Let's go over the rules for taking other people's stuff.

If you want something gone, put it on the boulevard. It's universally understood that anything on the boulevard is meant to be spirited away by whoever gets there first. You can put out a box of expired milk with a sign saying FREE and it will vanish. The people who take it will chuckle over their luck all the way home: idiots throwing away perfectly good bad milk.

The sidewalk is the DMZ, a neutral area. If something is on your lawn, it is your property. If someone comes to steal your sprinkler from your lawn, you can call the cops, although don't expect them to go all lights-and-sirens. You can put a picture of the missing property on a milk carton, but that probably won't help much because someone took the milk carton you left on the boulevard.

If the sprinkler is on the boulevard but it's hooked up to a hose, it cannot be considered fair game for gleaners. No court in the land would convict you if you used a lasso to detain a thief who was unscrewing the sprinkler. The judge might ask where you got the lasso.

"Well, ma'am, I was in the rodeo for 20 years, and learned a lot about using rope to stop varmints and sidewinders. "

"How about lowdown, no-good claim-jumpers?"

"Oh, for those I use a Taser."

But! If you disconnect the sprinkler from the hose, it's free — providing it's within 10 feet of the driveway. Proximity to the driveway is crucial. Just look it up on the Unwritten Rules of Gleaning.

Gleaning is so effective that it's a wonder the city bothers with garbage collection; just stencil FREE on the bins everyone puts out once a week, and someone would take it, everything. Heck, if you nailed a sign that said FREE on a tree, someone would show up with a backhoe at 3 a.m. and start digging it out.

When we decided to replace a sofa and two end tables that had served us for decades, I went to the nextdoor.com site to alert the general population that the items would be on the boulevard Thursday afternoon. Seeing the items sitting outside made me a bit sad; we'd had good times. Why, I remember the time I got some coasters out of that drawer. And then later I put them back. Oh, the memories.

At the end of the night, no one had come by. Now you're a little irritated: "What? This stuff is just a bit too downscale? You want I should go buy a Stickley piece and put it out here with a sawbuck taped to a leg?"

Overnight the boulevard fairies spirited away the end tables, leaving the sofa. It just happened. Dog didn't bark. We heard no noise, no voices, no slammed trunk lids. It made me think three things:

1. I probably should have mentioned on my internet note that a family of possums had taken up residence in the drawer last time I checked.

2. What, my sofa wasn't good enough?

3. What is the sofa going to think about this?

You might say, "How do you hold down a job if you are dumb enough to anthropomorphize lumber?" But you didn't see the sofa sitting there without its two longtime companions. They'd been together since 1994. Now it looked naked and alone.

And then the rain came. I got a plastic sheet and draped it over the sofa, tucking it in, saying, "It'll be OK. You'll find a nice home. On a farm. With lots of great dogs who will love to sleep on you. I'm sorry."

The next day someone came by and took ... just the cushions! This was infuriating: "Oh, I'll just take these free things and leave the useless husk behind. 'Cause it's on the boulevard! Really? If I put a person out there on a chair with a sign FREE RELATIVE and you said "I don't need a whole uncle," and decided to take the liver and one kidney, that would be OK?

At the end of the day, my wife came back from walking the dog — perhaps he saw his sofa on the boulevard all by its lonesome and rethought his notions of domestic permanence. We told him, "We hope it will be taken by the person who took the cushions, and that they'll all be together again. Maybe they'll end up with the end tables, and it'll be like one of those videos where sibling puppies reunite, except they're wood and don't move — you know what I mean."

It was such a heartening thought that we started to believe it ourselves. One moment: What is wrong with you picky pillow-poaching people? Next moment: It all worked out! People are awesome. Wonder who took it, and where its new life will be? Could I visit, and see how it worked out?

There's only way to tell: Get out a folding chair, sit on the boulevard and wait.