It's been over a year of residencies, sublets and couch crashes, and it's time to get my own digs. I hunt tenaciously, determined to find a place rife with sunlight, privacy, built-ins and garden space, garnished with hardwood floors, cheap rent and a month-to-month lease. While my hard work pays off, the excitement of finding a groovy Santa Fe studio quickly dwindles in light of all the things I realize I don't have to fill it.
Panic sets in.
I ponder getting my security deposit back because the thought of stocking an entire apartment with supplies seems way too daunting, and Target's yucky. It's not just the bad overhead lighting and the trashy magazines at the registers that make corporate shopping houses so excruciating; it's more what they stock and how it's all made and what it portends in the great, grand scheme of consumptive global strain. But opting for homelessness makes even less sense. So I suck it up and put my faith in my community, and their garage sales.
It's piecey and it's slow, but it's working. I nab a set of knives, a wooden spoon and a pair of pliers for all of $2. I find a two-person cotton hammock that, when combined with the Guatemalan caftan I spy draped over a coyote fence, costs me $5.
Seeing little in the way of household supplies at a massive elementary school rummage sale, I beeline for the books. Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease DVD series catches my eye. The shrink-wrapped case blurb promises not only an optimal low-impact workout, but popular stripper moves, to boot. Sold, I reach for the rest, only to discover an elderly woman stacking them into her frail, liver-spotty arms.
"Trade you Lap Dance for Hip Hop," I say.
"No, that's alright."
Her husband approaches, as she quickly explains: "They're gifts."
Sure they are, I think.
"Are you sure you don't want Lap Dance?" I nudge. "I think you two would have a blast learning some new moves together."
She protests, while her husband snatches Lap Dance out of my hand and bolts before I can change my mind.
It's been a fruitful couple weeks, but my apartment is still missing some major elements, and I'm not sure how to fill 'em in without dropping a buttload of cash on that aforementioned mass-produced sweatshop-crafted crap you couldn't pay me to buy.
I remember the computer guy at work—a St. John's student—saying something about finals. Eureka! School's out. Freshmen are abandoning their dorms. I'm about to hit the mother lode.
I recruit my friend Jake, because he's handy and rugged and won't judge me for sifting through trash. He meets me at a local college, which will remain nameless only because I might want to go back and get some more goodies. By the time he gets there, I've already collected a desk lamp, a hair dryer, a set of bowls and a stripey ceramic mug. Balancing on the edge of a massive dumpster in which Jake precariously plods, I point to a mop, a mirror, a zillion pillows and dozens of mattress pads begging to be turned into soundproofing technology. There's so much stuff! I leap in and join him, tearing open trash bags full of hangers and sketchpads and unwrapped tampons and condoms, and several never-read copies of Write to Read.
It's thoroughly ridiculous how much perfectly useful stuff is taking up space in the dumpster—one of about a dozen on campus that are filled to the brim with careless co-ed toss-aways, biding their time before being carted off to a Nevada landfill. Jake finds a DVD player. I dig out a Dustbuster. There are unopened boxes of pens, pencils, maxipads and razors. Bedding up the ass! Trash baskets, shelves, chairs, televisions, lots of televisions—not that I want a television, but still…it's free shit!
I'm tossing first aid kits and cleaning supplies over the side, as Jake balances boxes of light bulbs on the edge, while we continue to sift, peeking out every so often to see if campus security has spotted us, while flushing our story lest we get caught:
"Our sister left something here…" Jake says, trailing off.
"Too vague!" I scold. "Your sister accidentally threw her Dustbuster base away."
"Simple and specific," he surmises. "Better."
While loading the stuff in our cars, I realize one of my treasures is missing.
"Did you see that black T-shirt?" I ask.
"Seriously?" challenges Jake, face contorted in squinty disgust. "You really wanted that?"
I stare him down—he who holds a Sonic toothbrush in one hand and a fitted full sheet, probably sperm-drenched, in the other.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I say. "Have I crossed a boundary? Have I finally hit 'disgusting' after our last hour spent crawling through a dumpster?"
We're still laughing when we get to MuDu Noodles to celebrate our haul. We haven't showered—we haven't even changed—but we're cherished regulars, and it's Santa Fe, where sports sandals and sweats abound, and everyone always looks a little desert dusty.
We're finishing our entrees when we confide in our favorite waiter that we've just come from an epic dumpster-diving excursion. It turns out our waiter's boundary is even shorter and less malleable then Jake's. He backs away from the table, mortified.
"Another world view shattered," says Jake.
"Our work here is done," I conclude, thoroughly satisfied with our mission, and my new houseful of community rubbish.