Columns » Chris Rose

Secondhand Rose



I've been in this business long enough to know how editors work. So I know this column will have a headline or some other teaser that reads along the lines of: "Confessions of a Dumpster Diver." (Editor's note: Guess again, Rose.)

  Very postmodern. "Confessions of ... " always arouses the prurient instincts of the public; it's so HBO, so very ... Twitter. But, in this case, it would be erroneous.

  It would be erroneous because the word "confession" connotes some sort of shame or fault in the mind of the story teller. And I've been told I have no shame by folks who are experts on the subject.

  I am not ashamed of what I do. I sort through your trash. And I love it.

  Some folks knit. Some golf. Some go to garage sales. (Which is nothing but glorified — and overpriced — dumpster-diving, in my opinion.) Why pay for something when you can wait months and months for it to eventually show up on a curbside?

  Some folks do crosswords. Some are hunters. And me: I am a gatherer.

  The desk where I sit as I write this. The chair I sit in. The little metal table on wheels that holds my notes beside me: These things might have belonged to you — who knows?

  Maybe you sat in this chair. Maybe it gave you the muse like it does for me. (But then, of course, you wouldn't have put it on a heap of trash on your curb, would you?)

  I wait for the day some visitor comes to my house and exclaims: That was my desk lamp! (Yep, the cool little kids' desk light, made of wood, in the shape of an old-time cowboy. It's adorable. All it needed was a decent lampshade. And a little love.) My house — it's filled with Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

  Your mother never should have thrown out that lamp. And no, you can't have it back.

  Maybe I do this because I am thrifty and crafty. Maybe it's because I have a natural eye for aesthetics that normal folks are not blessed with. Maybe it's the environmentalist in me.

  Then again, maybe it's because I have spent much of my life living paycheck to paycheck, weighing the option of spending my last 40 bucks on a desk lamp — or cover charge and couple of Abitas at the Maple Leaf.

  Yes, it could be that.

  New Orleans is a dumpster diver's paradise. Everything here is so old. Old and wooden. With seven layers of paint.

  What I search for is most often just plain, simple wooden stuff — the kind of furniture you see in the corners of old Van Gogh paintings. The elements of the hoi polloi. A little crooked, a little weary. A little bent, but not broken.

  Junk. It speaks to me.

  Some of the odd bits I find I use as canvases for artwork — another 40 bucks for Trombone Shorty! Some is just plain weird stuff that I hang on my fence outside, my decorating style being informed by Sanford & Son more than, say, Pottery Barn.

  Unless the pottery is chipped, of course. Then you throw it out. And I pick it up.

  What brings all this to mind is that the prime harvesting season has just ended in my neighborhood in Uptown. When the college students pack up for summer and blow town, they leave troves of stuff on the sidewalks at night.

  The end of the school year for a dumpster-diver is like spawning season for the Alaskan salmon fisher. It's almost too easy. I bring home a fresh catch just about every day this time of year. And, best thing: There's no limit.

  To my stuff.

  To my joy.

  To my shame.


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