A couple of weeks ago I extolled the virtues of free stuff. In the comments, AB warned:

There’s no such thing as “free” stuff. You still have to pay to store it, not to mention fixing stuff that only needs “this or that” done to make it perfectly good.

Here’s an example:

My friend Andrew called me on Sunday morning. He’d found a free piano on craigslist, and wanted to get to it before anyone else. Andrew and I (and another friend) drove ten miles to North Portland to get the instrument.

Moving a piano can be a nightmare. We were lucky — this move was shockingly easy. Everything that could go right, did. Still, it took several hours.

When we had at last installed the piano in Andrew’s living room, he began to have second thoughts. It’s not in great shape. It needs tuning (badly) and some cosmetic restoration. Most alarming is the fact that there is no keyboard cover. (Andrew has two children: a two-year-old and a two-month-old. He needs a keyboard cover.) In short, it’s what you’d expect from a free piano. “I guess I’ll have to learn about piano restoration,” Andrew said, frowning.

To thank us for our efforts, he bought us lunch.

Andrew’s free piano has already begun to cost him. He paid $10 in fuel to pick it up. He paid $25 to buy lunch for his workers. He took several hours of our time, incurring a debt of Friendship Points which will have to be repaid in the future. (I know who I’m calling when it comes time to repaint my house!)

He’s got future expenses to worry about, too. It will cost about $100 to have the piano tuned. There will be unknown (but not insignificant) costs to restore bits and pieces. And to get a keyboard cover.

Yes, this is all much cheaper than buying a new piano, but it’s still not exactly “free”.

To his credit, Andrew recognized the path he was on. He called me Sunday night. “J.D.,” he said, “how would you like a free piano? No? Then I guess I’d better post it on craigslist.” Maybe he can get $50 out of it!

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