When we were kids, one of the many interesting places we’d go to play, in addition to the abandoned Brick Yard, the Old School Building, the Big Pond, the Little Pond, the Clay Pitts, Billy Beeton’s, the Haunted Woods and Big Daddy Mountain, was The Dump.
The dump was a wonderful place for kids to play, altogether unattended other than by the homeless man we knew simply as Charlie the Dump Man. Charlie would direct people as to where to dump their unwanted treasure so he could rummage through it and get all the best stuff for himself. He’d sell it at the local service station/military surplus store officially named Carl and Don’s Service but known widely as the Clayton Crescent. Charlie could talk, but I didn’t know it for sure for a long time. It turned out I heard him haggling with Carl over the price of some tools he’d scrounged at the dump, and it seemed he could not complete a single sentence without a cuss word. Instead of the “uh”, “like”, “you know” or “OK?” we often hear today as a device for maintaining your current turn as the speaker who should be listened to, preventing someone else from butting in while you compose your thoughts, he’d use cuss words.
Eventually Carl and Don built for Charlie a tiny, one room cinder block “house” on their property so he could keep an eye on the service station at night and have a place to be out of the weather in winter. When my older brother stole some gas in the middle of the night from a fuel delivery truck for use in his motorcycle, Charlie spied him. Carl called our party line phone the next morning and our mom answered. He didn’t speak to Mom, but asked to speak with my brother.
“You want to come and pay for that gas you stole?” Was all he said. Brother did pay for it of course. That’s the way things were handled. Directly and right now. Today they’d get the cops and the local school involved, and they’d assign you a councillor and send you through weeks of therapy as though there were something wrong with you. Carl was a good man. He’d cuss you out if he needed to, but at that point it was done. He never seemed to hold grudges.
Still we could find the occasional treasure for ourselves at the dump; things Charlie over-looked or didn’t care about. Furniture, the odd article of clothing, flatware, cups and saucers…it was nice. The best thing about the dump though was that you could break things, or shoot all kinds of things, without anyone caring. You could shoot furniture, old cars, jars, cans, glass bottles, appliances, the occasional dead horse. You name it.
It was great. Our favorite targets at the dump of course were the reactive, challenging ones like glass bottles at distance. Our mother would buy us the occasional box or two of .22 “shells” and give them to us with the warning, “now you kids be careful you don’t shoot toward town or toward the highway.” An old car, once the windows and mirrors were shot out, wasn’t all that interesting, as a .22 would only punch little holes in it. A .22 isn’t much against heavy materiel assets. A dead horse would be interesting for a few warn-up shots; “Peewww WHAP! Peewww WHAP! But it’s such a large target it doesn’t present much of a challenge.
When we’d bring stuff home from the dump, our mother, ever the worrier, would often insist on boiling it. It looked plenty clean enough to us after a regular hand-washing.
As I approached my teens, our mother had already taken us on several travel adventures around the American Northwest and down the Pacific coast from Canada to California. She’s always had a need to see places, and when we’d get to one place, she’d be in a hurry to leave and get to the next place. One of my best early childhood memories was waking up in a sleeping bag on the ground, I know not where, in a new and bright place somewhere near a highway at a service station or some such in early summer to see a quiet sunrise and smell the morning air. No thought or sense of anything else; just a sense of wonder. And peace. Another one was eating canned potatoes and Spam in a primitive cabin in Yellowstone Park, and one of my brothers cracking a leather whip at dawn in the dew, “Snap!” and a little cloud of moisture showing up in the sunlight around the cracker as it went super sonic.
But there were no dumps to scrounge and play in during our travels. Not that we visited anyway. Our mom didn’t necessarily have the best taste in picking destinations.
And so I came up with the idea of the Portable Dump; an invention which you could take with you in compact form on your travels, and you could reconstitute it to a full-sized dump so the kids would have a place to play. I never did pursue it though as there were some not insignificant technical challenges involved.
In 1978 I moved to Idaho with my oldest brother (the gas thief) to start a musical instrument repair business. I was somewhat dismayed to find that the local “land fills”, as they call them here, are not open for general rummaging, exploring, shooting, having fun and whatnot, but instead are filled over with earth on a regular basis so no one has access to anything. They are very insistent about it too, the stingy bastards. What a colossal waste. Don’t they know what they’re doing? What is a kid supposed to do for fun? You kick them out of the dumps and they have little to do at that point but get into mischief in town. It gave me a vague sense of injustice. When I came back and discovered that our beloved Clayton Dump has been similarly filled over, I knew it had to be the work of a sinister conspiracy, and that gave me a sense of loss.
Rather than Midnight Basketball, which can be dangerous, can result in social conflicts and involves kids staying up too late, I submit that we explore the feasibility of re-opening our nations dumps to recreation and rummaging (R&R) as soon as possible. I think it could go a long way toward fixing the country by revitalizing and reinvigorating the discouraged and troubled youth.
A dump to play in is like having a Disneyland in every community. It allows kids to explore, make a mess without getting into trouble, learn some current anthropology (we were sometimes astounded at the perfectly good things people would throw away) and develop a healthy immune system. There’s hardly anything better.