Alex and I were at a Phish concert in Noblesville, Indiana back in the late 1990's. It was a captivating time. All the venues had not yet absorbed corporate identities. It's when Deer Creek was still Deer Creek and I don't think Verizon Wireless even existed. This might have been right before the widespread introduction of cell phones. So I'm guessing it was around 1997. We camped at Pine Lakes, probably about 10 minutes form the campground. All the campgrounds were raging after the show, but Pine Lakes was bigtime. We were strolling through the vendor section along the lake and took notice of this one hippie kid in his 20's. He had his own stand sandwiched in between some girl selling mushroom quilts and some other bozo offering burnt grilled cheese. He was promoting something called a "kickdown table." But he was on a mission... of his own.
Hippie: "Welcome to the kickdown table. If you have something to spare, please kick it down. It does not have to be something that costs a lot of money." (long pause, while he takes a deep hit off a large glass bong). He exhales and continues to coughingly remark, "The kickdown table is a totally free service. It's available for everyone. If you see something you want, feel free to take it. Just make sure to kick something down, preferably of similar value." Then, as if giving a presidential address to the nation, he would make his final closing remarks. "We all have something we can kick down. We all can make a difference. We are all brothers and sisters..." Reminiscent of a hazy, warped 3am I have a dream speech, he'd finish it off with another methodical bong hit.
Yada Yada Yada. Basically, this kid just liked to hear himself talk. But it was really weird, because he was making these grandiose statements to nobody. We watched from a discreet distance and eyed up the contents of the kickdown table. It consisted of a bunch of crap. A Chevron key chain, a few packets of ketchup, a bumper sticker which read "Mean People Suck," a bottle opener, a central Indiana tourism brochure, a miniature box of Fruity Pebbles, some wooden matches, etc.
But there were also some cigarettes lying on the kickdown table. We stood and silently watched as these local teenagers observed the smokes, eyeing them up as if they were T-Bone steaks. The kids had a plan. One would distract the hippie while the other would swiftly sneak up from behind and grab a couple cigarettes. The kids would stealthily exit and light up. Walking off in the distance, smiling and congratulating each other, they looked they had just pulled off the 1978 JFK Airport Lufthansa heist from the movie Good Fellas. We silently watched as the hippie resumed his speech about the virtues of the kickdown table, completely oblivious to what had just transpired.
So we made a 20 minute loop around the lake and returned to the sight. Sure enough, the hippie was still going strong. And the townie kids were back using that same "distract, snatch and grab" kind of strategy. And of course, the kickdown hippie still preaching the gospel, offering the same nonsensical philanthropic ramblings regarding "Operation Kickdown." The whole thing seemed like a poorly managed, psychedelic New Deal Program instituted under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kind of like handing out jobs to people who would sweep leaves. Ahh, the virtues of the kickdown table.
But it got me to thinking. Every household in the United States has one thing in common. Every home has a box of some miscellaneous merchandise from a business or extinct corporation. Maybe it's a box of pharmaceutical promotional trinkets - say penlights adorned with the Pfizer logo. Maybe it's a bag of Whirlpool refrigerator magnets or stack of 50 shot glasses that all say "Yosemite." My point... everyone has an allotment of this seemingly worthless merchandise. They never throw it out or choose the goodwill route. "Oh yeah, the box filled with 500 handkerchiefs inscribed with the words "Blowin' that Honker." Don't throw that out. We might need those someday."
Why doesn't every household have a kickdown table of sorts? Well, perhaps not an actual table. Just a box in a closet filled with extra promo crap. Remember... one person's trash is another person's treasure. And it would make for a great conversation starter at dinner parties. "We went to Uncle Bob's last night and everyone got a free "Toledo Sanitation Department" sun visor and "Montgomery Ward" thermos. Think of the joy this might bring. Why not resurrect the concept proposed by a tripped out hippie on that fateful night? Admittedly, his execution was a tad off, but the concept of the kickdown table is still... well... alive and kickin'.