Tag Archives: trash

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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Bribery and Garbage

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It was Sunday morning, and I guess the people in the two cars that pulled into the parking lot were on their way home.

Where can we dump this? the driver of the first car asked me.

Dump what? I asked, genuinely confused.

He gestured to his back seat. I peered in through the heavily tinted back windows and saw two large, black garbage bags taking up most of the small car’s back seat.

I told the man he should have left the garbage where he’d been camping. He shrugged. Either he’d been camping at the free campground where the Forest Service doesn’t provide trash cans because they don’t want to have to haul trash away, or he’d been staying at a cabin where the rental agreement stipulated all garbage had to be removed upon departure.

The three trash cans in the parking lot are metal and are stamped “32 gallon” on the lid. (Think about Oscar the Grouch, and that’s the size of our cans.) I told the man the cans in the parking lot aren’t intended as a depository for large bags containing a weekend’s worth of garbage.

Personally, I don’t mind if people fill the cans in the parking lot with all the trash from their weekend getaway. I’d rather people put their garbage in our cans than leave it on the side of the road. My boss, however, is adamant about not paying to have extra trash removed. He doesn’t want people who’ve camped elsewhere coming into to our campgrounds to dispose of their rubbish in our trash cans or dumpsters, and he doesn’t want people dumping a whole weekend’s worth of trash in the parking lot cans. I try to follow his orders—he is the boss, after all—even when I think he’s being silly.

So I told the driver of the car he’d have to take his two large bags of trash home with him.

What if I gave you and extra $10? he asked me.

My boss wouldn’t like that very much, I told him.

What if I did it when you weren’t looking? he asked me.

Well, then you probably should dump it right before you leave and be quick, I told him. I didn’t think I was giving him permission. I thought I was telling him how to avoid having me know what he was doing if he insisted upon doing what I had told him was not ok.

He handed me a $20 bill. He wanted to pay his own parking fee and for his buddy in the car behind him. I gave him his day pass and trail guide and said I was going to get his change. He said I should keep the change. At that point, I knew nothing I could do was going to stop him from leaving the garbage.

Sure enough, soon after he drove off into the parking lot, I heard the rattling of a trash can’s lid from near the restrooms. When I looked over, the man was shoving the big sacks of trash into a can.

The fellow who picks up our garbage came by not long after the man had deposited his trash. He emptied our cans and took it all away before my boss could see the overflowing receptacles. Good timing!

I kept the man’s money, but I didn’t put it in my pocket. Instead, I put the money in my accordion file where I keep the day’s receipts and wrote out two day passes. I told the drivers of the next two cars that pulled into the parking lot that an anonymous benefactor had paid their parking fees. The drivers were excited and grateful to park for free.

The man with the trash thought he’d bribed me, but instead I used his money to be kind to strangers.

People Are So Nasty

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At the beginning of last year’s camping season, when I walked through my campground picking up microtrash, I found a used condom. (Read that story here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/05/24/people-are-nasty/.) Picking up a used condom was bad, but it had been lying on the ground for a while, so was quite dry. It wasn’t as bad as it would have been if the condom had been recently used.

What I found at the beginning of this camping season was worse than a freshly used condom.

Around site #2, quite a bit of toilet paper had been left by people or scattered there by the wind. It was kind of gross to think about picking up toilet paper, so I didn’t think about it too much and just went about my work. Then I picked up a piece of toilet paper and under it discovered a pile of human feces. Gross! Yuck! Disgusting!

Who does that?

I’m pretty sure at least two restrooms in the campground were not locked during the off season. Those two are older restrooms, with no locks on the outside of the doors. I don’t think anyone installed locks on those doors in the fall, then removed them in the spring. So whoever shit on the ground most likely had pit toilets at his/her disposal. The Camping Expert website (http://www.camping-expert.com/how-to-shit-in-the-woods.html) reminds readers

If facilities exist, use facilities in the area. Pooping on a toilet is ALWAYS better than pooping in the woods.

If the ground shitter was such an avid outdoor enthusiast that s/he didn’t want to use the pit toilet, s/he should have taken care of business properly.

According to the Men’s Journal website (http://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/health/how-to-poop-in-the-woods-20150817), there is a proper way to shit in the woods (which I guess could apply to campgrounds, although the article says

Make sure you get at least 200 feet (about 70 paces) away from the trail, water, or campsite.)

The aforementioned article says burial works in areas that don’t have a sensitive environment or are located near water or a canyon, or where campers are required by law to carry their feces out with them.

In soil, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. The National Outdoor Leadership School suggests scraping the sides of the hole to loosen some dirt to stir into your poop to speed up the natural breakdown process when you’re done. Always conclude the burial process by covering the hole and tamping it down.

The Camping Expert website also advises

Put a cross or stake into your pile to warn other poopers of your pile.

As for toilet paper, the Camping Expert says

DO NOT BURY the toilet paper. I cannot stress this enough.
I know that a lot of people recommend to bury it, and that it will decompose, it is paper after all… however, I have seen lots of toilet paper that hasn’t decomposed and looks gross, sticking out of a dirt pile and once, I even saw a little red squirrel running with a toilet paper strand in it’s [sic] mouth to use in it’s [sic] nest. EWW.

Once at an infoshop, I glanced through a book called How to Shit in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer. I always wanted to read the book but have never come across it at a thrift store or on BookMooch.

I bet the person who defecated on the ground and then covered it with a piece of toilet paper on site #2 never read Meyer’s book! I wonder if that person had any idea how long it takes human waste to biodegrade (about a year, according to an article on the Mother Jones website–http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/04/is-it-okay-to-poop-outside.) I wonder if s/he gave any thought to the person (me!) who’d have to clean up the mess.

After discovering what was hidden under the toilet paper, I walked over to my storage room and got my shovel. I scooped everything up and deposited it in the trashcan. It was a gross job; it made me grumpy.