Last summer as I was cleaning out the rat's nest of crap that the previous owner of my little farm had left for me to deal with, I cam across some single-pane aluminum windows - the type commonly seen in old trailer houses. Some had bent frames, or cracked glass, but rather than stuff them into the dumpster that I had rented to deal with the mess, I decided to set them out by the road with a sign that read "free," just in case someone had a use for them.
There is something about the word "free" that is almost maddening. Before I could even get back to the house after posting the sign, two gents in trucks pulled into my driveway and almost got into a brawl over who would get the windows. I went out and told the one whose pickup was parked inches ahead of the other that the prize was his - and the loser sped off down the road where he was no doubt placed on a suicide watch by his worried family. The guy who got the windows told me that he had no immediate need for them, but he did have forty acres upon which he would store them until a need arose. (And a few years from now some other poor fool like me will be clearing off his place and wondering what in the hell to do with all of the junk!)
But those windows were "free." When a fellow has reduced his asking price to absolutely nothing, the negotiations are over - unless he pays you to take them. "Free" is a magic word. If my sign had said "Windows, 25 cents each," both driveway shoppers would have likely kept on driving, but the word "free" pulled them in like a giant electro-magnet!
This week, while preparing to give my yard its second mow of the season, I moved a few more things I unwillingly inherited from the previous owner out to the road - items that hadn't fit in the two dumpster loads from last summer. The treasure included a metal frame that had once fit on the pickup truck of the carpenter who built and lived in my house. His son told me that it served as a rack for the old guy's ladders. The frame was bent and broken - unrepairable. There was also an old pair of single-paned windows set in a busted wooden frame, a couple of extra-long pieces of used plastic plumbing pipe, and two sections of garden hose with matching broken ends. It was literally a king's ransom in junk - if the price was right.
I found a ratty old piece of plywood on which I carefully spray painted the word "free," and before I could turn to walk off an old farmer driving a pickup truck and pulling a trailer almost ran off the road trying to do a drive-by valuation of my stuff. He drove on down the road, but before I got to the house, he had turned around and was back. The old bugger took everything - even the hose - and looked wistfully at the sign - but I kept that!
It was all "free!" "Free," you see. Someone had stuff and gave it away for "free!" What was the world coming to? Christmas certainly came early this year for the old coot in the pickup truck - and for me as well!