Wednesday, May 3

Back door stories

My apartment is in a two-floor walkup with a front entrance onto the courtyard and a back entrance onto the tiny parking lot. Directly behind my unit is the big trash bin, the one that's usually emptied loudly and with careless abandon at roughly 3 in the morning twice a week by garbagemen hopped up on No-Doz and coffee.

Now that the weather's warming up, I'm seeing more and more dumpster divers scavenging for usable goods in our trash.

Today when I came outside, there was a man humming a bluesy tune, his discoveries — a pair of bright green jelly sandals, a pair of clear plastic women's shoes, and a single black pump with a crown of fake diamonds near the toe — fanned out on the pavement beside his feet.

He kept humming as I got in my car just a few feet away. And, like any other asshole might have done, I kept my eyes low and didn't look his way the entire time I was backing up and out of the lot.

A few weeks ago there was another man digging through the garbage, a bulging white plastic grocery bag hanging from the crook of his elbow. I got in my car, backed up and out, and I saw him follow behind me as I stopped to wait for traffic to clear so I could pull out. He had one normal eye and one milky white orb. He was skinny, wearing a dirty T-shirt and denim shorts, and he had sort of an erratic, unpredictable look about him. He kept walking past my car and down the sidewalk toward Union Avenue. I don't know what he found that was worth keeping.

I often wonder how I should react to the people digging through my trash. Once you encounter enough crazy and moderately threatening bums, you get jaded and decide that the best way to deal with them is to act as though they're not even there. But every time I do that, I feel the rot take hold in my gut. It's just not right. I have so much; I should share. Even if it's a nod or a wave or a friendly word or two. But a nod or a wave isn't going to do much for these people if they are desperate enough to dig through my trash. They want money, food, socks, hope, a break. My privelege blinds and frustrates me, because I know it's there and I know there's no dropping it. I also know that if I tried hard enough, I would be able to just stop seeing the plight and start seeing nothing but an annoyance and inconvenience to me.

And that's scary.

6 Comments:

Anonymous oskiesmom said...

what if God were one of us, just a slob like one of us?

Wed May 03, 03:32:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymouse said...

recently, i've had my own encounter with dumpster divers and a personal dilema about how i should feel when i see it. sipping bronsons outside on breezy savannah nights, the wind bringing the stench of the paper mill across our noses, we sit front row as cars rattle towards a dumpster behind the carpet store. the driver gets out, his cohort in the passenger seat looks to and fro, seemingly nervous about the situation. these people take everything, from busted shop vacs to massive gobs of twisted wire. you see people digging for their "nourishment", their clothing, something to get by. the savannah diving team digs for shit to put on their table at the crump flea market.

Wed May 03, 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger theogeo said...

You know, all that dumpster diving ensures that the prices are negosable.

Wed May 03, 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Anonymouse said...

that is if their table is still "resverd" (in reference to a sign that hangs from a tree near the chicken/puppy/blackmarketchildren cages). oh, and i think about your post every time i walk past that booth. it's still there!

Wed May 03, 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger mike said...

It's called recycling! Or you can think of it as post-yard sale entrepreneurship. I can look around my apartment right now and see six things that began life with me as trash: a couple of nice tables, a bookshelf and my microwave stand (blonde wood!). Most Americans casually throw away some astonishing stuff; the street people are just picking the occasional useful bit out of the stream.

If you are throwing something out that's still useful, don't toss it in the dumpster. Lay it over to the side, to be found; or out on the sidewalk.

And toss away your guilt. At least give someone a nod of acknowledgement, the most basic level of human respect and dignity. The only shame in what they're doing is what you feel. Don't pass it on to them.

Wed May 03, 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous oskiesmom said...

Mike, tell it. We don't have to live in a third world country, but this is our third world, right here. One time I was walking my dogs at night behind Schnucks and we stumbled upon a man who had apparently bedded down for the night, with his shopping cart. He was impossible to see until we were almost on him, and I was truly scared at first, then I realized he was probably much more scared of my dogs. I spoke to him and told him not to be afraid of the dogs. This was all I could do. We were utterly alone in a secluded spot, but there was no way he was going to harm me. I'm in East Memphis. How many miles do people without homes walk in a day?
"When you do it to the least of these, you do it to me."
--Matthew 25

Thu May 04, 01:10:00 AM  

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