Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dumpster Diving

Story Jar April 2 2008

It was called garbage picking when I was a kid, then dumpster diving and now the Freegan movement. It’s the fine art of giving rebirth to discarded objects. Karrie, an artist, says that people should look at nearly all trash as opportunity. Our house is full of great opportunities.

My dumpster diving days began when I moved into my first apartment in Greene, New York. All that I owned fit into a Volkswagen bug and this was an unfurnished apartment so when I saw an abandoned, maple drop-leap table nestled between the trash cans I gleefully dragged it upstairs to my empty kitchen. Not long after, I discovered a brass floor lamp in the same place. With a new wire threaded through and a lampshade added, it became a treasure. Now antiques, both are in Emilie’s Boston apartment.

The next major treasure was found in Binghamton in the late 70’s. I was jogging past a huge carriage wheel placed near the curb. It was clearly garbage with two rotted spokes but it was a "treasure" nonetheless. I rushed home and dragged Rick to our station wagon. Grumbling, he came along and found that the wheel was larger than the car, a Chevy Vega. The only way to get it home was to roll it.

Inconveniently, we lived at the top of a steep hill. It was so steep that on an icy winter day, Rick stepped into the road to put the garbage at our curb, slipped and flanked by bags of garbage, slid down the hill past about ten houses before he could stop.

Rick considered the wheel unworthy of further attention but I started rolling it. In a short distance, it became clear that I was a lousy wheel roller. Thankfully, Rick felt sorry for me and, grumbling a little more, took over the rolling while I drove the car. I cheered him on. He growled.

That wheel came with us to Alfred and again to Wellsville (with additional growling). Jay dressed up in Daddy's hat and stood in front of it once for a photo before several more spokes finally gave way to rot and we put it at the curb. In just a few minutes someone else began rolling that wheel away to their house.

My dresser was once trash. The mirror was gone and a few pieces were broken. We bought it at an auction with few people bidding in competition. They didn't see potential the way we did. With the discarded wings from an old vanity making a frame for a new mirror and a few other pieces of wood it has provided decades of service.

Rick once trashed a narrow, paneled door but I pulled it back into the garage and he eventually built a wonderful blue cupboard around it. Sometimes, the reflection of the cupboard can be caught our half-round window.

Once part of the Wellsville High School, it now is part of our kitchen along with some discarded oak cabinets from Andover School. Andover also gave us a glass lamp found resting on a pile of old light bulbs and Alfred State College "sold" oak book cases for $5 - not far from a dumpster price. Things made of oak, beveled glass or brass just aren’t meant to be garbage.

I rescued a 1972 dress model with wheeled cast-iron feet, stamped metal arm and neck plates and a fancy cast-iron finial. Discarded by the girls moving out of Jay’s Cherry Street apartment, it now stands in our living room in an outfit made (and discarded) by members of Thailand’s Karen Tribe. Leaning against the wall are some fly fishing poles that Jay rescued for us from another Philly apartment. You just can’t find stuff like that in a store.

The only time Rick gives any discarded stuff a glance is when he notices my pottery. Once he took an enormous but perfectly ugly bowl out of our trash and shipped it to a gallery near Chautauqua where it sold for over $200 – a record. I’m still astounded.

photos of other rescued items are at flickr


Emilie said...

I love this post--it's really inspiring to see all of the cool stuff you've collected from the trash and transformed into wonderful pieces. It makes me a little homesick too seeing all of these pictures and I miss our dumpstering together for bananas and books in Davis.

Rick said...

A few other salvaged items are visible - the antique butterfly hinges on the blue cupboard were salvaged from this house renovation, and the punched copper panel in the same cupboard was recycled from a previously abandoned project. There is an ornate antique cast iron gas valve on the left of the row of Mommy vases on the Wellsville High School window sill that I think came from West State Street. In addition, the oak door by the Andover teacher's cabinet cum pantry was the orphaned half of a set of French doors from the attic of our former next door neighbor, Marge Ackerman. The wallhanging between the door and pantry was the pocket off a Thai hilltribe shirt as well. The surf fishing poles behind the hilltribe outfit were a present from Jay who obtained them for free in Philadelphia. What a bunch of JUNK! we have...

Rick said...

Oh - and one more thing, though not visible, the oak shelves inside the pantry were cut from a bunch of shelving obtained from the Rockwell department store when it was closing, as were the sock drawer built-ins in our closets.