Dumpster Diving in Dystopia

We cherish the blood, sweat, and tears, but we forget about the trash of humanity.

Alice C. Minium

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I remember the smell of my apartment. It smelled like milk, mixed with old fall leaves, mixed with your uncle’s shed, mixed with an Aeropostale department store, mixed with… well, it smelled like garbage, honestly. It smelled like garbage because everything in my apartment was, actually, garbage. Not garbage like what your roommates leave in the kitchen and forget to take out for six days, but real, actual garbage. It was different, the smell of actual garbage, garbage from a Real Dumpster. It’s almost alluring, in a way, the smell. It gets my nervous system going like a drug. I love the smell. There is a very distinct smell to garbage juice.

My apartment was busy. It was a world of its own. Every square inch was a thrift-store museum exhibit to the obscene excesses of capitalism, as displayed both in the amount of useful things people decide are “trash,” and the amount of useless things I was convinced were not trash at all. We were running an adoption agency, rehoming and loving lost things that people had forgotten, abandoned, or failed to appreciate. It was a victory each time, like winning a game or hunting a boar; we were the good guys, we were the rescuers, we were the scavengers, we were derelicts, we were free.

My life was populated with objects containing moments from other people’s lives. A USB drive with a Word document of a Christian boy’s coming out story, stacks of discarded birthday cards, notes from classes that people had poured months of their lives into documenting.

I liked these things the most, the things people loved and used. They contained imprints of a person, imprints of a world, imprints of an entire life. I found them, these treasures, these fragments of people, in heaps of old beer bottles, and I dug them out and cherished them like sacred artifacts cataloged by a collector of the world’s most bizarre museum.

I was in love with these artifacts. I was in love with these moments of these people’s lives. I was in love with the people who threw them away. I was in love with the act of finding it. I was in love with the objects themselves.

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Alice C. Minium

Richmond-based writer, investigative researcher, and police abolitionist. Contact me at alice@openoversightva.org.