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Dumpster Diving

“Is that trash?” asks Nancy, pointing to a large barrel on wheels.

“Help yourself,” replies the Home Depot guy.

So Nancy begins pulling lumber pieces out and loading them into our cart. Not fancy lumber, but the rough stuff used to protect the good stuff from the steel bands that hold the bundles together for transport.

“You have a place for that in your studio?” I ask. (Translation: That’s not going in my shop.)

“Yes.” She makes two or three more trips from the trash barrel to our cart.

“I repeat: You have room for that in your studio?” She gives me a look—part smile and part not—and I walk away.

Later, in the car as we chuckle about it, I tell her I read that smile to say, I”m going to keep this up until you get that disapproving look off your face. She does not deny it.

I married a dumpster-diver. Actually, I married into a family of dumpster-divers and hoarders. When I first met him, Nancy’s father still had a coffee can of bent and rusty nails he’d salvaged from his father’s hoard. (That story may be apocryphal; memory is a funny thing.)

I suppose there has never been a shop or studio whose occupant thought it was big enough. But even against that standard, Nancy and I have far too little space in our respective realms relative to the equipment, materials, and projects they contain. (That was true even before our son brought home a 280Z for restoration and began scattering parts and tools everywhere. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

So the struggle over what to keep and what to throw away is intense in our house. Since Nancy grew up in a household of creative reuse and since many of her projects tend toward collage, her predilection is to save. Mine is to toss and reclaim some space. I confess, many’s the time I threw away a lumber scrap only to need it a week later. Many’s the time I have asked Nancy, “Do you have ____?” and she does. And yet, other scraps I have saved for years without finding a use for them, until they’d mildewed beyond salvage.

In the ensuing week after the Home Depot episode, Nancy spent a great deal of time rearranging her studio and moving some little used stuff out as she gears up for some larger projects. Yet the salvaged sticks still reside in a place of honor inside the door. Except for the ones I borrowed today—temporarily—for a project of my own.

The premier dumpster-diving story in our family involves a rescued dolphin, Greek pastry, and a stroller. We were in Florida on vacation, and on our way to see Sunset Sam at the Clearwater Aquarium. Sunset Sam had injuries that prevented his release back into the wild, and had been taught to paint with a brush in his teeth. He was a regular on our vacation agendas until his death a few years later. On this visit, Jay was about two. He fell asleep in the car before we arrived, so we decided to abort the Aquarium stop and let him nap, while we went to Tarpon Springs for Greek pastries. Nancy was driving, and I had just mumbled something about how uncomfortable it would be to carry a sleeping two-year-old around in the heat when she suddenly did a u-turn on a residential street and stopped next to a pile of trash awaiting pickup. A stroller. Rather, a rusty stroller frame, the canvas seat rotted out. Jay’s car seat fit perfectly in the frame. We used that stroller frame for the rest of our trip. When I threw it into a dumpster as we packed up for our return to Tennessee, Jay cried. His mother’s son.