I have a confession to make…I like to dumpster dive. Actually, to be more specific, I have a gene, passed down from my father, and his father (and maybe for generations before them) that compulses me to stop when I see people throwing things away – and search through their items for some “treasure” that they are mistakenly disposing of.
Mind you, I have never found said treasure, nor have I felt particuraly comfortable in possessing this protein mutation that permeates my dna and forces the “what if” question whenever I see a untamed pile of rubbish. I often sheepishly go and look, sometimes even cajoling my wife into doing the “dirty” work if the crowd around the bounty is large and through my own paranoia assuming that they are watching with a disdainful eye (well – they probably are). Btw – she never gives in…and in fact has started her own reverse psychology, tantalizing/tormenting my inner bravado to go and plunder – even though her view is “hey, if they don’t want it, why the hell would I want their shit?”. Also, she feels that I am crazy for wasting my time – but that is another story for another day.
So, it should be no surprise that I decided to swoop across the street to the apartment building, who for the 6th time in the last six months is deposting a large amount of trash on the street. The first couple of times could be explained – there was a fire that pretty much gutted the top floor of the place. During those two purges, I only looked from our apartment down to see if their was anything of note in those scorched remains – realizing the bad presence (or joujou) of dd (dumpster diving) when someone else is experiencing misfortune (thankfully no one was hurt or displaced – it was small and contained, but produced a hell of a lot of garbage).
A change has occured with the last four “piles o’ treasure”. Looking down from my kitchen window, one particurally sunny Saturday morning, I felt a little giddy at the bonaza of junk suddenly accumulating. I went for a jog – doing my regular route in the chateau, and on the way back, I ‘non-chalanted’ my way over to the pile. Mind you, this is a very social thing in Versailles. There were probably 5-10 people already milling about, and many more passerbys who looked, but quickly ascertained that a stop to rifle did not justify their descension from bourgeouise-dom.
Right away, I found an old version of Operation – the game where it would buzz you as you tried to take bones out of a androgynous cadavear. Good condition, all the pieces there, and the piece de resistance…it was the french version of the game – Docteur Maboul! Literally translated, it means “a vagina doctor”. Actually, thats not true at all, but you should look it up when you have a chance.
Some other cool old mags from the 70’s and a ton of clothes. I was kind of po’d that they didn’t bring the clothes to the red cross, but after looking at them, I could see that they were in fashion between Aug 15th, 1951 and March 8th, 1952, and had a “throw-me-away” air to them.
So Dr. Maboul ended up being the big pickup, which I ran back upstairs with, to a “Oh great” (heavily weighted with sarcasm) from my wife. “More shit, huh?”
How could she say this? This was not shit, no, not at all. In fact, this was the antithesis of shit. This was …uh… a clean toilet? Anyway, I showed her it was Operation, which she did warm up to (as would anyone born between 1960 and 1980) and then showed her the mags, which also received the shit label (maybe she was right about that).
“So that belonged to the old guy?” my wife inquired. I shrugged. The old guy was a man who lived directly across from us, obviously old, who would see us through the window as he closed the shutters each night, but never acknowledge us. He was like a grandfather that we didn’t talk to.
“I don’t know. Why do you think that is his stuff?” I replied, looking over to see a lot more activity through his windows, as at least 3 people were cleaning and moving things in his apartment. “You don’t think??” I stood there looking shocked. Even though the old guy was not someone we knew, we felt like we knew him. During the summer he would have friends over and they would open the windows and play classical music. He had his routine every night at 7pm with the shutters. We would see him in the marche, and as always, he would not acknowledge us. We knew him, but we didn’t.
“I think so, hon. Maybe they moved him into a home.” I contemplated on this, and shook my head. “They probably wouldn’t be doing this type of cleaning if that was the case” I replied. “Thats too bad. We won’t have old guy to not say hello to anymore.”
Surprisingly, to me, I was disappointed. The loss (and yes – he must have passed on – his apartment is now completely empty) of this man who we didn’t know, but had a connection to, was all to real for me. The worst part about it was, looking down from the window, his legacy, for those who didn’t know him, was a large pile of trash being sifted through by his neighbors and passerbys.
I don’t doubt that there were many other memories or mementos that his family and friends were able to rescue before the purge, yet, too everyone else this was it. Actually, to most others, the passerbys, the neighbors who couldn’t see the apartment, this was probably a pre-emptive spring cleaning – nothing as extraordinary as a life passing. It was not as if this person didn’t have friends, in fact, his apartment appeared to be an active place, and the cleaning crew over the last few days was at least 4 strong.
People come and go everyday – so many so in this burgeoning populace of ours (6 billion and counting) that the number of people that we will never meet far exceeds the number that we do. I have a separate theory which branches off that idea. Essentially, each day of our lives, we will see a different person that we have never seen before, and that we will never see again. So why, I keep wondering, does this one not so random person, who only existed in the shadows of my life, leave me thinking existenialist-esque (sp?) questions about what the purpose of life is.
Now, I cannot quote Camus – in fact I only read The Stranger once 20 years ago without much recollection, but this would be an apropos time to do so. That is my next book after Friedman’s “The World is Flat” – which doesn’t help at all now, so I digress for nothing more than digression’s sake.
Here is the absurdity of it all. There is a 93 year old woman in our building who we are friends with, who has shared stories of her life experiences with us (including a fascinating Christmas dinner with her family), and until yesterday, we weren’t sure if she was still with us, as her apartment had been shuttered for a month or so (normal in France when talking a vacation). I somehow am ok with this. I’ve met her, she has shared with us, and even if she had sadly left us, I still would have reflected and said that this woman left her mark on the world. In fact, i would say that same sentence about many people that have come and gone, that I have never met, so clearly … this circle of life’s purpose does not need my inclusion. No, the absurdity of it all is the happiness I felt before i realized what exactly made up that trash pile I sorted through.
The rubbish became less than garbage to me, it became a terrible effigy for a life that had to mean more…
Sadly, I write this as if an epiphonous light has suddenly illuminated by conscious, that I am now living each day differently, but that is not the case. The significance is lost on me, because I can’t ascertain why this one man, this person whom I never discussed great books with, or never watched the six-nations rugby tournament in the company of, or cat-called like brothers at the spandex-clad ladies jogging the streets of Paris from May to September, has made me think of what mark to make in this world.
So, like many things in life, there is no answer, there is no sitcom resolution. The trash has been taken away, his apartment empty and shutters bound tight – yet those summer nights that music poured out of his apartment are still here. He still walks the market on Sunday’s with the small basket of fruit that I spied numerous times on his table by the window. But he is gone…never to close the shutters once more as dusk approaches.
I guess there is some bliss in ignorance…in not knowing where the trash comes from. I wonder if it would be different if I had met him just once?