‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ blaring from the Good Humor truck trolling our neighborhood got me salivating for a popsicle. Another sound that got me running as a youngster was the single note, BLAT, of the junk man’s horn and his dreary old horse dragging a spoke-wheeled wagon through our alley. Recycling made easy. We didn’t have to schlep dead appliances and paint cans to the community recycling center on a certain day for no reward beyond the glow of environmental good stewardship. Nor did we have to pay for recycling service with a yellow-lidded bin at the curb once a week. Just the opposite, the wizened collector met us at the backyard fence with the offer of money for old rags, newspapers, bottles and anything else that might be repurposed. We kids took care of two-cent pop bottle deposits at the corner store on our own initiative. But other ‘stuff’ might earn a few pennies dredged from the dusty pocket of the itinerate salvage man.
Later in life, I experienced the call of the wild—plunged into lakes, hiked up mountains, peered down canyons. But as a kid in the bowels of Eastside Detroit there was nothing like the draw of alleys for shortcuts, hide-and-seek, and the search for abandoned treasures. There was a limit, however, a certain scorn, for avid scavengers who took too much pleasure in rescued ‘gems.’ We called them alley pickers. I mean, there is a limit!
Years of exposure to museums, digs reported in National Geographic, documentaries with letters, photos and relics from the past makes me wonder if there is a connection between a kid bringing a rusty roller skate home and an archeologist bringing a fossil to his lab. Is there shared social/historical value in a found artifact for both of them? Or is it simply hoarding—knee-jerk braking and turning at the glimpse of a Yard Sale sign? A way of finding a use for useful things? Addiction to bargains? Maybe an overdeveloped survival gene to squirrel and stash, to stock my cave.
Whatever…I still can’t stroll past a Goodwill outlet or the local Cancer Center resale and not feel a tug to save something ‘still good’ from the land fill? Or maybe I harbor a secret itch, deep in my DNA, to be digging for the missing link in the Olduvai Gorge. Ha!