Monday, August 17, 2009

Not Exactly "Architecture Digest" Quality

Early on, I learned how to scrounge. It was the only way we could afford to furnish our offices. The trick was to have no shame and be alert for news of businesses merging or downsizing. They were happy to get rid of surplus furniture as long as I removed it without making a fuss.

I hauled designer chairs and tables across town in the back of my Subaru, and on days when there was no elevator we manhandled them up the stairs to our office.

Sometimes I had to accept defeat. When Jones Day, a major law firm, closed one of its offices in Orange County, the wife o a senior partner invited me to come “shop” the discards. We were browsing an entire floor of desks, chairs and credenzas when I spotted a black marble conference table that could seat 25 people. It was fabulous, and I looked at it longingly. But there was no way it would fit in our office, let alone get up the stairs.

Another friend directed me to a business on a scruffy street in downtown Los Angeles. “The guy in charge is closing it down tonight, and he needs cash,” she said. “He has these long folding tables, perfect for your kids to work on.”

But then came the caveat: “He’s the son of a prominent politician, but he's waiting trial for drug possession. So, be careful.”

I took $100 cash with me and pulled up in front of an office building. Sure enough, people were dragging furniture onto the sidewalk. “How much are two tables?” I asked the politician’s son.

“One hundred dollars each.”

“I run a nonprofit for teens and we really need work tables. These are perfect. I’ll give you $100 for both.”


The street was dark and isolated and I paused to look over my shoulder. The few homeless folks shuffling by didn’t pay any attention.

After more of my cajoling he finally gave in. Then came the hard part, getting the tables in the back of the Subaru. No one offered to help. I pushed and pulled and finally shoved them over the front seat, then drove home with the hatchback wide open.

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