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Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. Let me tell you a brief story of something nice, really quick. This little story will cleanse the palate, and then we’ll forge on.

On a baking-hot afternoon last week, I rode my bike up University Avenue. A man pushed a cooler cart emblazoned with images and names of icy treats like “Daffy Duck Taffy Pop!” and “Cherry Creamsicle!” I stopped my bike and fished around in my back pocket, only to discover I’d left my wallet at home. I asked how much a “watermelon Bomb Pop!” was and hunted for change.

When he said, “One dollar twenty-five, my friend,” my palm turned over, filled with pocket gatherings, and revealed five quarters. Incredible providence!

If you’ve never had one, let me tell you, a watermelon Bomb Pop descends to Earth on little pink wings of sweet goodness. Mine was so frosty it stuck to my lips at first but, as it melted, offered itself up to me in the form of sugary juicy love. After our divine encounter, I set the watermelon Bomb Pop’s stick and wrapper in a nearby trash can, without touching the receptacle.

That’s my little story of Everything That Went Right and Nothing Gross Happened. Feel better? Now, let’s get to the nasty stuff. (I promise to use sensitivity.)

Back to the Dumpsters. These particular Dumpsters surprised me. They were shorter than the normal ones. The edge of the Dumpsters behind my apartment building were probably collarbone height, but those we first encountered with the freegans that night might have reached the waistband of my jeans.

“Our” Dumpsters also weren’t gut-wrenchingly disgusting inside. Gusts from the nearby coast delivered scents of seaweed and salt; the area was not at all “Dumpster-y” smelling. Before we’d gone out, I’d steeled my constitution in preparation for the worst. Really, I hadn’t needed to be so uptight. Inside, the metal walls of the bins were dusty but not horrendous and offensive. You wouldn’t want to bend over the lip of the thing at your waist with your mouth open and drag your tongue around, but the interiors weren’t slime covered and reeking of forgotten meat as I had imagined they would be.

Looking into the bins, I saw that there wasn’t much in them. Two stood completely empty, one had inconsequential papers in it, and only one had anything of any use to anyone: random wilted fruits and vegetables along its floor. I popped my finger into my mouth and extracted it, holding it up. Testing for wind velocity and barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity, I concluded the air was just right for shopping at D-Mart. I grabbed the edge, leaned over, and swung myself in.

“I got a plant!” one of the guys exclaimed.

Tom took the little brown plastic cube with the green sprout out of the top and inspected it. “Dude,” he said, “you can take this home if you’d like, but it’s a shamrock. Shamrocks are basically free. This is a weed.”

Dejected, the other young man replaced the plant in the bin.

Casey hustled to the van to retrieve milk crates we’d brought along with us, while everyone else took seats along the Dumpster edge, our legs inside.

“Get the gloves too,” I yelled. I had brought a bag of latex gloves along. They sat on a seat bench in the van, but they seemed prissy to me now as I stood in an almost empty and practically clean receptacle with four guys who had spent two weekends per month of the last six years in real gunk up to their ankles. “Uh, never mind,” I called to Casey.

She brought the bag of gloves anyway. “You want these, Alice?”

“Too late now, isn’t it,” I said and held my hands up. What I wanted to say was “Psssh! I’m super tough!” but I didn’t. I put the bag of gloves in the front pocket of my sweatshirt. We all bobbed down and picked at things.

“Why am I putting these artichokes into this box?” Tom asked rhetorically. “This box is sickening.” I didn’t dare look inside the cardboard box he had across his lap. He removed the artichokes from it and placed them in the milk crate Casey set on the edge of the Dumpster next to where Tom sat.

We filled the crate with everything we had then exited the can. After editing out some produce that had decidedly joined the dark forces, the haul was complete and we took inventory. “What do we have here?”

“Four artichokes; five bell peppers; and one watermelon.”

“And a shamrock,” one of them said and dropped the small brown container with the lucky weed into the Milk Crate o’ Treasure.

“Kind of a crappy haul,” I said. “We drove about 15 miles in a Volkswagen bus to get here…let’s see, that’s about…” I wanted to figure out how much fuel we’d consumed in our pursuit of four brown artichokes smeared in red gelatinous goo. The guys stopped me before I had it calculated.

“We know,” one said. “It doesn’t work out sometimes. We’ve had a lot of bad luck lately. It doesn’t even pay to do it anymore.”

They felt bad about the pitiful load. They wanted to show us, the newcomers, that it wasn’t a wasted pursuit. Casey and I wanted to believe that what they were doing made a difference. But there it sat, a watermelon and an armload of wilted vegetables in a milk crate, our vessel of disappointments, small and illuminated by embarrassing parking-lot light.

“So why do you do it?” Casey asked. “For the chicks?”

“That’s the running joke,” Tom said. “Matter of fact, you’re the first one.”

“We’ll try one other place,” the driver of the van said. “Nobody’s ever found it, but we might tonight. It might pan out.”

We loaded the Crate o’ Sad Plunderings into the van and embarked. We rattled out of the lot and onto the road. Streetlights and palm trees whizzed past in the navy blue night, and the guys talked of our potential next target. It existed in rumor only. Friends of friends knew people who worked at this grocery chain, and the rhapsody unwound about the freshness and cleanliness of the offerings. To hear the tale you’d think this grocery outlet stopped just short of setting out café tables with napkins and silverware for their fresh, hot, complimentary comestibles.

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Comments

Ollie June 27, 2008 @ 8:25 a.m.

This story was better before Ernie Grimm, editor and opera singer, hacksawed it apart and Krazy Glued it together while scratching his head and making fart noises with his lips like an orangutan. At his next opera performance, I want my fans to throw rotten fruit and trash. Luckily, I know just the spot to pick some up.

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Casey June 27, 2008 @ 12:21 p.m.

Settle down, cowboy. It's still very good. Put your pants back on and get your Smurfs VHS ready....I'll warm the gin.

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Josh Board June 27, 2008 @ 4:02 p.m.

A comment for both Ollie and Ernie.

Ernie, have you heard the song "Opera Sing" from Cake? It's awesome.

Ollie, as a writer, I can feel your pain. But I'm curious. And, I'm sure the editors would have no objections to this (if they do, they can just delete). I've been disappointed with some edits on a few of my pieces. Sometimes, when it was YO DJ pieces, since local DJs are expecting one thing, and if their words come out slightly different, they can be seriously P.O'd. So, a few times, I've posted on this website, the full length of what they had to say.

So, why don't you...right here, post (in 25 different segments, if that's what it takes) your original version. And, we can read it in all it's glory.

As the piece is now, though, I gotta say, it was a good read. My girlfriend and I were cracking up reading it at Subway the other day. We'd go back and forth with things like "Hey...did you get to the part where...."

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pete78 June 27, 2008 @ 6:27 p.m.

That was a great story Oliver...Your bike ride story was entertaining as well. Where did you meet these D-Mart shoppers? Did you put an ad on Craigslist or something? I bet these kids probably have some diseases by now.

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Ollie June 27, 2008 @ 6:40 p.m.

Josh, it's not that bad. I was just teasin' Señor Grimm.

Pete, Casey found them online. I think she found our guys on Myspace.

Thanks to both of you for reading.

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pete78 June 27, 2008 @ 6:54 p.m.

Ollie, Were these guys hipster/scenester kids?

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Ollie June 27, 2008 @ 7:29 p.m.

Not really. Although, the older I get the harder it is for me to tell.

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Liza June 29, 2008 @ 9:18 a.m.

Ollie-You captured the humorless piety of the Freegans perfectly. I work in a small company that promotes "team spirit" by forcing me attend a potluck in a windowless room once a month with my colleagues. At one point we had one Freegan, two Vegans and one Vegetarian on our "team". You can imagine how much fun they are to dine with! I really tried. No eggs, no meat, no cheese, no cane sugar, no honey. But I refuse to pull wilted foodstuffs out of trash bins. After enduring their scorn (and water-based sauces) for yet another year, I give up. For our next "party" I'm either going to schedule a root canal or make deviled eggs.

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Ollie June 29, 2008 @ 12:13 p.m.

Liza, thanks for reading and commenting. Honestly, our guys were very funny and had a good sense of humor, especially about being kind of grubby. Tom is a charismatic young man who will do well at whatever he chooses once he's out of his live-poor lifestyle.

Good luck with your collection of finicky coworkers. Perhaps just leave half a bag of Fritos in the conference room at all times. It's corn, oil, salt, and free. Done.

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BadToenails July 1, 2008 @ 9:01 a.m.

... typical whining about editors ... stopit

  1. What happened to the gloves?

  2. Is the sweatshirt a loss, or what?

  3. Who is "Alice?"

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Josh Board July 2, 2008 @ 12:26 a.m.

I remember being at a pot luck somewhere about a year ago, and this guy put on his reading glasses. He examined this delicious looking cake very closely. He then asked the ingredients in it. Since I can't cook for crap, I had a girlfriend make it. I had to call her on my cell phone. As she's rattling off the ingredients, he's telling me why he can't eat certain things. One item he's allergic to. Another item, because he's a Vegan. It went on and on, without 15 items he couldn't eat. Since I didn't know the crowd all that well, I merely told him what the ingredients were. What I wanted to say was, "Dude, if you are that picky about what you eat, then it's not everyone elses responsibility to bring a recipe book with them and their dishes. Just don't eat anything that doesn't look kosher or whatever. Stick to the slice of bread and the 2-liter of Pepsi."

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uncleleo July 2, 2008 @ 11 a.m.

Dear Editor & Readers:

Am I the only one who found this story juvenile and lacking substance? It was as if the whole piece was saying "ewww boogers!" while these two little kids went around playing in trash cans. There isn't really any humor in people being afraid of germs. I mean, there might be. But not here. The humor comes off as ignorant and pompous.

"Excuse me, homeless man, you're going to get Hep C by going through that trash bin. Ewwwwww boogers!"

Also, what happened to the food? Did the freegans cook up a feast? And why didn't our fearless author and her Babysitter's Club pal eat with them? Was this just bad editing or just poor writing?

Furthermore: I was really excited to read this article when I picked up this issue last week. I mean, I like free stuff and I'm not scared of the fantasy world of germs. And I like adventure. But there was nothing here. I just felt like picking my nose and eating it. Alas.

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towelheadedcameljockey July 3, 2008 @ 10:18 a.m.

AJ's Playhouse (93.3) mentioned this cover story on their radio show this morning. They said they sent out one of the guys who works there on a dumpster diving mission because he was inspired by this cover story on the Reader. They went on about Freegans then connected with the guy going diving and had him descibe what he found. I switch stations. He was in back of an In N Out descibing all the half eaten food he found.

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lucky2liveNtheMidwest July 7, 2008 @ 2:35 a.m.

I have to agree with uncleleo about this story being sophomoric and disappointing. Even considering that the dumpsters in San Diego seem to be light years away from the treasure trove of goodies I find on a daily basis in my midwestern city, the prissy attitude of the 'journalists' was far from professional.

I am so grateful that my suburban home is filled with fresh roses, gourmet bread and pastries, organic vegetables, and imported fresh raspberries etc. etc. and all from very clean dumpsters with handy doors on each side so I never even have to lean over to partake of the bounty. No smell, no goo, and not even the remote possibility that I would ever have to climb inside.

I dress like the suburban housewife that I am to do my undirty deeds and have gone from a $900 budget down to $280 a month for all food and gasoline for a family of three adults.

I suppose if a person is foolish or shortsighted enough, they might enjoy throwing their money out of the car window as they whiz down the freeway towards their next purchase of a $5 latte at Starbucks. A goodly portion of my gray matter would have to shrivel and die before I'd choose that option over 'diving for dinner'.

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Ollie July 8, 2008 @ 6:33 a.m.

Midwest, I take particular offense at your personal attack and name-calling: I'm certainly not a (gah!) "journalist".

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