toaster oven, washing machine, miniblinds, a three-foot palm. The speed at which these items vanish depends on several variables - the weather, competition from neighboring rubbish piles, and the apparent quality of the discards.

When I've tossed out old plants, for instance, their market value can usually be gauged by their longevity on the street. If a plant lasts three or four days, its fate has indeed withered. A better plant, on the other hand, may be gone in under an hour.

The local scavengers are no fools - they grab the good stuff and leave the junk.

So it was that my newly deceased television was carted out to the sidewalk the other day in advance of the rubbish pick-up. Later, while taking a walk, I happened to see the rival offerings in the area - more modest than usual, it seemed. I did, however, notice another TV a couple of blocks away - older, smaller, less hunt-worthy than mine.

Even on the "donor" end of the transaction, one wants to put up a sporting effort.

Day 1 passed without a taker, and Day 2 went the same. Day 3 was a sleepy Sunday, gray and cool, with little activity outdoors. There were fewer cars than usual, and fewer people out walking.

So the occasional sounds of a front door shutting, or a man calling out to his dog, were more pronounced than usual. The only sound I couldn't identify resembled construction noise - perhaps the hammering of a fence, or some other household repair.

When the sound persisted for a couple of minutes, I peeked out the window.

Through the evergreens, I saw two young boys kicking the daylights out of my old TV. Then one of them ran over by our garage and grabbed an enormous rock from the garden.

Newly armed, he charged back to the sidewalk and hurled the rock right through the TV screen. Then came the sound of exploding glass, followed by the hoots and screams of two self-satisfied little boys, running up the street.

Later, when I went outside to survey the damage, I was startled by the ferocity of it: Nevermind about the glass strewn all over the grassy strip beside the sidewalk. The television looked like earthquake rubble - strands of loose wire, plastic shards, random parts hanging unaffiliated.

And that huge rock sat embedded in the guts of the machine.

By any standard, what I had witnessed was a form of property crime - victimless and without need for recompense.

In fact, the boys had destroyed aspiring rubbish - the television was, after all, waiting at curbside. The larger "crime" was arguably their trespassing through our driveway and stealing that giant rock.

There are countless ways to view this bizarre, recreational act committed by two young boys in broad daylight.

The one that sticks is that, fortunately, no one and nothing of consequence was actually hurt. Those rookie vandals, maybe eight- and 12-years-old, in their royal blue T-shirts, give fresh meaning to the term "gratuitous violence."

Joan Silverman is a freelance writer living in Boston.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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