Latest uncomfortable experience: dumpster diving. First thing to note: “dumpster diving” is legal in the US except by local regulation. A Supreme Court ruling back in the 80s declared that if someone throws something away, that item is now the public domain and fair game for snatching. As a general rule for the practice of being uncomfortable, too, I never do anything illegal or that is physically harmful. In this case, I took a pair of sturdy gloves because who knew what I would find. And, to be clear: this seemed like a pretty gross and also awkward activity to do, so it was definitely on the uncomfortable list.
There were many things I learned in this experience, so let me dive in (ha): Perhaps the biggest lesson in this experience, which I’ve also learned in several other of these uncomfortable experiences, is that there is an art, a finesse, and even a skill to doing a seemingly "easy" or "simple thing. (See my panhandling and silent meditation experiences as two examples.) For instance, the time of day you go will can be correlated to your “success rate,” so it’s best to go in the early morning or after the dinner rush if you’re trying to find edible goods. I went around 9am on a Sunday morning, hoping to fetch whatever was left from late night clubs and restaurants about Pacific Beach.
Another key lesson here, again like former experiences: there’s a whole entire world organized around dumpster diving that I had little idea about. I knew and have seen plenty of “binners,” people who pick out metals or recyclable goods that they turn in for cash, often as a means to survive poverty. But I didn’t know there were whole internet personas and online groups that chatted about tips and their prizes from dumpster diving, some for sport and others for environmental reasons. Then there’s a whole realm of identify thieves that pick through your trash to find any intel or personal identification info. Long story short: dumpster diving is a vast and varied practice across the world.
My goal on Sunday morning: find something I’d actually want to consume. Net result: I found a banged up green apple and about a dozen soggy chips. As I mentioned, there’s a skill to this, and I haven’t honed it at all yet. The first thing I did was suss out and find dumpsters. Note: I only went for actual dumpsters-those big industrial ones, not people’s individual trash bins they roll out to the curb. You know how when you’re looking for a certain kind of car and then you keep seeing it everywhere? That’s what it was like-I hadn’t realized how MANY dumpsters were all over Pacific Beach, some right in front of actual restaurants, some lined up within parking lots, and others just randomly placed about.
Despite thinking that I was in some mecca of dumpsters, I soon realized was that there are an array of dumpster types. Some are locked. Some are for landscape clippings, and some are just for recycling. Given the 20 or so that I looked in, I’d say only a quarter of them were able to be opened or had remnants of food.
Probably 10 or so dumpsters in, I was getting less bashful about the fact that I was rolling up to dumpsters and flinging open the tops like a bargain shopper at Marshalls. I was on a mission, and really, I just didn't care. As usual from these experiences (minus the ones when I’ve been on a stage), people also don’t care about what you’re up to when you seem confident in whatever you're doing. This is both troubling and liberating for various reasons. At the 10th dumpster, I propped up the top and was convinced I found the mother lode. Inside this dumpster were heaps of tied clear bags, most likely from a restaurant kitchen. There was one bag of shrimp ends, another of vegetable stems, a real nasty big bag of heavy brown sand-like material (which I still can’t hope to label), discarded cartons of food items, hundreds of egg shells, and a bunch of take out boxes. The smell and flies were disgusting to say the least. Still, I felt confident I could dig up some left over taco or burrito bits. After 30 minutes of digging, I came up empty handed but for the chips and apple. Another 10 or so dumpsters later, I still just had just the chips and apple. Honestly, I was surprised by this. And that’s the other lesson to perhaps here:
Maybe there’s a reason we don’t see dozens of people lining up at dumpsters to do this kind of work (at least in America). Maybe it yields so little, is so disgusting, or is so belittling that people just stay away from it and would rather ask for handouts or beg for money if the goal is to get a meal. Yet maybe I was in the wrong area at the wrong time. Maybe I gave up at 20 dumpsters when I should have gone for 30. It’s hard to tell, and at least now I know there’s a whole realm of dumpster diving I just barely started in on. Despite all the maybes, this was a valuable uncomfortable experience.