Trashy Treasures

August 16, 2006

A few weeks back, my man and I took our son to Urban Ore, one of the nonprofit organizations that deal with Berkeley’s waste. They have a contract with the city to salvage items being unloaded at the transfer station and to haul them away for resale. They pull doors and toys and tables and records and clothes and bathtubs and lamps and god-know-what out of the heap of cast-offs and fill a giant warehouse with the pickin’s. It’s a filthy place and vultures like me love it.

Many months ago, I came across this essay by Beth Lisick, who happens to be a great local storyteller. She finally made sense of my predilection:

Besides looking like the sort of thing Elton John might have coughed up in the ’70s, it was also a metaphor for the state of my closet, which had begun to take on an exhausted, grotesque feel over the years. How did this happen? How did my wardrobe become a sad little carnival of dirty outlaws and unstable eccentrics? Easy: I am one of those women who has never liked to shop. I only liked to scavenge.

I’m not sure how this came about; perhaps it was the copious, ripped and dusty dress-up clothes of my youth or the basements full of weird shit that I could freely employ in my child’s play. Maybe it was years of modest income that drove me to Goodwills and Salvation Armies, or my taste in music, which dovetailed with a thrift store aesthetic. Maybe, just like the soccer mom pacing the mall, I liked the hunt!

All along, the fun had not just been about discovering that avocado green hand-knitted mock turtleneck sweater and then purchasing it for the price of a hot dog; it was about wanting to take something home that nobody else wanted, something unique that had been consciously discarded.

Jude crawled out of the car at Urban Ore like he was an astronaut landing on the moon, peering around full of awe. He trotted down every aisle, pointing, touching, wondering aloud. He tried on some women’s shoes. He pushed some battered metal Tonka trucks. (Will waxed nostalgic for the dangerously sharp metal versions since now they’re all plastic.) Finally he zeroed in on a huge rusty liberty bell parked by the entrance and spent the last ten minutes heaving against it to get its clapper wagging. We had to pry him from this bell, his t-shirt and palms smudged with filth.

And a new generation of scavenger was born…