August 2, 2006

Dumpster Diving

Okay - I get the hint. I'll stick to what I do best which is making myself look bad. I'm not sure how I feel about this talent of mine, but who am to question my gifts? This post will contain no apathy, empathy or telepathy at all. It will be devoid of any kind of reflection, remorse or reverence.

Here goes...

I've been inside many a dumpster. When I began college I had neither money nor scruples. There is nothing I love more than stuff and I was coming up short. In the basement of my dorm building there was a bin for students to donate their used items. The idea was that when your purple Old Navy flare corduroy pants went out of style you threw them in the bin and tried not to laugh when you saw your dog-broke doormate wearing them the next week. Since I was faithful to the "Freshman 15" creed, I was constantly digging around in that bin for bigger, better pants and any other items that didn't have too much goo on them.

My wild and crazy cousin Joe educated me soon thereafter as to the value of digging in dumpsters for more exotic non-gooey items. Apparently, there was all kinds of good things to be gotten, especially if you dug around outside of the rich kids' condos. They would throw away perfectly good stereos, furniture and last seasons clothing that I wouldn't even be available at Ross Dress For Less for a year.

But there was more, much much more. If you lived close to a baker you could actually find all kinds of barely stale baked goods and donuts in their dumpsters early in the morning before 8 a.m. Chem 101. The donuts may only be a day old, but hey, chocolate frosting!!! Mmmm... something had to get me through the periodic table. My classy boyfriend actually salvaged and ate an entire pizza from a dumpster one weekend with his buddies. I was far too snooty in my dumpster diving mores to ever eat leftover dinner, but I applauded the concept.

After I graduated and got a respectable job, I was unable to shake my diving habits. When my husband and I moved from University of Michigan to Los Angeles I again dove for boxes to use for packing. I had found a particularly rich cache of boxes at the bottom of a dumpster behind a grocery store and as I stood up inside to hoist myself out I scared the bejeebers out of a poor grocery market worker who had stepped outside for a smoke. It was the first time I had actually been caught crawling out of a dumpster and it didn't sit well with me. Was I, perhaps, becoming too prideful to be caught in a trash can? As we unpacked our boxes in Los Angeles, all our possessions carried the faint smell of Frito Lay products and Kitty Litter from their host boxes.

But despite my growing qualms about diving headlong into other people's trash, I continue eyeing dumpsters. People will try and fit the craziest things inside: bookcases, desks, chairs, even working appliances. I tell myself it's a harmless habit and continue despite the social stigma. Yesterday as I was coming home I eyed our dumpster as I usually do and suddenly Pixie and I both exclaimed simultaneously, "ELMO!" Indeed, someone had left a Tickle Me Elmo sitting right next to our dumpster. His wide muppet mouth seemed to mirror our ecstatic smiles and his arms stuck out happily to the sides waiting for us to claim him. Which we did quickly did. Pixie is a die-hard Elmo fan and she was shocked and delighted that she could now suffocate the red monster in her arms. We brought him upstairs and I immediately set to work changing the batteries and messing with the switches. Then I saw him. A fat pink maggot wriggling from Elmo towards Pixie's fat pink toes.

What happened next other than me smashing the maggoty maggot with a repressed gag? You would hope that I immediately threw out the infested Elmo. You would hope that I swore off shopping in trash cans for my toddler. You would hope that I saw the light and realized that the health of my family is more important than the sexy allure of free trash. Ah, hope.

15 comments:

Angela said...

This whole post gave me the creepy crawlies! You will definitely survive The Big One with your ability to get over the ick factor! I picture lots of ickiness when an area is fraught with turmoil.

Adrienne said...

Hey, do NOT feel guilty for dumpster diving, especially for furniture, electronice, etc. In Bloomington, it's a time honored tradition, so much so that anything nice or serviceable is usually set BESIDE the dumpster with a sign taped to it labeled "Free." I have seen entire houses furnished entirely with reclaimed funiture... most quite snazzy. And yes, you CAN fit a solid oak dresser (perfectly fine, other than a missing foot) into a camry.

Although, Maggoty Elmo? Even I might draw a line.

Stephanie said...

You know, you could try to market Maggot Elmo to the younger generations who didn't have Garbage Pail Kids to enjoy like us. And nothing wrong with dumpster-diving since one (wo)man's trash is another's treasure.

Patrick said...

Ew.
Did you ever think that the maggots may be the reason that Elmo met his untimely tossing?
I've worked near too many dumpsters to find value in their contents. Free is cool... stinky free is just not worth it.

An interested party said...

Patrick, Paaaaatrick! Don't worry! There were no maggots on the Elmo doll. Sarah is just going for comments. Play along, play along ("Oooh! Maggots, Ohh, Ugh, Make a Comment!") If it bleeds, it leads in this business. It's all about attention. C'mon, play along!

angela #2 said...

Hey, Sarah, I've heard the residents at Prospect Manor leave behind some clutch stuff at their dumpster when they move out. You might want to check it out. As for me, I would never be caught diving in a dumpster . . . unless I dropped my keys in or something equally valuable. But another man's trash . . .

J-Rod said...

I can't believe my Dad wastes all his money at garage sales when he could just be looking through the trash. Sarah, you know what is also popular in other countries is to go straight to the mother lode - the landfill.

Anonymous said...

Sooo glad my daughter is a refined college grad with a successful lawyer husband...

Catherine said...

Are maggots pink?

Stephanie said...

Nah, they're white, right?

Basic Black with Pearls said...

Ahhh haah! You TOOK Down a Post! And it's a good thing or the entire world will know you are a little, uh, er, well, you know.

"it's like squeezing an orange under your chin" said...

i'm anxiously waiting for your next post . . .

Sarah said...

I admit, I did take down a post rather than have social services come to my house and put me in the clink. Trust me, it's for everyone's good.

Rachel said...

Insight into a whole world that I did not even know existed.

Angela said...

Saw this slam on Elmo in today's LA Times:

http://www.latimes.com/news/columnists/la-oe-stein15aug15,1,3258598.column?coll=la-news-columns