Posted by: nickgerlich | June 4, 2008

Free Indeed

I bet most of you have done this at one time or another. I know I have. Not that I am proud of it or anything, but it is an artifact of my personal history. And it really wasn’t done out of abject need or anything. I was just being industrious.

But it is still with some degree of dishonor that I must make this confession. I was once a dumpster diver.

CookiesBack in the Summer of 1981, my younger brother and I scoured the south suburbs of Chicago, picking up aluminum cans for recycling. I was between undergrad and grad school, and was nearly broke. Gas was cheap, so we could afford to drive to the better dumpsters (if there is such a thing). And you know what we did with our money? We took a 4-day vacation to Canada.

See…I told you I was being industrious!

Of course, my dumpster diving days are long since past. But I can’t help but channeling Danzel every time I think about it: “Put your feet up in the air…put your feet up in the air!”

And irony of ironies, dumpster diving is now actually a counter-culture cool thing to do. Called frugalists or freegans, the modern day warriors of trash containers have turned scavenging into bargain hunting. And with the economy headed south, it actually sounds like a feasible solution for some. Well, not me anyway.

But I digress.

There is a growing anti-consumerist culture out there that is snatching up the throwaways of others, and claiming it as their own. Too poor or cheap or rebel to actually buy your food? Well, put your feet up in the air, young man (or woman), and dine at the table of frugality.

It’s one thing if you’re a young guy trying to save vacation money by digging for cans, just like it is one thing if you are destitute and faced with starvation. But it is quite another to dive face-first into a steel bin loaded with garbage when you are perfectly able to pay your own way…but instead opt out of the American consumer culture.

Sure, we Americans throw away stuff that many people around the world would be happy to receive. And I also know that, even though your stuff may be sitting on your property, once you set it out as trash it is considered more or less in the public domain. But although it is a dirty job, no one has to do it.

This is America. We buy our way out of an economic slump, not dig our way out.

Dr “Buried Treasure” Gerlich


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