There was a time, early in my dumpster diving and scavenging career 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 the place 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 people with lives 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; There is one who probably 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 matching and complete for everything. 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 open and shut just 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; drink designer cups of coffee with all the right people in all the right places; 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 wanderering 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 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 on the fourth of July asking complete 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. For example, where where I live, right on the main road in the middle of town, in a grassy area, are some graves. You can drive by this a thousand times and never even come close to noticing them. I noticed the graves, because I am living and noticing and not just reacting to the latest crisis.
I do not judge people anymore. I am just fine, being who I am, and being poor. It is more than enough.