Pride and Dumpster-Diving

I have grown children, and that’s the closest I’ll ever come to discussing my age. But having grown children is the reason the act of dumpster diving should be a distant memory for me, and it was.

My neighbors across the road are moving. Their home sold in a day, undervalued in my mind. For the past several months, as they’ve prepared their house for showing, there has been a constant flow of individuals, their four grown children, and a crawling of ankle-biters, who have helped them undertake the laborious task of clearing out their home of over 30 years. Furniture and other incidental items, forsaken by the family, are often put out at the curb, sometimes with tape that says “free.” They’ve always done this, with skates, bikes, garden tools, etc.

I’m more of a Goodwill drop-off person, but I’m coming to appreciate the convenience of dragging a large item to the curb, rather than cramming it into my sub-compact car and tying the trunk closed. But the curb is less anonymous. I won’t downplay the extent to which I value my privacy. That’s the reason I’ve never had a garage sale. If I want to sell my stuff, I’d sooner do it on eBay than have strangers rifling through it and knowing where I live.

I also have no apprehensions perusing Goodwill. It was a pre-pandemic sport my second daughter, and I competed in to see who could find the most treasures. She has an eye for clothes and wall hangings, but I focus on books, dishes, and chairs. My point is that I’m not averse to buying used. The old English proverb, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is true.

As far as my neighbors go, I’ve never picked up their curb droppings. It would feel strange. This week’s discards were put out just after trash day, giving freeloading barnacles six days to act on a desk; it looked like a decent score. There was also some curious specimen of furniture, which from my vantage point, appeared to be a changing table with a pad on top, (ewe) but maybe not. The escritoire disappeared overnight. That was night one. I didn’t need it, so I shed no tears.

Yesterday, as I watered my row of dead Emerald Green Arborvitaes, I covertly attempted to discern what the hell that other thing was. I realized it wasn’t a changing table after all. My face muscles pulled, which led to a Google search of stroke symptoms. Not to worry, it was just a smile. The item was a wooden dresser with a separate piece of rectangular glass on top. It had been rained on for two nights, and although the wood was ruined, my interest was in the glass. Hmm…

Only two days until the trash man cometh. I had to make my move soon. I stared at it all night, scoping out my prey, not sure how to plan my covert mission. This isn’t like the petty shoplifting of gum in my youth. (Don’t judge me.) Nothing from my past will help me with this endeavor.

I have been a good neighbor to them. Dog sat over the ages, picked up their mail and newspapers when they’ve vacationed, lent them a cup of sugar, (for real) and their youngest babysat for me when my spawns were wee. And this happened: three years ago, their new, but moldy, plastic kids slide was the same one I had thrown out days before. They did it, so why am I so hesitant to dumpster dive? Why does this have to be a stealthy act? Why can’t I be normal and go over to ask them if they mind me partaking of their trash?

Pride is my tragic flaw, but that’s between me and my straight jacket. It doesn’t concern this assignment.

The rest of my post will be brief because it is 9 a.m. and I’m working from the depths of the hydrangeas, in the front lines of my home.

Before I decided on this pilgrimage, I did some research and learned the human body can survive for 8 to 21 days without water and up to two months without food. The garden hose will keep me alive.

Three minutes in, and I realize I don’t have binoculars because I didn’t take the ones they threw out two weeks ago. I’m a little sweaty with my “Antifa” gear, black from head to toe, and a face mask shielding my identity. The temperature is rising. (Born to be wild – that’s me.) I also did not plan for the cloud of mosquitoes that have joined me, but that sheet of glass is well worth the risk of malaria.

Their driveway is within my view, and here I’ll squat until I see the two adults drive off. I’m willing to brave their blind dog for two reasons:

  1. I don’t think she could identify me in a lineup.
  2. They keep her inside.

Update: it’s been ten minutes and still no sign of life. I imagine them sitting by their window drinking coffee, phone in hand, speaking to animal control about this bush I now dwell in because try as I might, to play possum, now, and again I will involuntarily let out a blood-curdling scream because of the relentless insects that are trying to climb into my collar.

T-Plus 15 minutes. I’ve had time to formulate a detailed plan. When they drive off, ya gotta believe they will eventually, I’m going to serpentine up the hill in the opposite direction and approach their driveway from the northeast side. Once I’ve reached mecca, and after I am assured the glass is intact, I’ll attempt to pick up it. I have a spinal injury, so if it’s too heavy for me to lift, that will be where this story ends. (This is my subplot.)

Once I have my prize, I will belly crawl, with the glass on my back, toward the row of mailboxes up the street and lower myself into the creek behind it. I’ll use the glass as a body board (does glass float?) and my arms to paddle upstream to the rear of my domicile, emerging like the swamp thing, with frogs and slime in my hair, and a dead carp decomposing on the glass. I’ll then strap a bungee cord around the glass and hook it to my Antifa belt, it’s like a Batman belt with gadgets that will help me scale the hill to enter my home through the back door, which is not visible from their house.

That’s the plan, but like John Steinbeck said:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

I am not convinced that quote applies to this scenario, plus I’m vegan, so ignore it. Anyway, this is my summer adventure… it’s the feral escapade I’ve craved since I damaged my back zero score and four years ago. Let me have this.

Twenty hydrangea minutes later, and I finally see movement. The female dweller is taking out the trash, recyclables to be exact. I jot down that information along with the time and tuck the notepad into my turtleneck. My phone is at 50%, and I believe I can feel the microscopic malaria parasites spreading through my bloodstream. Mosquitoes are assholes.

Speaking of blood, I didn’t bring snacks, and I am sure my blood sugar level is suffering the effects of malnutrition. I haven’t eaten in well over an hour.

Since the recycling excitement, there has been no sign of life from the mother-ship. I’ve never paid attention to their routine. Had I done so, this plan could have been decades in the making.

Near my left foot, I notice a squirrel carcass, and I pay homage. I name him Wilson and share my deepest secrets with his corpse. It’s lonely out here.

Hold everything—there is movement. They’re loading their car with random items, preparing for departure. ETD (estimated time of departure) TBD (to be determined.) I have to keep my eyes on both subjects. If one stays behind, I will abort my mission.

Update: they’re packing their second automobile. It looks like this may be a go. They are slow and it’s annoying. I consider offering to help, but then they’d see me, so I don’t.

And now I believe they’ve taken a coffee break, and I hate them for it. It has been 73 minutes since I dug this trench, and their (clown) cars are more than full. If my equation is correct, they have the equivalent in home goods of 25 clowns in each car. It’s just a matter of time. My phone battery is down to 20%. Still, I wait.

Startled by a swooping bird, I wake up, unsure of my surroundings. Looking around, it all comes back to me. I scrape crusty drool off my face, and that’s when I see both cars are gone. I’m going in.

Success! My plan was executed with the precision of a mohel circumcising an eight-day-old baby during a level six earthquake. The glass is in my house, bigger than what I needed, but a glass cutter can make it work.

Next week: Persuasion in Breaking and Entering.

7 thoughts on “Pride and Dumpster-Diving

  1. This was so funny, Lydia. People put their stuff out on the street here with no takers. But put a sign that states “Free” and people knock on the door to say, ‘Can I have it?’ They are not as covert as you. I am in awe.

    Liked by 1 person

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