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Over Easy: Dumpster Diving Observations

4:06 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Fred and I diving for scrap metal a couple of years ago.

On July 23, Forbes published an article titled The End of Chinese Manufacturing and Rebirth of U.S. Industry, that discusses the ‘Made in China’ era. I wondered if the article might explain a return to real jobs, in this country. By that I mean the end of mass production, the return of pride, more things made by hand, better quality. But, the article does not address our loss of craftsmanship and precise arts, for example.

I was raised with the notion that if we worked hard and if we worked with pride, we would do better than our parents, and in turn, our kids would do better than us. This is no longer true. I associate the term ‘outsourcing’ with Made in China.

What I have observed in dumpster diving over the past several years is a decline in quality. Of everything. Vintage items are well made, whether it is furniture, or watches, or clothing or appliances. Today, things may look good on outward appearance, but if you are lucky enough to get things home, they either don’t work, don’t work well, or, and I believe IKEA and Walamrt bank on this, they only last a short time.

I can safely say from experience, that the Era of Disposable junk is ‘in.’ My vintage drill, grinder, and tools are solid, cast aluminum, heavy, and made to last. I don’t see much in the line of vintage tools in the dumpsters, and there is a reason. The trash is populated with plastic parts and Things That Fall Off. Also, kids used to play with toys, when they were well-made and sturdy. Since I love toys, I keep a small collection of vintage toys I remember from growing up: See-n-Say, Etch-a-sketch, things that wind up. Nowadays, the dumpsters are absolutely full of cheap junk plastic toys. (Many of the toys pretend kill and maim, and the current trend is to dress kids, even infants, in camouflage, and complete the outfit with a sidearm, rifle, or shotgun.

I am very sorry for the short post today; I am working on my legal case (again), and time got away from me. I’ll just share some irony: In the very same dumpster where I found an article extolling President George Bush for being responsible to our substantial freedoms and great strides toward more freedom, I also found a small bundle of letters, written by an inmate, who was in prison.

We are not limited to talking about the made in China era, or dumpsters! So much is happening, please chime in with your thoughts.

Over Easy: The Human Face of Sustainability (updated)

4:24 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Food from one of the author's many dumpster diving expeditions.

The Human Face of Sustainability is a creative non-fiction essay contest with a May, 13, 2013 deadline and a 4000-word limit.

We welcome personal essays or stories about extraordinary individuals or communities, and stories about innovative solutions to sustainability. We seek essays on topics that range from global to local, from “big” (e.g., Resilience after natural disaster;) New technology solutions vs. common sense; Energy harvesting) to “small” (e.g., Personal decisions about consumption; Reuse, recycle, up-cycle, bicycle?; Green, clean—what does it mean?; What can we learn from past generations?). Whatever the subject, we want to hear about it in an essay that blends facts and research with narrative—employing scenes, descriptions, etc.

I may consider entering an essay, because my husband and I are more than half-way through our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters, and pretty much everything we use and wear has also come from dumpsters. We have a motorcycle as our only vehicle. Because sustainability is the capacity to endure, I believe our small personal experiences fit the criteria in the description.

However, when I looked at this list of sustainability article topics, I nearly gave up. (The list is not on the essay site. It is on Wikipedia.) For example, what is Adiabatic Lapse Rate? What does that have to do with getting kicked out of a grocery store for carrying our empty backpacks (we’re on a motorcycle) into a store?

I had better luck searching Google Scholar, where I found a lecture titled, Simple Ways to Green Your Organization: Presented at the Conference on Community Based Aging Services November 5, 2009, as well as other school-related projects where students share their dumpster diving experiences. However, I have yet to find an article describing the nitty-gritty of real-life, daily dependence on this activity.

What we cannot find in the dumpsters, we find in the thrift stores, most notably our local Goodwill in Lone Oak (Paducah) KY, that is the best-managed, most fun store I have ever been in. Seriously.

My question for readers at Firedoglake is, what does sustainability mean to you? How does that word look in your day-to-day living? Maybe you visit the thrift store more often than you used to. Do you decline a plastic bag at a grocery, or do you get creative with leftovers, or does it mean taking to the streets to protest oil pipelines sure to lead to ecological destruction? Were you to write such an essay, what topic would you choose?

One thing I have observed is that there is a lot more reality and pain in the world than we ever would imagine by looking at the surface, and the evidence in in the trash. We flush the toilet and walk away, as if it never happened.

Now to the news. The Mayor of Houston admits to having furnished a few college apartments through dumpster diving, and the Houston city council says they are going to look at amending the original ordinance that cited a homeless man for digging food out of a dumpster. This man (a homeless veteran, by the way) was only trying to feed himself, so lets hope that the “quality of life committee,” where the issue will go can set an example.

Although this image is what some media unfortunately continue to promote, this is not what I have observed in my many years of experience with this activity.

“Dumpster diving is an inevitable result of a our horrifically mismanaged economy,” said long-time Dumpster diver Randy Crary from We Asked Dumpster Divers About a Plan To Sell Expired Food.

US paradox: Wasting food while going hungry. In the US, we waste nearly as much food as we consume, every day. Does this surprise you at all?

The dumpster was invented in 1935. So, during much of the Great Depression era, there were no dumpsters (Letty verifies this. She is 88). Today, at any given large shopping mall in the US, huge compacting waste containers are commonplace. The largest landfill in America today is in unincorporated Los Angeles County, and it is called Puente Hills Landfill. (aka Inland Empire area.)The landfill gas created by the landfill is funneled to the Puente Hills Gas-to-Energy Facility, which generates 50 megawatts of electricity. (wiki)

Perspective: Penn and Teller Bullshit – Recycling Part 1 Sorting is a huge part of recycling, most people do not realize this.

If you are looking to read a story from Letty, I can tell you that we are planning to do a post on colloquialisms. Example: “If his brains was axle grease, he wouldn’t have sense enough to grease the dynamo on a lightning bug’s ass,” or, as my dad used to say, “When I say ‘Frog,’ you’d better say ‘How High do I Jump.’” And he kept a straight face.

If you are looking for satire today, I recommend that you not have a full bladder when you watch A Day in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney, lest you wet yourself. (Satire especially fun if you are familiar with the 2-5-I SODDI defense: I had 2 beers, five hours ago, and I was just minding my own business when some other dude did it.)

The only other contest I have entered is an essay about addiction based on a bridge metaphor, and it is called The Bridge of Sighs. If that topic interests you at all, you may want to read it. It’s short.

Over Easy: Embracing Bohemianism

4:46 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Stray Shopping Cart

photo by timbrauhn on flickr.

Good morning everyone. Since we were having internet broadband connection problems last night, I am re-posting this non-fiction essay from last year, and I hope you enjoy it. It is on par with some discussions we were having last week at Over Easy, about homelessness and poverty in general. Please feel welcome to share your experiences. Off-topic is welcome as well.

Embracing Bohemianism

There was a time, early in my dumpster diving and scavenging life when I clung to the notion that somehow, some way, I would have a lot of money, and things would be wonderful. By scavenging, I mean this in the truest sense. There was a Labor Ready close by, but it was always packed, and if you were not a connected regular worker, days could pass without work and so, I looked for coins in the street. One coin leads to almost always another nearby. Fast-food drive through windows were the best places to search for breeding loose change.

My feet hurt all the time. There is no real place to sit in any given urban area. It can take all day to put a meal together because this place that has this thing for these few cents can be very far from that one. Sometimes I would sit, on a curb, to rest my feet and study people. Here is what one who fits into society puts into a shopping cart at the grocery.

Weekend shopping carts were the best to watch because many people with lives shopped on the weekend. They could not only afford to eat, they could also afford to wash clothes. They had dishes and they could wash them. They rushed and rushed, all the time. Groceries, appointments, lessons, kids. Rush, rush, drive and park. Rush in and rush out. In and out the aisles, up and down the stairs, a non-push push here, a little shove there, rush, rush. Everyone had a phone and every call was as if it were the last phone call ever to be placed; everything was important to everyone.

I studied and studied: There is what one wears. Here is what one drives. Here is one who maintains a lawn. This one has made beds and not just mattresses. Everything matches. There is never, ever less than everything. Everything for the car, everything for the kid, everything for the home. I’ll just bet, I would think to myself, that these are some underpants people. One clean pair for each day of the week, I’m certain of it.

I studied and studied, so that someday, when I had a life just like those people, I would be ready. I would know what to buy, and what to wear to buy it, and how to cut my hair and what toothpaste to use for the whitest teeth, what car to be seen in, what gym to be seen at, what detergent for the most gleaming clothes. I could drink with the shopping cart people someday because the ads everywhere assured me I could. Casually not checking the level in my glass, I could drink and be younger and thinner and sexier and funnier, because people who fit into society, of course, don’t have a half gallon of Popov vodka under the kitchen sink, and they are not sitting in a room, in a worn-out recliner, twisting the window shades shut to make sure the passing public is not aware.

I studied and studied, so that someday, when I had a life, the only thing that I would ever be tired from would be my wonderful, lucrative job where I was admired and constantly promoted. I would go out to dinner, go to the park, attend important meetings where I would make important decisions, supervise people and projects, tell people that my schedule was too busy just now, could we do this say, next week. I would drink designer cups of coffee with all the right people in all the right places and plan more coffee time with more people.

I would have people in my life who would ask, so that I could tell them these things and make these plans.

During my studies, my curb was not always solitary. But it was always anonymous, which was absolutely perfect, because the non-distance distance allowed me to shock, comfort, and then leave the company of wandering curb dwellers. I could say anything from So how much time did you do this last time, to Boy do I ever remember living on a plane all the time. I could curb-blend. I had no idea how to blend in with the socially acceptable groups I studied, but this was minor. It would come with time, teeth, looks, youth, money, and a home packed with beautiful things and visited by gardeners and housekeepers.

On my curb, I was lower than some and higher than others, and a perfect judge of everyone.

The shopping cart underpants people were a blast to judge: I’ll just bet this one is sleeping with that one and lying about it to this other one and milking this from that one and cooking the books and showing up a little too late and a little too hung over. Well, they kind of made it easy to be supreme judge because they talked about themselves all the time and always loud because I was just a nobody on a curb, who would shut up for that? The lower people were no match for my curb-gavel, I mean, I’ve hit the skids, but at least I’m not walking around the park asking strangers for money.

I did not know any of these people and I judged them all, every last one of them, from my curb courtroom. The court of last resort. I judged the cart people because I wanted to be the cart people. That way, other cart people would like me.

Today, I subsist on what people throw away. I do not have the wonderful job or the money or the possessions that I once wanted and thought I needed. I notice more because I am not in a hurry. I do not judge people anymore. I am just fine, being who I am, and being poor. It is more than enough.

Bohemianism and its elements.

Over Easy: Holiday Dumpster Diving Update

4:44 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Deep diving a dumpster in Seattle. (photo: sea turtle via Flickr)

This morning’s Over Easy is an addition to the first diary I ever posted at Firedoglake, with an update on our dumpster diving experiences during the holiday season.

WikiHow has an excellent article on dumpster diving technique, to which I only add: 1. Never dive a medical or hospital dumpster 2. Never dive a compacting or off-limits (ie, gated/not in the public domain) dumpster 3. Dive in quadrants. This way, you never have to throw anything outside of the dumpster in order to get at the contents at the bottom. 4. Double your configuration, like  a cave diver, and carry two of everything (flashlights, wire cutters, magnets), except your wallet or money, which you should not take with you, into a dumpster.

Scrap metal recycle prices vary a bit from one junkyard to the next. The money scrap metals are copper, brass, aluminum, and non-magnetic stainless steel; junkyards want your scrap load sorted prior to reaching the scale. January is the best month of the year for scrap metal divers (scrappers) because Christmas is now a disposable holiday. Post-holiday Christmas lights are abundant, for example.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1960. Christmas was sacred and magical for as many years as I can remember until recently. We hand-made many of our own ornaments (remember felt, glue, sequins and styrofoam?) and saved everything from year to year. My mother kept our precious ornaments in the same box, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and saved. We saved our bubble lights and ice cycles.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Christmas is manufactured overseas, sold in the Big-box, and disposable, including all ornaments, lights, fake trees, nativity sets, and gifts, toys and clothing. We are losing our craftsmanship and precise arts as quickly as the Arctic melts.

People begin shopping on Black Friday, and get a tree up shortly thereafter. Late November/early December dumpsters may deliver insulated copper in the form of last year’s lights that have been inexplicably replaced by this year’s model, a few fake trees and even Christmas wrap, tape, bows, ribbon, lace and tags, still new in packages as though people are actually afraid to use anything from last year, God forbid.

December 26 through the New Year are generally cardboard box days, and although cardboard brings $60.00/ton at recycle, cardboard transport is problematic without a modified truck bed.  After the first of the year, the land of dumpsters is most interesting and productive. Lights. Rejected presents,  New With Tags. Fully decorated trees. Appliances, if new gifts replace the old, and even furniture, again if old must be discarded to make way for new.  We have not been to the mall in years. Every appliance we have was retrieved, new, boxed, and never used, from dumpsters. Same with all of our furniture and all of our clothing. If you live in an area where people don’t take down their trees until February, you can vicariously celebrate the holidays for two or three straight months.

UPDATE:

The year after I wrote this, our local recycle center reduced the cash payment for all Christmas light strings and other plug-in cords by sixty percent, causing many scrappers to discontinue retrieving cords in lieu of collecting bulk magnetic scrap metal.

Last year we exchanged our truck for a motorcycle and quit scrapping. Our most lucrative scrap dumpster was related to infrastructure, and when the company itself began to recycle and disallow scrap dumpster divers, we made a decision to give up scrapping.

We are now entering our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters. About 75% of our nutrition comes from dumpsters. We did observe what we believe to be an abundance of meat in the fall due to the sell-off of livestock during the exceptional drought season of the summer. We most often eat steamed vegetables and crock pot meals, with salads, abundant fresh fruit, and some sweets. We must purchase coffee and tea. We have been sick only one time, and that was after eating a fast-food meal inside a restaurant and not from a dumpster meal.

Our appliances, dishes, household items and many clothes now come from our own apartment complex dumpsters or curbs, during end-of-month move-outs. We are transitioning from diving due to great need to diving by choice, because we continue to believe strongly in the principles of reuse and living with less.

Years ago I began this strange, stigmatized hobby because of need, when I inadvertently discovered my real passion of looking for things that show sociological or historical trends and stories, so for me, the fun is in the urban archaeology. What media and social culture wants us to see is on the surface. If you want to know about the real world, look at what people throw away.

DUMPSTER DIVING IN THE NEWS:

Northwest Cook: New reality cooking show starts with Dumpster diving

From Trash to Table: Austrian Activists Launch Freegan Cooking Show

Dumpster divers swoop in to grab $40,000 worth of pricy fresh food

Go to the Ant: Our Summer Dumpster Diving Update

11:54 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Ant

photo by jasonbolonski under creative commons, flickr

Proverbs 6:6 HNV
Hebrew Names Version
Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise; Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

slug·gard/ˈsləgərd/
Noun:
A lazy, sluggish person.
Synonyms:
idler – lazybones – slacker – loafer – slug

For folks who do not know us, we self-describe as poor but not miserable. Like many others in America’s ninety-nine percent, we cope with ongoing issues associated with an economy in decline. We consider ourselves fortunate to have our health. Mason received his Medicare card today. I thought that meant that he has health care now, but there is no coverage for medication, so, you know. I suppose if he gets his head chopped off, he can go to the hospital. But whatever. We are happy to have that, at least.

Since November of 2010, we have been eating out of dumpsters. We quit scrapping for metal a while back, and our vehicles now are a motorcycle and two bicycles. We continue to eat well, and we have not been sick since we started dumpster-eating. ‘Our’ favorite food dumpster is dive-friendly, so it receives many visitors.

Yesterday’s dive was a near disaster, because when we rolled in on our motorcycle and parked, the chicken lady was already there. We’ve seen the chicken lady before, driving a long bed pickup truck, but this time, she had a van. We call her the chicken lady because she claims to dive this particular dumpster to feed her chickens, because it is so expensive to feed chickens. Of course, and the chicken lady admitted as much, chickens don’t care for the likes of huge bags of red potatoes and assorted working, boxed, new-with-tags kitchen appliances, but it is none of my concern, really, who eats what. Unless, that is, there is nothing left for our small backpacks.

Me: This is a disaster. It’s the chicken lady.

Him: Yup. And look. She’s got a van.

Me: She’s gonna fill that van like a bank robber. We’re not gonna eat tonight unless we do something.

Him: Like what?

Me: Park this thing. We’ll sit on the curb right next to the dumpster with our little backpacks and just, like, look pathetic.

So, that’s what we did. The chicken lady is really sweet, by the way, red-cheeked embarrassed, always explaining her hungry chicken situation, but I have to say, she puts seasoned dumpster divers to shame. She is extremely thorough, like that other guy I dive a different dumpster with who always shows up packing and gives away everything he collects to needy children. He does that, BTW, when he is not in Nashville, making his records. Turns out, he is a singer. I will not name him, but I say this only to put the lie to any dumpster diver stereotypes that MSM may want us to conjure in our wildest imagination.

What are we eating this summer? Well, I have stuffed myself sick with strawberries, for one thing. The rest of the list: apples, red onions, potatoes (red and bakers), cauliflower, broccoli, bagged organic salads, bread, hamburger,hamburger buns, thin-sliced steaks, London broil, stew meat, ground chicken (you have to be careful with poultry in the heat, but we got this still cold), top sirloin steaks, carrots, beefsteak tomatoes, oranges, cantaloupe, pears, zucchini and yellow squash, danish sticky buns with nuts, soda, hot dogs, hot dog buns, kielbasa,chips, salsa, cheese puffs, crackers, onion ring puffs and blueberries. Oh. And that to-die-for Fage Greek yogurt. I am almost sorry I found that yogurt because it is so unbelievably good that I now buy it when we have money. Better than sour cream, I could almost swear it is mislabeled sour cream.

What else? Well, garbage bags are expensive, even at the Dollar Store that isn’t really the Dollar Store. It is the Six Dollar Store. So, I visit a dumpster where donated items have been emptied from black bags, and I re-use the dry bags. The last time I was in a dumpster with my singer friend, I actually got, believe it or not, garbage bags, along with as many books as I could stuff into my backpack. As long as I am in confession mode, there is the toilet paper issue, which I would not mention but for a conversation we had with our neighbors (working poor) who mentioned occasional visits to a local fast food chain store that I won’t name, to get toilet paper. After our neighbor confessed, we also confessed, and learned, thankfully that we were sometimes visiting different places for this item of need, and it made me wonder how many ninety-niners are raiding the likes of local chains and big boxes for pockets of paper towel strips.

Driving home after one of these dives, we look like pregnant hippies: Mason has all this shit stuffed in his shirt- he drives- and I lift up his heavy pack and stuff more shit underneath it. Thank goodness for one of those, what do you call them? A sissy bar. Or else I’d be in the street, flat, with a pack full of fruit.

Yesterday, Mason unpacked his backpack and found an ant. He said, “We have to take this ant back to his dumpster. This is not his community. We have to take him back.”

“Put him in this jar,” I said. “I’ll put a snack in the jar with him and we’ll drive him back.”

But, the ant died in the jar, because it turns out there was some liquid, probably cleaning fluid, in the jar.

“Your ant died,” I reported to Mason. “And we’re both going to Hell. We are going to Burn. Like. Twigs. Right there in Hell, waiting in line at the AT&T store to fix our phone bill, in line for hundreds of years with the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Oh, yes. Hell. The both of us. With the length of Satan’s boot right up our asses.”

Mason was near tears.

So, today, when we picked up our apples and squash and hot dog buns and all, we were very careful to leave the ants, in their own community.

Eating Out Of Dumpsters: This Year Compared To Last Year

11:07 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Everything in this freezer came from dumpsters. These meats include a large ham roast in the center middle aisle; we removed ice trays to make room.

Eating Out Of Dumpsters: This Year Compared To Last Year

Because site stats at my small website indicate continued interest in the subject of dumpster diving, I am writing this to inform the discussion by continuing to share some of our personal experiences.

Everything in this freezer came from dumpsters. These meats include a large ham roast in the center middle aisle; we removed ice trays to make room.

We continue to observe a declining economy in our experiences with dumpster diving. Six or seven years ago, when I dove out of hobby more than need, I only told a few people what I was doing. Dumpster diving felt wrong, maybe not as wrong as robbing a bank, but at least as wrong as some good Southern sin like skipping church to watch football and covet the neighbor’s wife. Fast forward to 2012: we dive out of need, in the light of day, and we are not alone. Since even seasoned scrappers and dumpster divers are often reluctant to pick up food, I never thought I would see the day when there was great competition for discarded food in the United States, but that is exactly what we have observed.

Last year we joked about eating out of dumpsters and about how much we hate it when people actually put garbage into a dumpster. We asked ourselves why we had waited so long. This year, it is no longer a joke. Our competition is varied, clean and extremely thorough. We have directly observed people picking up food in the middle of the day, and we have varied our routine and reduced our food choices accordingly.

It is now harder to find thrown away fruits, vegetables, and grain products, and we believe that we are observing the direct effects of unemployment as well as…struggles. Not everyone who picks up food, and this includes ourselves, is technically below the poverty level, believe it or not. No one appears disheveled or otherwise compromised, and in some cases, people drive high-end vehicles to dive dumpsters. We believe that we share with a good many others, what one might call ‘borderline.’

Read the rest of this entry →

Out Of The Dumpster And Into The Crock Pot

5:30 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

In a country where nearly forty million daily struggle to get enough food, millions of meals are literally being wasted.

Lost Calories: US trashes $ 1 Bln worth of food (per year, which constitutes 30-50% of produced food)

Please watch this 2 1/2-minute Russia Today clip, which discuses America’s throw away culture even as poverty rises, and features New York and Los Angeles dumpster divers:

Out of the dumpster at 2 PM and into the crock pot at 2:30 PM

This morning for breakfast I had a delicious egg white omelette sandwich, an apple, and coffee. For lunch I ate lean turkey Italian sausage. For dinner, I just finished some delicious leftover crock pot beef stew with sweet onions, spices and red potatoes, that started with Italian salad with caesar dressing. Later on, for desert, I am planning to eat some great big strawberries, because they are in season early due to the unseasonably mild non-climate climate change.

Everything was served on stoneware and eaten with flatware from dumpsters. The coffee brewed in a coffeepot from the dumpster, and currently, in the crock pot, also from a dumpster, is a ham roast so large that even with halving it and trimming it, the lid does not quite fit. After breakfast, I switched from coffee to iced tea; the two drinks I mention here are the only consumable items we purchased. The tea and coffee are always served, of course, in dumpster cups and glasses. Everything else came from the trash. Sometimes for fun, we pull out china and silver plated dinnerware, also from dumpsters, and eat off that.

The ham roast was pulled from the dumpster at 2 PM, and placed into the crock pot at 2:30 PM. We will put the pot on low, and begin eating the roast tomorrow.

To search for the YouTube video from Russia Today (RT), I used a back lit gaming keyboard called a Razer Lycosa, in perfect condition, from a dumpster. The keyboard retails or EBays for $79.99 USD. Then, I listened to the clip with padded Phillips headphones with volume control on the cord, Model SHP 2500, also from a dumpster.

We were beginning to worry. Competition for dumpster food is on the increase as it was with scrapping, which, as you know we quit because the gas was too expensive and the competition for scrap too stiff. By the way, we are saving a fortune in gas on this motorcycle. We do not miss the truck at all.

We know for sure that we have one major new competitor and probably more, at one of our food dumpsters, and while we welcome others who are poor and just now discovering America’s throw away culture, I will say this: Read the rest of this entry →

What We’ve Got Here Is Failure

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Each morning, Mason and I drink coffee and read the news. We do not have TV, and turn on the radio only when we leave, so that our parrot can listen to music. The news is so depressing that I want to jam a pen as far into my eyeballs as I can. After much heated discussion, I decided to share my dumpster diving fail story for a little comic relief.

I have one phobia and one passion. The other day, March 2, they met each other.

I am tornado phobic. This is not a light thing, it is absolutely terrifying, and I have had recurring, almost nightly nightmares about tornadoes since I was five or so, and I think it was related to an incident where a tornado passed over our home in Sedalia, Missouri. I awoke in my father’s arms; he was carrying me to the basement, and I remember hearing a train, only there was no train nearby. I have the nightmares so often that I now just mention them in passing, “I had another one last night. Again.”

We live in Western Kentucky, as you know, and the area is often under tornado watch during tornado season, which I consider to be every single day of the year, so for this and various other reasons, I live in terror much of the time.

Since we have moved here, my phobia has evolved into a sick fascination that I do not really understand, but for example, I follow all the weather people and storm chasers, and I read all the FEMA stuff and watch all the twister videos, and I have adopted a strict fatalistic belief that if a tornado touches down, you are fucked.

I think that hiding in your apartment bathroom is exactly as effective as hiding under the school desk with your head between your knees in the event of global thermonuclear war, like they told us to do in the sixties. What a load. We actually did drills, back in the day. To my utter horror, my son told me that not only is he not afraid of tornadoes, he would like to see one, and after much discussion I even decided that seeing one might be interesting, if it was really far away.

By the way, FEMA says, hold on, let me get this because it’s counter intuitive…Do not get under a freeway overpass during a tornado. Here is FEMA: http://m.fema.gov/tornadoes.htm. Their first bit of information is a massive understatement: “The following are facts about tornadoes:

They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.”

So there’s the phobia.

Then comes the passion. I love dumpster diving and looking for junk. You guys probably know where this is going. Mason and I were at a dumpster on tornado day. Yes. And we had just a ridiculous philosophical argument about life and death right there at the box. At the time, there was just a little light rain, nothing more. Remember, we have no TV, so I had not seen any warnings, but he had. He had seen the warnings on his computer weather bug, which, for some odd reason, I had ignored.

“This is serious,” he says. “This right here. I’m not kidding. It’s everything you are afraid of, and it’s coming at sixty-five miles an hour.”

“Uh-huh, okay,” I say. “And if it touches down right here, I’ll die doing something that I love doing. Have you seen those drapes? They’re beautiful.”

“I am not messing with you. This thing is really dangerous. I swear. I’m taking cover.”

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. This box, that bathroom, none of it matters and we won’t be having this conversation if the thing touches. There is one safe place in this town. The hospital basement. And we don’t have time to get there. End of story. Come on, son.”

“I’m not gonna die with you in a goddamned dumpster. I’m outa here.”

“Enjoy your Darwin bathroom!”

And with that, Mason was gone.

When a natural disaster hits, there is some sort of animal instinct that takes over and tells you exactly what it is, I think, because this is what I learned from the LA earthquake in ’94. BOOM!! And you go, “Shit, that’s an earthquake.”

Well, this tornado did not touch down here, but it passed over, quickly and violently as tornadoes do, and it started with a similar BOOM, where it slammed the door of the dumpster so hard you would have thought a bomb dropped. This was about the same time as the sirens. As I was running through the hail back to find Mason, the animal instinct kicked in and I found myself oddly looking for ‘it,’ like “Where is it?” But then, I remembered a couple of things, like they can be invisible or rain-wrapped or whatever. Others were not so fortunate on that fateful day, where the tornado outbreak was deadly.

Here is FEMA, what to do during a tornado:

http://m.fema.gov/to_during.htm

A sponsor once told me, “Don’t do anything you think of.” I think she was right on that one.

The deadly EF-4 Henryville, Indiana tornado of March 2, 2012. Absolutely terrifying, my heart goes out to victims of these tornadoes.

Pens: Frog Gravy 80

2:18 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Please watch this Cannes Film Festival under-a-minute film:

In jail I had a dream that I retrieved a porcelain doll from a dumpster and sent the doll to my mother, because she loves dolls. The dream came true after my release from prison, nearly two years later. It is called a Granville House doll. Here is a photo of the doll and the accompanying certificate of authenticity (FWIW, I also sent my mother a dumpster-rescued Lladro 1993 limited edition egg in perfect condition, but I did not photograph the egg):

Porcelain dumpster doll

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, Spring, 2008

“There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”
Josephine Hart
-Damage

I have now been in this cement grave for 135 days, with no end in sight. My body hurts so bad from the cold and from the lack of activity that I do not know if I will ever walk right again. To me, Hell is not hot. Hell is cold. Hell is a cold, mean hateful place where people read the Bible.

I try various psychological tactics to keep from disintegrating in irreversible fashion. I try to trick myself into believing that I am in a coma, and that one day, I will emerge from it. But, this trick does not work. I then try to schedule my days just like work days, where I write for eight hours each day with two ten-minute breaks and a lunch. This works a bit better.

I came in here the world’s gentlest person. Now, I have disturbing and gruesome fantasies and thoughts. I want to be mean to some people. Not to the mentally ill or to the children or to the elderly or to the sick. Just the corrupt ones.

I want to seal them in a cement tomb and leave them there to die. But I want to torture them with light and noise and cold and lies and sleep deprivation and insults and crushing joint pain and laughter. I want to beat and pound, and pound and beat on the coffin. I want to feed them rat hairs and filth so that their teeth will rot. I want the inside of their coffin to be full of pee and semen and snot and black mold and hair and pepper spray and dirty water and feces.

God help me, God save me from these thoughts, I cannot help them. I try and try and try to escape my tomb, and I pray for help.

I keep writing, and I ask for God to help me with this. I write with no-shank pens. I water down the ink to make it last. Without ink, I believe, world commerce would collapse, social intercourse would cease, and a lot of people would get hurt.

God currently has me writing about the ‘dog men’ that Christie speaks of. These are some men she knows in town, who, among other seedy business ventures, fight pit bulls, and abuse them, and kill the ones that do not win fights. I also jot some notes about the young boys about town, who look up to and practically worship, the ‘dog men,’ and who aspire to the same entrepreneurial path(s) as them.

Leese, who has completed one poem and is working on a second, has lost her pen and she says, “Where’s my pen? I had two pens and now I don’t have a pen!”

“Did you check under your mat?” I ask.

“Yeah. And I fuckin’ cleaned my bucket.”

“Well, Leese,” says Lea, “It’s not like there’s a fucking pen thief up in here.”

“My kingdom for a pen!” I intercede.

“Fuck you, you old bitch!”

“It’s not worth arguing over. Pens.” says Christie. “Not worth it.”

Lea says, “Every time this fuckin’ pen thing comes up I’m the one ends up without a pen.”

“Why don’t we just get some pens from the guard Sally and be done with it?” I say.

Christie says, “Sally can’t remember what she’s doin’ when she walks down the hall. Took the bitch three weeks to get pens last time.”

When Leese leaves, we find the pen under her bunk.

Meg complains about Leese.

Lea confronts Meg and says, “You sure didn’t have any problem playing up to her to get tobacco. I don’t give a fuck how much tobacco comes under that door, I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for it, Meg.”

“I’m not kissing anybody’s ass for nuthin.’ I paid more for tobacco than she ever did. Bitch took the lighter after she left too, go figure.”

After Meg leaves we are all relieved, and the cell dynamic becomes more peaceful and positive. Meg will last exactly four days before her next arrest and detention, which will amount to a brief bump in the road before she is out getting her boasted-about “dick,” and getting pregnant with her tenth child, who will be born in captivity.

Even though Meg ‘ran’ the cell while she was here, we all voice concern for her after her departure.

Meg has no home. She stays in motels with a man who supports her in exchange for sex. Her twins, the youngest of nine children, at six months old, also live in a motel with another couple. Had the other couple not agreed to take the twins, they would have gone to the State. We do not know if Meg intends to ‘do right’ and regain custody of her children, but we all voice our wishes that she do so.

I look at my notes and realize the vapid nature of the conversation about pens. But then again, we have many such vacuous discussions, because, well, they are all we have, and we can control our discussions, but nothing else in our lives.

At night I dream that I am putting on some nice clothes, but even in the dream I know it’s a dream.

What Not To Take To A Scrapyard

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

“I’ve got about a thousand dollars in my wallet. How much would you like to borrow? Five? Ten?”

Even if I had a thousand dollars in my pocket, I would continue to dumpster dive and scrap. What this country sends to the landfill each day is shameful.

Thank goodness for scrap right now. Since we are open about our scrapping activities that get us by, people often initiate conversation with us. Recently, a man with an excellent full-time job told my husband that he would not be able to get by without supplementing his income with the cash that he gets from recycling scrap metal.

During that conversation, they got to talking about air conditioners.

Before I begin this discussion, if you are new to this subject and curious about just what a scrap metal is, please read this article.

So, let’s begin with air conditioners. These items are very heavy, and they are laden with two money scrap metal elements: copper and aluminum. There is a honeycomb looking structure in an air conditioner that the scrap yard calls a copper-aluminum radiator. These things are worth their weight in gold and, a couple of these things a month can mean the difference between eating and not eating, if you are not already eating for free from the dumpsters. Read the rest of this entry →