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They say one person’s trash is another’s treasure, and though I do not know who “they” are, I tend to agree. Growing up it was always exciting to see a sign for a yard sale in the neighborhood. Even if you are not a fan of secondhand goods, seeing the contents of a person’s home laid out all over their yard is always fascinating.

People’s possessions tell a story about their lives, and I am a true lover of stories.

Also, sometimes other people just have really great stuff.

In Brooklyn, there is a culture of the sidewalk giveaway which is essentially like multiple pop-up mini yard sales without the yard or, well, the sale. And similar to a yard sale sign, I can’t walk by a FREE sign without checking it out. This delightful practice has given me all sorts of trinkets I never knew I wanted or needed, including several books, a few teacups, some frames and luckily no bed bugs. You can put just about anything out there with a sign, and most of the time it is gone within the hour. It is almost like magic.

A few months ago I found myself making an unexpected move (yes, right smack in the middle of the pandemic), and it was my time to test out this sidewalk giveaway practice. And test I did. I put all sorts of things out there—books, jewelry, cups, plates, an old blender, a chair, a table, even some backyard furniture. All was gone within several hours. It was amazing.

The ultimate test was the old rusty grill that had stood in the corner of my yard for the past 4 years.

Its existence is a physical example of how when something upsetting happens you literally just shove it in a corner and try to not deal with it—for 4 years.

The story starts out innocently enough with my sister accepting a free used grill and chairs from a friend for our tiny, rather rough looking outdoor space at our new apartment. And, though, we were in no way gas grill experts (my dad was more of a charcoal grill guy) and we were raised to have a healthy fear of fire, we thought, how hard can this be?

You turn the damn thing on and cook things.

One night we wanted to test out our new acquisition and decided to grill some chicken. My sister was in charge of manning the grill while I was getting the rest of dinner prepared. Once she put the chicken on the grill, I remember walking back inside listening to the beats of Damien Marley and thinking this is great.

A few minutes later, things went downhill. I heard my sister yell “Fire!” in a panicked voice, and I rushed into our tiny, tiny backyard where smoke and huge flames billowed from the grill.

“Turn off the gas and call 911!” I shouted as I ran back into the kitchen. I knew that getting a bowl of water was going to either make things better or really worse, but sometimes you just have to take action. So, in this do or die moment, I went with it.

Like a panicked cartoon, I ran outside with the bowl and poured the water on the fire. Thankfully, it extinguished most of the fire. I made another trip into the kitchen, dumped more water on the grill to be safe, and soon it was just a wet, smoky mess.

Long story short, we did not eat chicken that night and never used the grill again.

Like the furnace in Home Alone, the grill’s presence in the corner of the yard weighed on me, but I did not know what to do with it. So I left it there and donated it to the mice, squirrels, rats and raccoons for affordable housing—which, to be fair, is hard to come by these days.

But now that I was moving, we finally had to face our fears—and the grill.

And though I truly believed in the magic of the sidewalk giveaway, I did not believe this grill would find a second life. Like, who the hell would want this thing? And, honestly, I was a little ashamed of the story it told about me. Luckily, many of my friends and confidants assured me that this was the way forward.

So, what do you do when you want to make something look less shitty than it actually is? You use the kind of ingenuity that makes used car salesmen and realtors proud. You clean it well. So, we shined that sucker up, stuck a thoughtful but rambling note explaining (most of) the story, and rolled that bad boy out there.

And then we waited.

At first, nothing happened—not a single passerby slowed down. But within an hour, something changed. Now, we were getting some bites. Incredible. Finally we heard an active conversation, and I snuck up to the window and peaked through the curtains. I saw a young couple looking at our note, opening the grill to get a feel for its heart and soul.

Could this be happening? I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I walked away, not wanting to jinx it. Within a few minutes, I heard a distinct rumbling from the sidewalk. I ran to the window to see the couple dragging the grill away.

The magic of the sidewalk giveaway strikes again!

I breathed a huge sigh of relief and gave my sister a high five. I walked back into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of my old washer and dryer and wondered just how much I should push my luck…

Ellen Cosgrove

Lover of learning, nerdy ideas, dry wit, cooking and eating delicious food and generally going back to what brought her joy at the age of 8. She lives in NY and is a consultant and runs a project called Dinner & Dialogue (

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