“What is this?” Mary Ellen asked me as she dangled a doodad in front of my face. It was small, plastic and had an odd shape. “It looks like it goes to something,” she said. “Do you know what?”
“No clue,” I said.
“Put it somewhere. It looks important.”
“So, you want me to keep it because we don’t know what it is for?” I asked.
“But if we did know what it was for, we’d also keep it. So, I guess we keep everything.”
She said, “Don’t be silly — some things don’t go to anything. We can throw those things away. We should only keep things that look important.”
I stared at the thingamajig Mary Ellen unearthed. I was certain nothing in our house required anything quite like that. But there is only one way to be sure it was not important: Throw it away.
I had a small window of opportunity left to retrieve it, if necessary. It would be two days before the trash was picked up, enough time to rescue the thing when I realized I had thrown away something important.
I heard the familiar sound of the garbage truck on Friday. Whatever that thing was, it was now gone forever. Just a matter of time before I found out what it was for. In fact, it was the very next day.
“Dick, I need that thingie I found last week. It’s the hook that attaches to the vacuum to wrap the cord around. Where is it?”
“At the city dump.”
“You threw that away? Didn’t you know it went to something?”
“Yes, I knew it went to something. I just didn’t know what it went to. So, I threw it away. That’s how you find out.”
Later that day, I removed my desk drawer and emptied the entire contents into the wastebasket: wooden knobs, old keys, pen caps, dozens of multi-colored plastic parts, metal gizmos and a rubber whatchamacallit. I threw them all out. Within days, I would know what each thing was for.
“What’s going on up there?” Mary Ellen screamed when she heard the clatter.
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s not important…yet.”