Or for the many years up until the time when my scavenging began.
Life back then was different, if not sweeter nor simpler. Different from now but the same as most other people’s. Yours maybe. Which is why I don't find it necessary to describe those olden days which transpired in an ordinary fashion.
Reflect upon your own history and past and apply it to a stranger. That stranger was me.
2. There is a moment, crystalline and distinctive as the sharpened edge of some cutting implement, that defines and delineates the transformation from non- to scavenger.
I remember it.
3. It was a Tuesday. Or, perhaps a Thursday. I can’t swear that it wasn’t Sunday. A warm or warmish day or afternoon. I was strolling along some well-worn path of my own amusement, whistling a tune I had recently heard from a passing organ grinder.
The path turned into a lane which became an avenue which yielded to a street, making way for a boulevard. And so it was that I found myself treading upon the ruts and grooves of some unfamiliar highway, care-free and occupied by no particular thoughts.
4. There was a crest up ahead and as I rounded it, my eyeballs beheld the gleam of something catching the ascending or descending rays of sunlight, depending on whether it was morning or evening.
It was some object, of that I was 72% sure. As opposed to a chocolate-deprived hallucination (I had not eaten chocolate in a fortnight – but that is superfluous to this particular story). Neither was it chocolate.
5. As I approached the shining and glittering object that sat disconsolately discarded on the side of the highway, I could ascertain that it was made of metal or a metallic substance.
I was just then right upon it. Nothing in my previous experience could have prepared me for encountering a cast-off item which, upon closer scrutiny, seemed perfectly good and usable. Even if I wasn’t sure to what use it was intended to be put.
6. My first impulse, like anyone else’s in the entire world, with of course a few exceptions, would have been and was to leave the object as I had found it.
That is to say, on the ground.
But scavenging is a thing born in one, hiding and waiting, eagerly seeking that opportunity for it to manifest itself.
You might lead (almost) your entire life passing yourself off as a normal and functioning member of society. And then, as you watch a hand drop some refuse from its hand, you see in that purported trash an actual treasure. And you pick it up and place it in your pocket.
Which was exactly the thing I was about to do.
It could be in the moment before your death, bending over on the highway where an oncoming car will not see you. It could happen upon your 115th birthday. Makes no difference. The scavenger inside of you has always existed. Like a subsumed alien twin harvesting your vitals, growing stronger, awaiting the moment to leap forward and claim control of the steering wheel.
7. So there I was, intending to let proverbial sleeping dogs and literal trash lie, at the very same time my hand crept steadily out towards it.
8. Having walked apace down life’s and the city’s mutual highway, I was suddenly taken by a notion.
Like the idea scavenged me, or something.
And it was, the idea or notion, to look back over my shoulder to ascertain whether or not the thing I had seen was still where the universe decreed it to be: whither it had been cast.
9. And so I obeyed the whims of my brain seeing as I was at the time prone to such proclivities. And I turned my head, looking back, Lot’s-wife-like, and, like Lot’s wife, became witness to the unholy horrors of fate.
The object was gone.
10. Of course now, looking back over the shoulder of time, it seems common-place and not to be afeared. And yet at the moment in which we all must live, the eternal present tense of our unfolding lives, I felt the fright.
11. I reached, slowly and with that unmistakable creeping crawling feeling of dread, into my pockets and pulled therefrom a wad of dollars, a set of house keys, a scrap of paper with an infantile doodling, a ticket stub to Lion King –The Broadway Musical, and – shocks and horrors – the cursed object.
12. And but yet already within that moment of revelation I could feel within me the wheels upon wheels of machination transforming me and my innards from the complacent ignorant fool I had been to the complacent ignorant foolish scavenger I was becoming.
For at the moment I saw the object within the grasp of my palm, I knew I would carry it home with me and place it in a folded-up sock at the back and bottom of my unmentionables drawer.
13. Oh, by the way, it was a lighter.
14. From that moment on, I was enthralled with items others had cast off out of disgust or disuse.
I collected all manner of, well, garbage.
Bits of scraps of shreds of refuse others refused, I accepted and collected.
15. I found employment at a Redemption Center, and the not ironic but apropos nature of my predilection aligning me with a vocation was not entirely lost on me.
That is, I found myself well-suited to it, mostly from the suits of the recently deceased.
16. I gathered unto myself the lost, forlorn, cast off, undesired. Like a living, somewhat masculine Statue of Liberty.
17. Stacks of books, piles of magazines, pairs of shoes, triplets of Bellville, skeins of yarn, skins of deer, fingers of vodka, grapes of wrath, wraths of Khan, wheels of barrows, wheels of fortune, locks of hair, heads of lettuce, prides of lions, mountains of moleskin journals, nine out of ten dentists, jars of toenails.
I had trunks filled with junk. Swimming trunks full of elephant trunks.
18. The question became not: why am I picking up all this stuff? But: why would anyone throw it away?
It’s very easy to take the moral high road and gather a motley crew of pontifications re: society’s standards and obsolescence.
But I’m keeping those for myself.
19. Actually, I didn’t give a rat’s ass (or keep one) about why humans were so cavalier about chucking out perfectly reusable stained undergarments.
Not after watching The Lion King. The flow of life and all that junk. It was all a cycle, recycling.
I was the bottom feeder.
20. Once you’ve begun scavenging, you’re unlikely to stop. Everything strikes you with the open hand of interest.
However, simultaneously and concurrently, the things which once held your favor become dull.
Brand new commodities become oddities. You fail to understand commercials and advertisements. The value of a dollar plunges canadianly.
Your friends will abandon you. You will pick up new friends off the street.
21. You will cast off social mores. Someone else will pick them up.
22. Life will have a new flavor not unlike leftover pizza that you salvaged from the Domino’s dumpster.
23. All of these types of things continued on and on without variance or monotony until every square inch and spare nook had been crammed full with the things I had saved.
24. They towered over me, menacingly like an out-of-control addiction or dog off its leash.
I felt perhaps I had permeated the membrane that separated functioning scavenger from crazy hoarder.
It had always been thin and tenuous.
It hadn’t been the 17,463 individual straws taken from various and sundry restaurants that broke the camel’s back, I don't think.
It was when I started keeping grains of sand, salt, dirt, lint, dust, mold and rust.
25. I decided it was time to purge myself and apartment of all the items I had harbored from the INS-esque prying eyes and crowbars of judgmental society.
26. My tear ducts wept as I placed each and every lovingly gathered rot-festooned objet d’crap into glad bags I’d found stuffed inside other glad bags.
27. Ten years later, I had deprived my existence of all remnant belying my obsession.
Nary a trace of any object that had once belonged in another rightful owner’s mittens could be discovered in any of the multiple hiding cubby holes I had carefully crafted.
I was naked, nude, unclad, made bare, undressed, disrobed, um, some other word even more descriptive of my bereft state of vulnerability to a world in which the vast accumulation is only paralleled by its compulsion to strip itself and divest it of all that is holy worthy and good, swaddled only in perhaps the diaphanous shroud of overstatement and hyperbole. Exposed.
28. Every door, they say, is a window. Which isn’t true except in that nothing is ever only one thing at any given time.
You say "tomato" and I say "pillow stuffing." That kind of thing.
Every exit is an entrance somewhere else, I once paraphrased someone who I’d forgotten originally said it.
Unless they mean one of those doors that has a window in it.
29. So what appeared to be the end of scavenging for me proved itself to be only the beginning. A fresh start.
Cracked pots and light shining in and all of that conclusive, moral-making junk here towards the end, or beginning of my story.
30. I walked away from the emptiness that my apartment and life had become, walking up the crest of a highway somewhere, eyes roving the breakdown lane out of habit.
There, sitting like a pristine Buddha, like a closed circle taking us back to the beginning of a recycling bin logo, was a lighter.
I bent over, placing my thumb on the flint wheel of fortune and turned it. There was a spark and a bit of light. But it wasn’t from the lighter; it was out of fluid. The light was coming seemingly from the end of a long tunnel and the headlights of an oncoming car.
31. Now that I am dead, I hope that my life won’t simply be tossed away as so much inconsequential waste.
I hope someone, some lonely scavenger, will take my carcass into his/her home where they will prop me on their floor and use me as a coffee table.
The End The Beginning The End (etc.)