Tag Archives: dumpster diving

Spider-Man Shoes

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The family walked the trail early in the day. They were leaving when I arrived for my shift.

The man of the family was carrying a toddler. The boy was wearing only one shoe, a sandal decorated in a Spide-Man motif. The man removed the shoe from the boy’s foot and walked over to the garbage can. While I watched, he lifted the lid and deposited the shoe in the trash.

I must have given him an inquisitive look because the man shrugged and said the kid had lost his other shoe somewhere on the trail. I suppose it was easier for the dad to toss the remaining shoe than to retrace his steps on the trail to look for the lost one. Presumably, the child had more shoes at home or the family could afford to buy him a new pair.

How does a person (even a tiny person) lose only one shoe? Maybe he’d kicked off the shoe while a parent was carrying him, but why had he kept the other one? Life is mysterious.

Later that day, a large extended family came off the trail. A small family (mom, dad, toddler) was part of the big family. The dad was holding a sandal decorated in a Spider-Man motif.

They’d found this shoe on the trail the man said. Did we have a lost and found?

I explained how the shoe had been lost earlier in the day and its mate had been left in our garbage can.

The man said he thought the sandal would fit his son. He asked if I minded if he dug the discarded shoe out of the trash.

I love dumpster diving and otherwise acquiring perfectly good cast-off items. I didn’t see anything strange or gross or wrong with rescuing the shoe from the trash. I told the man to be my guest.

He poked around in the garbage can and found the sandal close to the top. It had been a slow trash day, and the shoe hadn’t gotten dirty.

The toddler was excited about his new Spider-Man sandals. I guess one kid’s Spider-Man shoes trash is another kid’s Spider-Man shoes treasure.

Increasing Weirdness

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Have you ever started doing something fairly normal only to have your actions turn into high weirdness? That’s the story of my life.

One morning at the campground, I opened a garbage can in order to deposit trash inside. Sitting on top of the trash in the can, still perfectly clean, was a pretty little padded envelope. I’m a dumpster diver from way back, and I often need such envelopes when I send out jewelry, so I scooped it up. I saw the envelope had been addressed to the camp host. He must have tossed it after he’d emptied it.

I started peeling the post office stickers from the front of the envelope. I knew I could cover up any leftover sticker residue with whatever I wrote the recipient’s address on.

This is when my perfectly normal (at least for me) action of reclaiming something useful from the trash started getting weird.

I looked over at the little pile of sticker peelings I’d set on the garbage can lid. If I threw them into the garbage can and the camp host noticed them, then noticed the envelope was gone, would he think that was weird? I told myself I was being silly. He probably wouldn’t even notice the padded envelope was gone. (Most people aren’t aware of the contents of garbage cans, right?)

As I was about to walked away from the garbage can, I looked into the padded envelope.  Inside was a plain white envelope. I removed the plain white envelope. I knew I needed to return the plain white envelope to the camp host, but that would require me telling him I’d been digging in the trash (although the padded envelope had been right on top and I hadn’t actually had to do any digging to get to it) and had taken something he’d thrown away. Would he think my taking his trash weird and stalkerish?

My next thought was that I should maybe throw out the white envelope and keep the padded one. The thought after that was I should check the white envelope and make sure there’s no money in it. I swear I had no intention of keeping any money I found. Any money I found would have gone directly to the camp host.

I could have stopped the weirdness right there. I could have told the camp host, I dumpstered your discarded padded envelope and found this in it, while handing him the sealed white envelope. Did I do that? No. Instead, I ripped open the white envelope. I found no money in it, only a pretty little notecard. I opened the notecard to check for money. There was no money, only words.

Then I did the unthinkable. I read the words written on the notecard!

I’m going to blame my breach of etiquette on my lack of sleep (less than five hours) and the coffee I’d drunk to get through the day, but the reality is, I knew better. I knew and I know it’s not ok to read someone else’s mail.

So there I stood, padded envelope and open white envelope in hand. My first impulse was to put the white envelope in the garbage can. Actually, I hid the white envelope under some other trash. Then I realized I’d only added to the weirdness instead of ending it. What if the camp host talked to his friend who’d sent the mail and she mentioned the note? What if he went to the garbage can to retrieve the padded envelope in order to find the white envelope and the padded envelope wasn’t there? What if he dug around in the trash can and found the opened white envelope?  He’d know someone had opened his correspondence, then threw it away. Every scenario I considered as a way to solve the problem only added to the potential weirdness if the camp host got involved.

There was only one thing to do. I had to confess, even if I was confessing to being the world’s biggest weirdo freak. Sigh.

I dug the open white envelope out of the trash. Thankfully, nothing gross had happened to it.

As soon as I saw the camp host, I explained the whole situation. He didn’t seem upset, even when I told him I’d read the note on the card. (Maybe it helped that the card wasn’t highly personal.) Luckily the camp host has seen a lot of weirdness in his life. Perhaps my weirdness barely registered. One can hope.

 

Trash Picking

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Trash picking is in my genes, passed down to me by my father.

One of my earliest memories is going behind the local dime store after closing time so my dad could poke around in the unlocked trash room. It thin it was mostly cardboard in there, but sometimes he’d find good things like the metal bank the size of a softball and printed brightly with the countries of the world. He gave the bank to me, and even though the rubber stopper to hold in the money was missing (hence the exile to the trash room), I liked it anyway and kept it for years.

My dad was never too proud or too wealthy to pass up a discarded pile of building materials without investigating it for useful items and hauling home anything he might be able to work into a home improvement project.

My dumpster diving has gone farther than my father’s ever did. I doubt he ever climbed into a supermarket dumpster to pull out enough discarded produce and snack food to supplement the grocery budgets of several households. I doubt he’s eaten discarded pizzas as a diet staple while traveling across the country or pulled fancy food dumped into garbage cans by rich people in tourist districts. I’ve done all those things. We’ve all got to eat, and when I’ve had no money, I did what I had to do to feed myself.

As a camp host, I sometimes find things in trash cans I can’t believe people have left behind.

My first camp host trash score came with items campers left next to the trash can. They’d brought several green propane bottles with labels missing, and they didn’t manage to use all the fuel during their camping trip. I guess they didn’t want to haul the bottles home, so they were left lined up outside the trash can. I took the bottles over to my campsite and used them during the cold days of late mountain spring. Those partially full bottles must have saved me at least six bucks.

Later in the summer, I opened a trash can and found nothing but an empty one gallon glass wine jug. It even had a cap. I pulled it out of the can, washed it, and still use it as a water container.

Young people driving shiny cars throw out the best stuff. After one group left, I opened a garbage can to find several tiny, almost new tubes of toothpaste, a nearly full bottle of propane, a box of individually wrapped herbal tea bags with only a few bags missing, and assorted other things I no longer remember. Another time, I found half a bag of marshmallows, half a Hershey bar, and several unopened packages  of fancy chocolates that had melted, then re-formed while in an ice chest. Let me be the first to say, fancy chocolate is still delicious, even when one has to eat it by biting chunks out of a blob.

Once a group of young professional types cut out the garbage can middle man and offered me approximately seven gallons of bottle water they didn’t want to carry home. Hell yes, I’ll take that, thank you. Even at the cheapest bottle refilling rate in Babylon ( 25 cents a gallon), I saved almost $2 and didn’t have to spend my time filling bottles.

One Sunday morning when I was emptying trash cans, I found beverages of an adult nature. When I tried to pull the bag out of the can, I realized it was too heavy for me to lift. I began pulling beer bottles out of the heavy bag and throwing them into an empty trash bag. When I pulled a bottle out and it seemed unnaturally heavy, I examined it more closely. Yep, there was liquid in there. Yep, the cap was still sealed. Who throws out unopened bottles of fancy beer? Well, underage kids do. Camp hosts don’t card, so I’m not sure how old anyone at the campground was, but the members of one group seemed young enough to be underage. That would explain why they didn’t take the beer home to mom and dad’s house, but I don’t understand why they didn’t drink the beer before they left. Didn’t they know there are sober children in China?

In any case, I ended up with six full bottles of beer, and I’m not talking PBR. This was good stuff, some California microbrew. However, since I’m not much of a drinker, I gave the beer to my coworker, who was quite pleased with my trash score.

On another Sunday afternoon, I found a two-pound plastic container nearly full of plump, ripe strawberries. I scooped them up and took them right back to my campsite. Upon further inspection, I found some of the berries were a big squashed, but I washed them and ate them anyway. They were super ripe and juicy. I ate them with some whipped vanilla yogurt I’d gotten on super sale at the bargain supermarket. The yogurt was quite like whipped cream and went well with the berries.

By far, my best food score came near the end of the fire when a crew of young people from the California Conservation Corps stopped by to see the sequoias. Each of the crew members was carrying a paper sack about 2/3 the size of paper bags groceries are packed in. After a couple of the folks dumped their paper bags in the garbage cans,I wondered what was in them. After the crew left, I started poking around in the trash cans. In addition to at least three meaty sandwiches (which I left behind), almost every bag contained an apple; an orange; a couple of small packages of raw carrots; a foil packet of tuna; a bag of banana chips; a bag of trail mix; a bag of M&M’s; a package of fig cookies; and a bag of either Oreos, Chips Ahoy cookies, Ritz bits crackers with cheese, or Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. There was so much waste of prepackaged food! I have no idea why those people hadn’t saved the snack food for later. It wasn’t going to spoil any time soon.

Their waste was my gain. I filled up two of the paper bags with food, and I lived large for weeks. I saved easily $25 worth of food from going to the dump.

I try to be discreet with my trash picking because the normals sometimes do weird things like call the caps when they feel uncomfortable. However, I never feel ashamed for living off other people’s castoffs. If anyone should feel ashamed, I think it’s the people throwing away all the good stuff.

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Xmas Book Reviews

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In celebration of the virgin birth, I am giving my readers a collection of reviews of Xmas related books today.

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas by John Updike with illustrations by Edward Gorey  (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29019.The_Twelve_Terrors_of_Christmas)

I really enjoyed this sort of anti-Christmas book. It points out how weird the Christmas holiday really is. Isn’t the idea of Santa going down the chimney really strange?

Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3675574-scared-of-santa)

How this book got published, I will never know.

It is full of hundreds of photos of kids sitting on Santa’s lap, crying, screaming, trying to escape. Yep, the whole theme of this book is getting a laugh out of the misery of little children.

Don’t get me wrong, twenty-five or thirty photos of kids having negative reactions to Santa Claus might have been funny. However, hundreds and hundreds of the same kinds of pictures quickly becomes totally boring. Yawn!

The captions are even worse than the photos. I’m sure the caption writers were trying to be clever, but most of what they came up with is just plain dumb.

I can’t imagine who would buy this book. (I borrowed the copy I read from my public library, and I’m a bit miffed that my tax dollars were spent on this dreck.) Will families buy this book and look at it lovingly every year until it becomes part of their family tradition? Yikes!

Merry Christmas Ernest and Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/447764.Merry_Christmas_Ernest_and_Celestine)

My sister gave me this book. I love it because the (adult male) bear and the (little girl) mouse who live together go dumpster diving to get the supplies they need for a Christmas party. This book shows kids a non-typical family and that it’s ok to get what one needs out of other people’s trash. Hasn’t the Christian right banned this book yet?

The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/790197.The_Worst_Case_Scenario_Survival_Handbook)

This book is hilarious. It gives all sorts of simple step by step instructions for surviving whatever catastrophe may befall your holiday season. I love this whole series.

Hilary Knight’s The Twelve Days of Christmas by Hilary Knight (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1417921.Hilary_Knight_s_the_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas)

This is another Christmas book from my childhood.

It’s the traditional “The Twelve Days of Christmas Song” paired up with lovely pictures. An anthropomorphic bear giving the presents to his bear lady love. (I just found out a female bear is called a sow, just like a pig. A male is a boar.) It’s the super cute illustrations that make this book worth reading.

My very favorite part is the supporting character raccoon cat (ha!) burglar trying to open a tightly closed trash can.

The Twelve Days of Christmas in California by Laura Rader (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6851913-the-twelve-days-of-christmas-in-california)

The emphasis of this book is on California, not on Christmas. I think even a family who doesn’t celebrate Xmas (but does like California) could like this book.

There are three components of this book.

#1 Bright color illustrations showing the California themed things (4 hummingbirds, 6 otters smiling, 12 redwoods swaying) that the California cousin gives to her young relative from out of state. The illustrations are nice.

#2 The basic story of “On the first day of Christmas…On the second day of Christmas…”, etc. This short version of the story is in bold print and would be appropriate for young children (toddlers) who can’t sit through a long, involved story.

#3 The longer, involved story, told through letters written by the visiting cousin to his parents back home. These letters include lots of additional information about whatever California-related thing the kid received from the cousin that particular day. These letters are appropriately read to or by an older kid who can sit through the longer story.

The book contains a LOT of facts about California. A kid in elementary school could use this book at any time of year to do a report on the Golden State.

One thing I didn’t like about this book was “Cali” the “talking” California valley quail (the California state bird). The book did NOT need the gimmick of a talking quail.

One thing I did like about the book is that except for the talking quail and the small redwood tree she comes in, the cousin doesn’t actually give any physical items. Most 12 Days of Christmas stories are overrun with the consumerism of a dozen pear trees and a score of gold rings.

Cajun Night Before Christmas by Howard Jacobs, illustrated by James Rice (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/910399.Cajun_Night_Before_Christmas)

My sister and I had a copy of this book when we were little. I don’t know where it came from.

My cousin Denise’s husband Mark could do the accent for reading this book, as could my dad. I don’t think I could do it so well, but I haven’t tried for years.

This is the classic Christmas story told with a Cajun twist and illustrated beautifully. No Cajun household is complete without a copy.

 

Candy

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Mr. Carolina, The Okie, Lil C, and I had made it from Santa Nella, California to Kansas on a wing and a prayer. We had no money, but kind strangers fed us and put gas in the van’s tank. We got on the Kansas Turnpike–a toll road–with no money to pay the toll upon exit. Mr. Carolina told us not to worry.

We pulled into one of the Turnpike’s rest stop/gas station/convenience store/fast food joint service areas where drivers don’t have to exit and pay a toll in order to get their needs met. I immediately started poking around in trash cans, and soon found a gallon Ziplock bag about one-third full of a homemade snack consisting of candy corn, dried cranberries, peanuts, and white chocolate. I brought it back to the boys, and we all started munching on it. It was delicious, but quickly moved into the realm of too rich, too sweet, TOO MUCH! We tossed it into the van.

It was at the next service area that we got our break.

The four of us were lounging on the edge of the sidewalk when a car pulled up with the passenger window rolled down. The driver leaned over and handed Lil C a bill through the open window. After we thanked the driver profusely, he drove off, and we looked at the bill. It was a 20! We had enough money to get an always needed quart of oil for the van and to pay to exit the Turnpike legally.

We made it to Kansas City, Missouri, where Lil C’s mom greeted us with kindness and homemade cookies, and his little sister greeted me in the hallway after my shower with, “Hi! I love Justin Bieber!”

The next day several of Lil C’s friends came over to sample his special Cali weed. The group consisted of several men in their early 20s and one young woman of about the same age. I tried to be friendly to the young woman by telling her I liked her sparkly boots. Before I could add that I’d seen some just like them at Target, she informed me she’d paid $200 for them. My foot just missed sliding into my mouth.

The whole group circled up in Lil C’s mom’s living room, and Lil C packed the bowl of the bong. The fact that he gave me the green hit (the first hit of a freshly packed bowl–a sign of respect among polite pot smokers), was not lost on me. I was glad I’d decided to partake with them. (Sometimes people looked at me real weird when I was the only one in the room not smoking weed.)

When the bowl was smoked (which didn’t take long, considering our large number), I was most amused to find I was not the highest person in the room. Usually, I am the most stoned person in any given room of stoned people, but this time I wasn’t. One guy kept talking about how high he was, saying how good the weed was, all the things I usually say when I’m the highest person in the room.

I began to feel overwhelmed in the crowd, so I went out to the van….where I found the dumpstered bag of homemade candy. I dug in and it was so delicious. I was so pleased with the candy and realized I should share.

That’s when I had the moral dilemma. I knew I should share. The boys and I shared everything the Universe provided us with. Sharing the candy was the right thing to do!

But…should I tell folks that I’d rescued the candy from the trash? I was afraid if I said up front I’d gotten the candy out of the trash, these new folks wouldn’t try it. (And it was so tasty, if they did try it, they were sure to like it.) If I didn’t tell them the candy had been found in the trash, was that a lie of omission? Was it wrong to keep my mouth shut?

I sat in the van for a time with such thoughts tumbling through my head before I decided to take the candy inside and share it (dammit!).

When I went back into the house, several people were still sitting around the living room. I put the bag of candy near some of Lil C’s friends and said it was really good and anyone could have some. Folks started digging in, soon saying how delicious it was. One guy looked at me and asked what all was in there. I started stammering as soon as I tried to answer.

Well, I wasn’t really sure. I hadn’t made it. The Universe had given it to me.

I suspected I was sounding really weird (The Universe had given it to me?), so I just blurted out, I don’t know…I got it out of the trash.

The young woman immediately placed the piece of candy she’d been holding in her hand down on the bag and told the guy next to her that he could have it. She was absolutely done with the dirty, stinky traveling kids’ trash candy.

The guys bucked up and kept eating it. We could tell they were trying to impress us.

The little party broke up soon after that, and all the newcomers slipped away.I told Lil C I was sorry if I had offended his friends. I explained I had only wanted to share. He wasn’t upset with me. Mr. Carolina hugged me and said he was so glad I’d shared the candy and admitted it had come from the trash. I Love You, Blaize, he said.

That was good enough for me.

Of Trash and Cookies

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Image result for potbelly sandwich shop cookies      Image result for image dumpster

I was walking down the The Drag in Austin, Texas. (If you haven’t been to Austin, here’s a note on The Drag: it’s the strip of Guadalupe Street adjacent to the UT campus.)

I decided to walk through the alley instead of walking on Guadalupe because all the dumpsters are in the alley. As I walked down the ally, I checked the dumpsters for anything that looked promising.

I found a big sack of big cookies from Potbelly Sandwich Shop in one of the dumpters. I am not even entirely sure how I found those cookies.The big paper sack full of cookies was in a black plastic trash bag, not something I would usually open.  Some intuition made me rip open the trash bag and shake the paper bag I found inside. The paper bag was really heavy, which was kind of strange. It didn’t feel like it had trash in it. So I pulled the paper bag out of the garbage bag and looked inside.

It was full of individually wrapped cookies. Big cookies. Big chocolate brownie cookies and sugar cookies and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I thought maybe the cookies were really old and not any good. I pulled one out of the bag, opened the packaging, and started eating it. Delicious. No problem. Maybe the cookies had been baked the day before and instead of selling them at half price or giving then away, they had been dumped in the garbage. SIN!

I started walking down the alley with my paper sack of cookies. I hadn’t taken ten steps when I saw a bunch of traveler kids hanging out on a side street, just barely around the corner from the alley. I walked over and started handing out cookies. It made me so happy! (I think those kids were pretty happy too!) I felt so good sharing those cookies.