The Art of Dumpster-Diving

19 05 2014

I really can’t claim to be an expert on the subject because I’ve only done it once and I was 10 years old at the time. But then what does it take to qualify as an expert in dumpster-diving? It’s not like calculating the velocity of a body having X density passing through the threshold of a black hole or trying to select the perfect wine to go with chitterlings and grits. You climb in, get what you want and then climb out.

It was the last day of the school year in 1962 and I had just graduated from the 4th to the 5th grade at Margaret Hearne Elementary School. The entire class was busy cleaning the room, throwing out old papers, broken crayons and whatever else teachers decide they can no longer stand to look at. My teacher, Mrs. Bass, asked Ronnie King and me to take the garbage can to the dumpster behind the school and dump it. Nowadays, she would probably be investigated by social services or that bunch of loonies out of New York called Human Rights Watch (HRW) for violation of child labor laws and exposing Ronnie and me to all kinds of terrible things like responsibility and helping others. I shudder to think how much better a person I would be today if only I hadn’t been forced into such acts of child labor. But, I digress.

Approaching the dumpster, we slid the door open to dump the can but when I looked inside, I saw several silver cans the size of Crisco cans. The curiosity of a 10-year-old boy can be strong and downright overwhelming. Each can had a lid on it concealing its contents but I had to know what was in those cans. After all, this could be some treasure, I thought to myself. So, with a boost from Ronnie, I jumped inside.

I pulled the lid off the first can I picked up and found it contained modeling clay. I was right…it was treasure! I absolutely loved clay and everything about it. I loved sculpting. I loved the smell. I even loved the feel of the stuff after it softened up and squeezed between my fingers. There were, as I recall, 6 cans. I took half and Ronnie took half. I spent the summer sculpting, smelling and squeezing clay.

Now, if you look inside a dumpster and see an iPad with a cracked screen, a headlight from a 1939 Ford pick-up or a pair of corduroy pants someone has chucked and you just have to have them, my advice is to resist the urge to jump in yourself. Instead, check to be sure there is no one from social services or the HRW around then slip a kid five bucks to do the deed. But, if you simply cannot resist the urge to go in yourself, here are some safety tips I learned during my years managing the safety program for the City of Durham. I call it the railroad technique-STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.

1. STOP: Before jumping in, look around for sharp edges. Nothing is more embarrassing than explaining to the emergency room doctor that you cut your hand on the door of a dumpster while trying to get a box of CDs or bag of moldy bagels-that is unless it was your boot he had to stitch up.
2. LOOK: Look around inside the dumpster to be sure there are no raccoons, rabid dogs or other dumpster divers. A raccoon will rip your face off for a half jar of peanut butter. Anything or anyone who was there first will have squatter’s rights. After they leave then it is perfectly acceptable to enter. Practice good dumpster diving etiquette.
3. LISTEN: After you retrieve the item you so badly craved, you will want to dig around to see what other treasures you can find. That’s fine but while rummaging around, listen for the sound of big trucks approaching. If you hear one get out as quickly as possible. You don’t want to wake up at the landfill and have to walk all the way back home. Also, listen for the sound of young boys. If any should come along and know you are inside, they may shut and secure the door trapping you inside. Again, you don’t want a free trip to the city dump.
So, keep these tips in mind and you should be fine. Happy diving!

"Look for some cream cheese while you're down there, Rocky."

“Look for some cream cheese while you’re down there, Rocky.”

"A little higher, Boo-Boo."

“A little higher, Boo-Boo.”

"Hey, a pair of Uggs in my size!"

“Hey, a pair of Uggs in my size!”

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