In Which It Is Hard to Throw Away a Desk

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I bought a new desk at Ikea to replace the wobbly old one I’d been using, then realized I’d Ikea’d myself into a pickle: I now had two desks, with no easy way of getting rid of the old one. Giving it to Goodwill was impossible because I had neither the pickup truck nor the motivation required for such a task. And the desk wasn’t in good enough condition to be worth Craigslisting — besides, I wanted it gone NOW. So I decided to destroy the desk and just throw its pieces in the garbage.

Many years ago, when I was a Mormon missionary, one of my fellow missionaries and I did the same thing to a couch. Our apartment had this horrible old wooden couch, a very uncomfortable matrix of slats and beams that would probably have been classified as a torture device if the United Nations had learned of its existence. When some kindly locals took pity on us and gave us a new couch, we had no way to get rid of the old one, and figured no one would want it anyway. It was like the monkey’s paw, a cursed, tainted artifact that could only bring pain and misery to whoever possessed it. So we dismantled the couch right there in the apartment, using a sledgehammer as necessary. (I do not know why we owned a sledgehammer.) The individual shards we tossed off our balcony onto the lawn below, and from there we transported them to the Dumpster. Our neighbors in the apartment complex probably thought, “Oh, there go the Mormons again, with another one of their ritual couch sacrifices.”

So I had some experience in the field of intentional furniture destruction, and as it happens, the old desk had been purchased seven years earlier at Wal-Mart for not very much money, and I had assembled it myself, and so it was disturbingly easy to pry all the pieces apart again. It was so easy, in fact, that I wondered how it had managed to stay put together for as long as it had.

Most of the desk’s pieces were small enough to go into the trash cans behind my apartment, but there were a few — the desktop itself and the backboard, particularly — that were too large. I didn’t know what to do with them. So I leaned them against the wall in my apartment, and there they sat for several weeks.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, I noticed that there was a large, industrial-size Dumpster across the street. The building there was undergoing extensive renovation, and the rented Dumpster was filled with debris. Well, this was handy! I had these oversize desk remnants needing to be disposed of, and here was a waste receptacle large enough to accommodate them!

I carried the pieces across the street and laid them on top of the pile in the Dumpster. That’s when a man who had been watching me the whole time, who apparently was connected to the renovation, said, “You can’t leave those there.” He said it in a smug voice, like he’d caught me doing something that I knew was wrong, like I was some kind of buffoon for thinking I could put trash in a trash bin.

“Why not?” I asked.

“That’s for recyclable material only,” he said.

Ah. Fair enough. I said OK and removed the desk pieces and started walking away, and that’s when the man said, scoffing, “So go dump your s*** somewhere else.”

He said it with contempt. He seemed to think I was a charlatan trying to pull off some kind of ruse, or maybe a hobo who just goes from town to town defiling people’s trash bins with TRASH, of all things. Now I was angry that he was being a jerk about it, so I walked around the corner, where he couldn’t see me, and dropped the desk pieces in front of the building he was renovating. If he wouldn’t let me put them in his Dumpster, I was going to ensure that he’d have to deal with them anyway.

I retreated into my apartment and watched the scene unfold through the slats of my window blinds. After a few minutes, the man’s associate, who had witnessed our interaction, happened to walk around the corner, and he saw the desk pieces, and he was stunned. He yelled back to the guy, “He dumped that trash over here!” The man came hurrying around the corner, saw the desk pieces on his doorstep, and loudly called me several obscene names even though I wasn’t there. He cursed me in absentia. I was unaccountably giddy at having angered him so. He tossed the desk pieces into the back of his pickup truck. “I wish I knew where he lived,” he said, looking around, unaware that I lived RIGHT HERE and was watching him from my window.

That’s when I realized something. The building renovation was going to take several weeks, and this man was in charge of it. My apartment was only a few feet away from the construction. I often leave my apartment to go other places. My car was parked between my front door and this man’s building. It was inevitable that at some point, this man was going to see me again. And when he did, he was not going to be happy.

So I’d let my temper get the best of me, and now I was screwed. I had to come up with a way to weasel out of this situation and make everything better. I didn’t want to spend the next several weeks living in fear of being seen by this man, not when I was already living in fear of so many other things. But I couldn’t just go take the desk pieces back from the sidewalk where I’d left them, like maybe I’d dropped them there temporarily and came back later, because he’d already put them in his pickup truck. I would have to go SPEAK to him and EXPLAIN why I had left the pieces there temporarily, and ask to retrieve them from his truck.

“Think, Eric David Snider, think!” I urged myself, using my full name so I’d know I meant business. “Come up with your most elaborate yet plausible lie! Why would you have suddenly left your debris on the sidewalk in front of this man’s building? What could possibly have interrupted you so urgently?”

Maybe I’d had to go to the bathroom? Nah. No matter how bad I had to go, I could have continued to carry the desk pieces with me as I rushed back to my apartment. Maybe I’d heard my phone ringing and had to hurry inside to answer it, dropping all unnecessary weight in order to streamline my movements? Good, but not great. I’d have had to be expecting a REALLY important call.

Finally I arrived at the best lie: While carrying the desk pieces back to my apartment, I had caught my thumb on a screw sticking out of one of them and given myself a terrible cut. I dropped everything and ran inside to stop the bleeding. Maybe I have anemia or something, making cuts and gashes more serious. Does anemia even do that? I don’t know. Sounds plausible. It’s not like the guy at the receiving end of the lie was a doctor.

I put a couple Band-Aids on my thumb to give the lie full impact — when I lie my way out of something, I implement all necessary props and costumes — and headed back outside. The man was doing some kind of work on the other side of the building. As I approached him, I glanced behind me with a perplexed look, as if having just come from where I’d left the desk pieces and found them gone.

“Hey there,” I said.

He looked up from his work and appeared to be astonished that I had reappeared.

“I hope you didn’t think I had just dumped that wood on the sidewalk over there!” I said. “I was going to put it in the garbage cans behind my apartment, but I cut myself” — and here I held up my bandaged thumb as proof — “and had to hurry inside to take care of it.”

“Oh, I see,” the man said. I couldn’t tell whether he believed me or not, so I plunged ahead.

“Then I came back and saw you’d put the wood in your truck, and I was like, ‘Oh, no, he thinks I just abandoned it there!'” I laughed at the absurdity of such an idea. “I didn’t want you to think I was just dumping my garbage on the sidewalk!”

“Well, you never know with some people,” he said, now apparently accepting my explanation, at least tentatively.

“Yeah, that’s true, you never know in this neighborhood,” I said. Making it an “us vs. them” thing, with you and the person you’re lying to on the same side, is a powerful lying tactic. Granted, it didn’t really make any sense in this case. I mean, what was I implying? That this is a neighborhood where people go around dropping discarded parts of desks willy-nilly? That the sidewalks are often littered with table legs, book shelves, and couch cushions? But it didn’t matter. I’d put him and me on the same side, and we were compatriots now. I told him I’d take the desk pieces out of the back of his truck and put them next to the garbage cans at my apartment building, and we parted ways amiably.

In hindsight, I can see that a lot of my behavior may not have been ideal. I lost my temper and did something rash, and then I lied to eliminate the negative consequences of my actions. But I am only human. And honestly, who among us hasn’t been treated rudely by a stranger, littered on his doorstep, and then hastily conceived a logically spurious cover story to smooth things over? Let he who has never done any of that stuff cast the first desk part.

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This column originally appeared in "Something Cleverish," a compilation of humorous pieces by 43 bloggers published as a fundraiser for Stephanie and Christian Nielson, a young married couple who were nearly killed in a small-plane crash last summer. All proceeds from the book -- which is still available, and which you should still buy, either in e-book format or the traditional ink-on-paper way -- are going directly to the Nielsons, to help cover their astronomical medical expenses and other costs. You can read more about the situation here.

On behalf of the Nielsons, thank you to everyone who bought the book or who is about to buy it right now. I hope publishing this column here, for free, doesn't reduce your incentive to buy the book. After all, this is but one of 43 entries in it, and almost all of the other 42 are witty, clever, and enjoyable. (I'm not gonna lie. There are a few clunkers. But hey, it's for a good cause.) And the Nielsons are relatives of some close friends of mine, and if you help out the relatives of friends of mine, it's almost like you're helping out ME.

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