Dumpsters beat the lottery

Letter by Slim Wolfe

Mountain Living – March 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Dumpsters beat the Lottery


I have never bought a lottery ticket. Any time I’m in doubt as to my standing with the great Kahuna, I have a more interesting test: I play scratch-and-sniff with dumpsters. This started years ago during fits of nocturnal insomnia or maybe to distract my aggravated mind from a girlfriend squabble.

Most any tangible item will eventually present itself to the dumpster-hound, sometimes in need of TLC but sometimes in their original boxes or shrinkwrap, unmolested. One can develop a career and a livelihood of recycling clothing, furniture, and so on. One can also save a bundle on second-hand lumber and windows, if one has lots of spare time.

Larger cities with state universities are a gold mine at midterm flunk-out time when the kiddies jump ship, though my personal gondola-of-choice was a monster at the Queen Anne Safeway. Queen Anne is a high-income hilltop in Seattle, whose residents took advantage of Safeway’s largesse when their tony Persian carpets and armoires were past their prime. Likewise, the grocery clerks were prone to toss anything and everything that had a hint that it might be thinking about developing a blemish in the next month or so. I am here to tell you that there would be no malnutrition in the western hemisphere if our nation’s retailers could just find needy people to adopt all the food that doesn’t get sold.

The ramifications are more mind-boggling than Y2K.

Now that Central Colorado is on the rebound, one doesn’t have to make a pilgrimage to some swank metropolis to indulge in great dumpster diving. If I’d had the foresight to predict Chaffee County’s disposable output increase, I would have planned to build a thrice-larger house. Our area is now a force to be reckoned with, a destination resort for dumpster-surfing, where high-dollar items get tossed like a half-smoked cigar. I may have to pack my vehicle with rocks or something, so I don’t have room for adoptions I can’t accommodate.

Does a fella say, “Gee thanks, my cup runneth over.”? Or does he say, “Damn, how come Americans have turned conspicuous waste into a family value?” Refugees from behind the old iron curtain used to call our country “beautiful corpse” because of our bloated condition. To be fair, there may be stressful times in anyone’s life when thrift is not a priority, but I wonder if some people don’t give themselves a sort of backhanded status elevation when they toss a good shirt — the power of life and death over an item produced by the toil of farm and factory workers.

Once upon a time, slaves were a sign of status, now we prove our worth by how fast we can fill a big curbside gondola. Are we just venting our frustration that we weren’t suave enough to be big-time all-stars or something?

Go figure, because I sure can’t. If it’s all just a tempest in a teapot, I wish someone would say so. I’d hate to be wasting all this paper and ink.

Slim Wolfe Villa Grove