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!”





Third Best Decision I Ever Made

22 01 2014

I believe I was 13 years old when I got my first paper route. I was delivering the Raleigh News and Observer and my route included about 125 regular customers and another 50 or so for Sunday only delivery. One of my customers was a neighbor living two blocks away.

Psst! Wanna Make Some Dough?
I delivered the News and Observer until I was 15 years old. About 6 months after turning 16 and getting my driver’s license, this customer called me on the phone one night. He asked me if I was interested in earning some money. Do I want to earn money? Is a pig’s butt pork? Does a shark eat seafood? I thought what a silly question. What sixteen year old boy doesn’t want to earn money? Thinking about the prospects of making a little cash, I responded with the excitement of a sixteen year-old boy on the verge of coming into some money, “Sure!”

He said, “All you need to do is drive an RV to Florida and drop it off with a friend of mine and I’ll fly you back home. That’s all you have to do and I’ll pay you $10,000.00.” Yes, you read that correctly and it’s no typo…$10 grand.

That sounded simple enough but why, I wondered, would he ask me, a rookie driver with less than a year of driving experience, to drive something as large as an RV to Florida. And wasn’t that a steep price to pay a kid just to drive to Florida?

At the time, there was no Interstate 95 running through Wilson, North Carolina. Highway 301 was the main drag from Maine to the Florida Keys and ran right through Wilson. And Wilson was definitely a tobacco town. It was, at the time, considered the world’s largest tobacco market, as more of the demon weed was sold there than in any other city in the world. And, highway 301 from South Carolina to the Virginia line was lined with places to buy cheap cigarettes. North Carolina has today and did then, one of the lowest taxes on cigarettes in the nation while New York had the highest. For that reason, Yankees passing through Wilson would stop off and buy enough cigarettes to fill the trunks of their cars. I don’t know what the limit was before you were considered a smuggler, but I’m sure there were plenty of smuggling tourists burning up highway 301.

Well, as they say, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is; and, this deal smelled like a carp under the car seat. I thanked him for thinking of me but turned him down.

A few months later, I read in the newspaper where my neighbor had been arrested and thrown in jail for smuggling cigarettes to Florida. The third smartest decision I’ve ever made!





The Stick and the Snake

23 02 2013

Mount Sinai was not Moses’ first burning bush experience. It was earlier, also through a burning bush, that God told Moses He wanted him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. That, I think, was one of the most interesting conversations recorded in the Bible.

Moses was tending sheep when he saw this bush on fire but was not being consumed…it was burning but it wasn’t burning up. He found that to be a bit odd and decided to check it out. When he got closer, God told him, from within the bush, to take his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground. God laid out the plan for Moses to go into town and tell the Egyptian king that he was planning to take all of God’s people, who were, at the time, serving as slaves to the Egyptians, out to live on their own.

Moses didn’t think it was a good idea for him to do this-someone else maybe but not him. He threw up every excuse he could think of and was pushing God to the limit.

A Test of Faith

Now, what was so interesting about this conversation was the show of faith, along with the no-show.

God had told Moses He would give him all the things to say and that Moses was just along to vocalize God’s words. Now it was clear that Moses didn’t want this assignment in spite of the fact that God was going to be doing all the heavy work. Moses didn’t exhibit faith in his own abilities or that God would come through as He promised.

God finally convinced Moses this was not a volunteer mission. He had chosen Moses and that was that. So God began explaining to Moses the things he should say and the things he should do to convince Pharaoh that he was on a mission for God. One of the things was to impress him with his staff.

God asked Moses what he held in his hand.

“It’s my staff,” he replied.

"Just to be sure I understand..you want me to do what?"

“Just to be sure I understand..you want me to do what?”

“Throw it on the ground,” God commanded.

When Moses threw his staff on the ground, it turned into a snake.

“Now, pick it up by the tail.” God told him.

Without hesitation, Moses did as God commanded. Now, if ever there was a time to show a weakness in my faith that would be it. If God said, “Bill, you’re going to lead My people out of Washington and here’s how WE’RE going to do it,” I would like to think I would have the faith to say something like, “Okay, Lord, when are we going to do this? I’m ready.” But, when He tells me to reach down and grab the snake by the tail, I’m thinking, “Say what?” I might hesitate a little, although I would hope I would not. Anyway, you know the rest of the story. Moses did as he was told and brought everyone out of Egypt to spend the next 40 years wandering circles in the desert.

In case you've never seen one, these are tobacco sticks.

In case you’ve never seen one, these are tobacco sticks.

This story reminds me of when I was 5 years old. I went with my family to the drive-in to see The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston. The scene in which “Moses” threw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake made a lasting impression on me.  The next day I was outside playing and found a tobacco stick in our garage. I took it over near the house and threw it, a la Charlton Heston, onto the steps. As it rolled down off the steps onto the ground, I began to think perhaps this stick on the steps thing wasn’t such a good idea. I suddenly became so afraid, I didn’t hang around long enough to see if it turned into a snake or not. I ran! I guess there’s a time limit that it can remain a snake because when I got up the nerve to go back outside (from a different door) it had already reverted back to a stick. Maybe I should have gotten two tobacco sticks-one to change into a snake and the other to beat it with.

Remember the drive-in? Entertainment under the stars.

Remember the drive-in? Entertainment under the stars.

 

 

 

And this is how they were used. Using tobacco twine (string) the leaves were "looped" onto the sticks.

And this is how they were used. Using tobacco twine (string) the leaves were “looped” onto the sticks.





Finders-Keepers?

12 08 2010

Tiny Tim the Tool Man Taylor
hammer and nailFor as long as I can remember I have had a love of tools of all kinds. Although I’m partial to woodworking tools such as saws, hammers, and planes, I still enjoy the feel of a good quality wrench or ratchet in my hand. And it isn’t just hand tools I love. I love the buzz of a vibrating palm sander as much as the ear-piercing whir of a circular saw slicing through a piece of wood. Even when I was a small boy, I loved tools. I remember my daddy had a large green tool box filled with carpenters’ tools. I took every opportunity to “build” something using daddy’s tools, even though at five years old I wasn’t strong enough to push a handsaw through a pine board; but, that didn’t’ stop me from trying.

It was about this same time, and we lived in the small community of Saratoga, North Carolina, population somewhere around 400. There was a house next door which was owned by the Outlaws. They weren’t outlaws in the criminal sense; this was their name. What was interesting about the Outlaws was they lived somewhere else and we rarely saw them. Once in a blue moon they might show up for a day or two and then they would be gone again for weeks, or months, at a time.

Now, the Outlaws had a shed behind their house and on one of my earlier explorations of the neighborhood, I had discovered a cache of tools inside. I couldn’t understand owning all these great tools and not using them; not caring for them; not even locking the shed to protect them!

When you want something badly enough, it is really easy to convince yourself it is okay to do it, or in this case, take it, especially if you are just a kid. I just figured, in my still developing young mind, if these people next door never came around, then they don’t really live next door; they must live somewhere else. And, if they live somewhere else, then that means no one lives next door, rendering these tools underneath the shed available like unclaimed pirate treasure, or a dollar bill blowing down the sidewalk. So, thoroughly convinced, now, that these tools were in public domain and were there for the taking, I made the decision they were as much my tools as anyone’s. My cousin, Lee, (the same cousin in Fire in the Hole, from an earlier post) was spending the day at our house so I convinced him to go over to the Outlaw’s shed with me where we loaded ourselves down with as many tools as we could carry and brought the plunder back to my house. There, lying on my back porch, were block planes, jack planes, saws of various types, a hammer, clamps, and—well, let’s just say I was in pee-wee carpenter heaven. I couldn’t have been happier if I had been given the keys to the candy store.

Busted!
Now it wasn’t long before my daddy came home. I hadn’t made any effort to hide my spoils because I was convinced it was a legitimate haul. When daddy got home however, he didn’t see it the same way I did and after a brief question and answer session about the origin of the tools, he taught me something about taking things that didn’t belong to me.

I had not bought those tools. I didn’t barter or trade for them. I didn’t win them in a drawing or contest. I had made no action that would enable me to lay legal claim to those tools. In other words, they were not mine and I was wrong in taking them. I stole them, although I didn’t see it that way for a while.

Lee and I were made to take the tools back to the shed.

When you’re five years old you don’t always understand the logic in an explanation presented by an adult, but daddy was always good at explaining things to me in a way I could understand. That day; however, he chose a more direct explanation that did not involve words. If you replace the words in a discussion with action, such as a hand across the rear end, then there is no doubt regarding the message and no doubt that the recipient has understood. There are no words to misinterpret or confuse. Daddy’s message was, it was wrong and I had better not ever take anything again that was not bought for, or given, to me. It still was not clear to me why I could not keep my ill-gotten booty, but what was clear was daddy’s message that it better not happen again. And, of course, he was right. Chalk one up for the anti-Dr. Spockers!





Don’t Hide Under the Bed!

28 02 2010

Fond Memories

So, what was your worst moment as a kid? Most everyone can look back to their childhood days and recall a time or event they would like to delete if they could get a do-over.  Mine came during a visit with my mother’s cousin, Jeannie-Kay and her family.

Jeannie-Kay and her husband, Alfred, had about 40 children. I really don’t know how many kids they had; but, when we went for a visit and the family would come out to greet us I remember it was like that routine you see at the circus where this tiny car enters the ring and then a long procession of clown, after clown, after clown comes out. You begin to wonder where all the clowns are coming from and how they all got into that tiny little car. I think the actual number of kids was about 15 or so.

The family was dirt poor. I mean, we didn’t have much ourselves, but, they made us look like the Rockefellers. Alfred had only one arm and drove a taxi for a living. I don’t recall how he lost his left arm, or if I ever even knew, but I was always amazed to watch him do things that a man with two good arms would struggle to do.

My earliest recollection of Jeannie-Kay was once when I was four years old I can recall her sitting in our living room nursing one of her many children. Although I can vividly recall that, I don’t think I was scarred for life as a result of this experience. But that’s another story.

Hide (and Seek?)

One of my favorite games as a child was hide. Now most folks would call this hide and seek, which is a much more accurate name for the game. I mean, what kind of game is hide? How can you have hiders and no seeker? Everyone runs off and finds these great hiding places, but then there’s no one to come and find them. I can just see all of us kids scattered about hiding behind the garage door, behind the porch glider, under the stairs or in the bushes, and we just kind of sit there until our mothers call us in for supper, or we simply grow tired of sitting there and all eventually come out of our hiding places. That “seek” part is quite important to the fun of the game. But we southerners like to use short cuts in our speech so we just dropped that from the name and simply called it hide.

I guess the reason I liked the game so much is because I was so good at it. I took pride in being able to find the best hiding places. Behind the bushes or in the closet-that was for amateurs. I would climb up onto the roof of the house where I had a bird’s eye view of all the other hiders and the seeker, yet no one would think to look up to see me. Or, if playing indoors one of my favorites was to lie across the bed underneath the pillows. The seeker enters the room and sees a bed made up with two thick pillows and finds all the amateurs under the bed and in the closet. Finally growing exasperated because they cannot find me, they would give up and I would be declared the King of Hide.

Well, as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that’s the problem with having great hiding places-people learn about them and get to them before you can. Such was the case on a Sunday afternoon when we went to visit Jeannie-Kay and the brood. It didn’t take long before we kids began looking for something to do so we chose to play hide (and seek- if that makes you feel better).

One Potato, Two Potato…

It was a nice day, so I’m not sure why we chose to play inside, but we did. We counted potatoes to determine who would be “it” and as soon as the “seeker” began to count I ran off toward one of the bedrooms and my favorite under-the-pillow spot. But when I got there my sister had already beat me to it. Curses, beaten at my own game! So, as the counter was nearing the end of her count I realized I was running out of time. I had to act quickly. There were already three kids under the bed, but I figured if I went around to the side near the wall, then when the seeker looks under the bed I will be hidden by this army of siblings between me and the eyes of the seeker. “It just might work”, I thought to myself.

So I ran around the bed and slipped down between the bed and the wall and began sliding underneath.

Splish Splash

Now keep in mind this was in the early sixties and there were still many families, particularly poor families in rural America, who did not have indoor plumbing, or at least indoor facilities. Many families, Alfred and Jeannie-Kay’s for one, still had a privy out back. That’s the little house behind the big house. And, when you have 15 kids, it’s a foregone conclusion that somebody will be getting up during the night needing to use the bathroom. And if the bathroom happens to be out in the back yard, and it’s 25 degrees outside or raining, then you seek an alternative-hence the chamber pot. That’s the proper name for it. We called it a pee pot. Well, this is not something you set out on your coffee table when not being used, although it may well make for interesting conversation. The most logical place to keep a pee pot would be in the bathroom; but, then if you had a bathroom, you wouldn’t need a pee pot so it was usually kept inconspicuously, yet conveniently, under the bed.

You can see where I’m going with this. I don’t know how long it had been since the pee pot had been emptied, but I’m guessing, by the size of the soaked spot on the seat of my pants after I backed into it and turned it over, it was pretty close to full. Needless to say, the game was over at that point, as was our visit. It was a long ride back home with me sitting in the foot of the car and all the windows down. Whoever came up with that saying “look before you leap” must have hidden under the bed.