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Peterson: Big occasion sparks big garage cleanup

Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

We’re trying to make our one-car garage presentable as a venue for a graduation party Sunday. The trouble is, it is resisting our efforts.

The garage is the final resting place for flotsam, things that may come in handy one day. Like various short pieces of 2-by-4’s and 2-by-6’s. Alone, they are worthless, but together they can form a base for cutting sheets of plywood with my circular saw.

I haven’t done that in a while, but I do have small sheets of plywood that are ripe for cutting and fashioning into furniture, say, a bookshelf or table. I made a small desk out of castaway plywood, so who’s to say? The short pieces also make good fuel for the fire pit, but the small sheets are less versatile in that respect.

One wall is lined with shovels and rakes and cutting tools, and my favorite implement, the pick ax. I don’t want to use the pick ax again. I last used it when I chipped away at the clay that makes up our yard to build a patio. A shovel alone wouldn’t do it, as the broken handle on one spade attested to. But I don’t think I have it in me to wield the pick ax anymore. However it is a nasty-looking tool, much to my delight, even if I don’t see using it anytime soon. It means business.

We’ve been watching “The Walking Dead,” a TV series about a zombie apocalypse, and the pick ax would be the perfect tool for splitting the head of an attacking zombie, the only way you can kill them. The alternative is to be eaten. Not with my pick ax. There’s a lawn mower, a wheelbarrow, three bicycles hanging from the ceiling, a 7-foot step ladder hanging on the wall, snow shovels, yard signs from political campaigns and a bundle of shingles. On the table that extends the length of the garage is a toolbox, boxes of nails, containers of odd screws and bolts and washers, a miter saw, electrical supplies, sledge hammers, potting soil, radios, seat cushions, bird feed, ceiling tiles that I am sure are made out of asbestos, and coolers.

There’s a bag of those new-fangled florescent light bulbs that are supposed to last years but fell far short of that, and you can’t just pitch them in the garbage because they contain trace amounts of mercury.

All in all, it is suitable as a small garage, but there’s not much you can do to make it a suitable venue as a base of operations for a graduation party.

We did manage to throw some of the flotsam out, but not nearly enough to make a dent. On Monday, I discovered various pieces of metal – a stepper exercise machine, the broken snow shovel that threw my back out, a heavy box of red brackets, a pile of pilasters for shelving units, an extension rod, flower pots, a rack, a pot lid, handles to broken brooms and some aluminum cans – enough to make another small dent.

Being metal, they could be recycled, and I went to the recycling shop for the second time in my life. I don’t remember the first time, and I was thinking I could pull in, drop my recyclables off and be on my way.

I snaked into a customer parking spot, only to notice that the trucks I snaked through were waiting in line, so I sheepishly pulled out and moved to the end of the line. The place was busy on a Monday. To say I was anxious was an understatement, as I was not sure how to proceed once my car was next in line to be unloaded. I watched intently as others unloaded their trucks.

It seemed simple enough. Just empty them on to a pallet, and the center’s staff takes care of the rest. I was prepared for grumps, but was pleasantly surprised to find out how friendly and helpful they were, making the experience a good one. There was nothing to be anxious about. The woman who was in charge kindly asked what my first name was and asked me to pull into a parking spot and go to the office.

Anxiety dispelled.

You can buy hundreds of dollars of stuff at the retail store, and they don’t so much as ask to see your credit card or any form of identification to double-check you are who you say you are. But at the scrap yard, they ask for your driver’s license, per state law, before giving you a receipt. Odd. The clerk was gone for a couple of minutes before returning with my driver’s license and receipt, which I scanned in the ATM, and I hit the jackpot – $9.50.

The venue for the graduation party might not be the best, but it put $9.50 in my pocket for straightening things up. That’s as close as I will come to winning the lottery. Wait, dummy, buy a lottery ticket with the profits, and build a classy two-car garage.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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