The posting in Freecycle read, "Queen sized mattress and box springs," and I almost fell over in my chair. Months ago, as part of a big used furniture buy, I'd landed a Queen size bed frame. The only problem was: I had a full size bed. It was too small.
Still, I'd managed to jury rig the thing, got it off the floor and that was a start, but it was still a little awkward. The ends poke out too far. I've hit my ankle on the lower half three or four times and one night out of five, I wake up with my head crammed down the space between the bed and the wall.
The posting said the mattress was in good shape. It just needed to be cleaned.
Free was too good to pass up. So, I put a claim on it and the owner told me I could have it.
"Just come pick it up."
So, I borrowed a truck and in the dark of night went to get it. The little house was located at the top of a steep hill. Looking down from the top, I noticed the shiny new guard rail at the bottom and wondered how often that got replaced.
Just a guess, but every other winter.
The street was dark and finding the little house was a pain in the ass. Evidently, nobody bothers with house numbers anymore and postal employees can just miracle the fucking mail to the right house. I doubt a pizza had been successfully delivered on this street since the Nixon administration.
Still, I reminded myself, I was getting this mattress for free. A little hassle was expected.
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
The house I was looking turned out to be located behind another house. You had to creep up a set of narrow, river rock steps then fumble past the gate of a chain link fence just to get onto the dark property. I navigated by the stars since the household seemed to have a strict "only use one electrical device" at a time policy. Flickering blue light escaped from a single, dirty window.
I knocked on the door. A scummy looking character opened it immediately.
"You here about the bed?" The guy asked. "It's on the back porch."
He closed the door then turned a light on, not the light for the back porch, but the light for the front stoop.
Right off, the mattress looked wrong. It looked too small. It looked like it was the same size as the one I had at home, but it was dark, I was annoyed and I have been known to make mistakes when it's dark and I'm annoyed. I considered for a second. I was already here.
I decided the situation was still workable. At the very least, I figured, it's an improvement over what I have and I could be wrong.
I lugged the mattress and box springs to the truck then coasted down the hill, riding the breaks and feeling pretty damned glad I didn't have to live here.
It was a bad night. Getting the truck had taken too long. Finding the house had taken too long and by the time I finally got home, the whole evening was shot.
But I had the bed.
It was while dragging it into the house that I noticed the smell: urine, sweat and a sickly sweet deodorizer that wasn't quite cutting it.
In the light, I saw the mattress wasn't in such good condition. It was pock-marked with small holes and the foam beneath looked funny, partially dissolved. I'd seen this sort of thing before, back in college dorm rooms where half the mattresses looked like they'd been scavenged from a plague hospital.
The cats and dog were fascinated by the thing, but there was no way I was keeping some drunk's flop mattress and piss pad in my house. I dragged it right back out, tossed it on the patio and called the garbage company. I asked them to donate the mattress to a deserving family of rats at the county landfill.
The fiasco taught me a lesson. For years, I've done a fair share of scavenging: furniture, food and odd items. I did it because I told myself I was being thrifty. I was being resourceful. Sometimes I deluded myself by saying I could fix it, patch it up or use it to make do somehow.
Usually, that didn't work out. A stock pot I got for nothing turned out to have pinhole leaks six inches up from the bottom. A loveseat I found smelled like a couple of dogs on a two-day viagra binge. The box of chestnuts I took turned out to be rotten and infested with little bugs that took weeks to get rid of.
My list of hopeful acquisitions is long and it is sad.
Looking back, most of the junk I scavenged was just that: junk. And sometimes, the junk cost me something: extra money, extra aggravation; time that could not be replaced. In most cases, if I'd really wanted the item I picked up in the first place, I'd have been better off just buying it.
So... there it is, my first new resolution of the year: Stop picking up other people's trash, especially when it's offered freely. This is not to say, stop looking for bargains, but stop accepting less as adequate. It really never is, no matter how much you pretend that it might be.
Sure, it's true what they say: "You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," but maybe you should if you think the horse might be a goat.