Friday, February 24, 2006

Post-Brush 'n' Bulky

Tucson's Brush-and-Bulky pickup service comes a few times a year, transforming the curbs and alleys into a packrat's smorgasbord. In past years I've acquired pallets, tons of scrap lumber that's found its way into planter boxes and backyard forts, firewood a-plenty, and an old rocking chair I refurbished for (and scored MAJOR points with) an ex-girlfriend's birthday present. This month's holiday fell at an awkward time, as I was in the middle of finishing the bookcase, cleaning out the shed, and culling the piles of scrap wood in the back yard, so I didn't pick up as much stuff as I would have liked. I did take several dozen 2x4 stubs (if nothing else, they fit perfectly into the chimenea) and a great mini kick bass drum. The drum is a bit dented and has two broken heads, but a quick trip to Beaver's Band Box and twenty bucks should land me a dandy new noisemaker. Notable items I didn't pick up include a set of adirondack chairs and end table, mainly because I couldn't quite decide if their owner really was meaning to set them out as trash, and a wrought-iron wall sconce with two candleholders, that one mainly because I was on foot and didn't want to haul a not-quite-funky-enough large sconce a couple of miles back home.

I set out last night to see if the city guys might have missed anything good. I only found two spoons and a book of matches but didn't really want to stuff them into my pockets. One dumpster had a big pile of radiology journals near the top, but I didn't see enough of a resale market for them at Bookman's to make it worth the effort to dig them out.

The girlfriend doesn't accompany me on these scavenging expeditions. Maybe it's a little... I don't know, different, perhaps, or maybe it looks bad to be rooting around in dumpsters, but I learned at a tender age about the treasures that find their way into the trash when people are either overwhelmed with moving or overconditioned to pitch something when it gets a bit scuffed. When I was a wee tad I lived in an apartment complex with my mom in northern Indiana, and every month when people moved out we peeked into the dumpsters to see what got jettisoned. I found toys, she found kitchen implements. The crowning glory was a small still-life in oils of a teapot and flowers that we gave to her mother without comment on its origins, and then got secret giggles every time we went to Grandmother's house and saw the painting hung on the wall.

Living in the university area, I get to experience the mass giveaway that accompanies the exodus of the undergrads every May. The amount and quality of completely good clothing, housewares, and books they throw away is criminal. Last year I ended up in a dumpster with a couple who were collecting unopened packaged food, plates, napkins, and pillows for a homeless shelter. I promptly dug in to help them. We had accumulated a nice pile of goods when were unceremoniously pulled out and detained by a university cop who busted us for trespassing, who lectured us for stealing things from university property for our own profit. He glared at me and asked if I was an activist. I managed to deadpan, "No, sir, I'm an archaeologist." He eventually let us go with a warning to never come back, because now we're In The System, but made us leave the stuff for the homeless back in the dumpster. As far as my own personal profit, I got some trade credit at Bookman's for some of the books I found before rent-a-cop showed up, and I kept an army sleeping bag, rain poncho, and web belt I pulled out of the dumpster at the apartment complex at Speedway and Campbell. I gave the volleyball, basketball, and baseballs to my son, and washed the bags of pristine t-shirts and shorts I found before dropping them off at Goodwill.

The university, perhaps shamed by the attention this issue has gotten in the local papers in the past couple of years, has attempted to head off the scavengers by posting No Trespassing signs on the dumpsters at move-out time. I understand the liability issue, but wish I had the balls to defy them and keep diving. Not for myself, but for the people who genuinely need the cases of macaroni and cheese, the blankets, the unopened rolls of paper towels, the clean and hole-free clothes that are tossed by the Hefty bag-full by kids who don't want to go to the effort of moving them. I wonder how much participation they'd get if they set up donation centers next to the dumpsters at the frat houses, if they'd bother to separate the usable stuff from the trash or just toss it all in the closest can.

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