“I live from the refuse of others” reads like a metaphorical statement that captures the simplicity of someone's humanity; someone who could describe his independence and his polite means of existence as scavenging. “I live from the refuse of others” is a sentence from Lars Eighner’s “On Dumpster Diving” which brought this strange homeless and jobless author close to our attention.
Many people do great things even in their penurious languish. This great thing is incomparable to the common ‘great’ things wealthy people do. A wealthy man’s daughter goes skydiving and everyone in his circle hears about it. When a poor man affords the market after weeks of “gathering nuts and berries” while scavenging, no one knows.
Lars Eighner’s “On Dumpster Diving” opens our eyes to a homeless person who exists on the street scavenging. Lars Eighner left his job in 1988 after a policy dispute with colleagues. After he left his job, he became homeless more after he invested all he had on his rent. Lars didn’t go scavenging alone. He had a dog, Lizbeth, which proved a worthy companion.
In this story, Lars would love to live a normal life but he could not afford it. He lives on the dumpsters because in there, there are safe things to eat. Things wealthy people throw away. He explains that eating safely from the dumpsters involves the use of common sense for evaluating the condition of what’s found; acquainting oneself with the dumpster of an area, and answering the question as to why a food or any other thing found there is discarded. Taking note of these 3 things will guide a scavenger.
Lars is quite skeptical of canned food although they’re amongst the safest to be found in dumpsters. This is because the modern canning method involves botulism which could render harm to the body of a healthy person when it’s invested with heat. When a companion of Lars questions why he thinks crackers from dumpsters are safe to eat, he becomes angry because he expects that everyone evaluates things for themselves and take responsibility for what happens to their health.
He explained that dry foods such as crackers, cereal, and cookies, even pasta, are free of visible contaminants so far they're dry and available for eating. Further, raw food and vegetables are safe for Lars. This is because the rotten parts are often noticeable and could scrape off to consume the good part. Candies not yet invested with ants are also good as much as chocolate which was discarded because they were discolored.
Lars evaluates food in the dumpsters with a level of confidence. When he began to scavenge pizza from a pizza delivery shop, he waits till the last of the help leaves. This is because, during the day, they receive prank orders, and sometimes when real orders are made, they’re rejected because they are often made with wrong toppings or inappropriately baked. Or sometimes, because it is already cold.
Rejected pizzas like this are a luxury to Lars as he would pull out those pizzas from the dumpster allocated to the pizza shop. During the period, he wrote that he eats both fresh and warm pizza sometimes. There came a time he suspects that the pizza shop help suspected a scavenger, they then stopped disposing of unwanted pizzas.
Therefore, he went to the student environment. During this period, he lived on the streets with his dog, Lizbeth, both eking out a living. In the student environment, he found out that they throw out many good things at the end of a semester, before and after a break and often by midterm. Because of this, Lars had to track the periods by keeping an eye on the academic calendar.
He realized that students throw away good food because it is assumed to be spoiled. He does well to consume peanut butter because it’s often disposed of too. He realized that students throw out a lot of good things because of three things: carelessness, ignorance, and wastefulness. As a scavenger of refuse, he doesn’t like to see things go to waste so he gathers what he needs and leaves what’s good but does not need in the open for his companions.
In student areas, he finds yogurt, cheese, and other staples which are relatively good. He deduced that the students spend daddy’s money and it made them feel at ease to discard these things. Once, he picked a jug of Pat O’Brien, a Hurricane mix. The jug had already been opened but he found out it was still promising and half consumed. He has seen a lot of discarded beverages and spirits and amongst other things he picked was the jug of Pat O’Brien’s mix. He had taken 3 glass cups before he knew it was invested with rum. He hadn’t taken rum before, he just became intoxicated and realized. He confesses that a hot afternoon on the street isn't the best time for intoxication.
Lars wrote that he avoids games, pork, poultry, and eggs because he can’t afford to cook sometimes. However, the fish that is partly good and beef strong enough for consumption is passed to Lizbeth. Also, he avoids home leftovers and restaurant leftovers because they’re often wrapped in the refrigerators for months before eventual discard. This makes those things useless altogether.
Lars consciously wrote of his fear of ethnic food because he can’t possibly evaluate the good from the bad. He wrote about his experience eating them. They sometimes provoke his belly to dysentery at least once in a month.
Lars scavenges by staying on his own until he met companions he could tutor. He realized that a new scavenger is filled with disgusts and self-loathing until he realizes that people discard good things and he may even get greedy gathering them. This is when he does scavenging with pride.
Lars wrote that he gains weight while scavenging. This is because he eats without worrying about where his next meal will come from. His flair for not seeing things go to waste coupled with his interest at scavenging has kept him complacent. He also gathers objects such as pocket calculators, sunglasses, bedding etcetera. Sometimes, he lives on the street, he gathers things needed for November since August because those things are no longer available in Novembers. He notes the timing and he helps himself with whatever he finds.
He also scavenges in poor places. He notes that when the rich disposes perfectly good kiwi fruit, poor people dispose of perfectly good apples. However, he has a sentiment about respecting privacies which is why he doesn’t scavenge individual garbage cans, unlike can scroungers. Scavenging carbage cans take the same effort as scavenging dumpsters which are often for about 20 apartments. He notes that can scroungers scavenge and scatter garbage cans this for the money they could gain selling cans.
Lars is optimistic when he wrote that he longs to leave the road to afford Lizbeth a comfortable old age. As much as Lars expresses a surprising calmness of survival even on dumpsters, it is exciting to know that he reserves no regret. Although he wishes to live a comfortable life, it doesn’t appear as urgent as living in the moment.
While he scavenges, he realizes that people discard outright personal properties like a patient record, diaries, and journals. However, he has learned 2 deep lessons from his time as a scavenger. The first is to take what has value and let go of the rest. If he cannot make use of something or sell them, he doesn't pick them up no matter how significant.
Secondly, he discovered that there is the impermanence of the material being. He realized that mental things stay with us longer than material things. That is, after all, ideas and sentiments stay longer with people than the objects they acquired with the investment of the idea.
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