Adventure, intrigue and Dumpster diving

Dumpsters – don’t ya just love ’em?

A reader recently wrote to inform me that rummaging through neighborhood trash is much, much more than a pastime for inquisitive children with time – and possibly old coffee grounds – on their hands.

There is, in fact, a nationwide fraternity of Master Dumpster Divers who have taken sidewalk scavenging to a new level.

They’ve even got their own Web site, and it’s definitely worth a look. Diving through online is almost as exciting as leaping into the real thing out behind your favorite strip mall.

At this Web site you’ll find Dumpster-diving tips as well as tantalizing lists of startling Dumpster discoveries, links to preferred dive sites and a forum wherein seasoned Dumpster divers can reminisce about their triumphs.

This is so much cooler than some boring old National Geographic story about diving for lost Spanish treasure ships in the Sargasso Sea…

For novices, there’s a forum site that will enable less experienced divers to identify hard-to-classify Dumpster finds.

Have you found a sousaphone or an antique Hungarian fire extinguisher? Chances are, a helpful soul at will have the answer for you. They might even offer to buy it…

There’s also a place on the site where successful divers can proudly post photos of their greatest finds or, perhaps, their favorite local Dumpsters.

And if you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of any Dumpster divers in your community, can help through its friendly get-acquainted forum: “Meet up with fellow DDer’s and dive with them in your town!”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this site is the “Dumpster Diving Finds” section. Readers will quickly learn that there’s more to Dumpsters than moldy stir-fry and beady-eyed rodents who could use a bath.

Five-star Master of the Dumpster Jeff, for example, recently wrote of retrieving a dozen old fishing poles (which he plans to donate to a local Cub Scout pack), two log-splitting wedges and a small load of copper pipe suitable for making wind chimes.

(Add those two log-splitting wedges to the copper pipe and you’ve got one helluva wind chime…).These items, however, represent but a minor score for the enterprising Jeff. An earlier Dumpster diving adventure netted him a 12-volt car vacuum, a bagful of brand new cabinet knobs, a compass keychain, garden hose repair parts, a dozen white roses, a big bouquet of lilies and two vases.

This is a whole lot cooler than my long-ago college days when we used to raid the Dumpster behind McDonald’s to collect recently discarded burgers for our signature culinary creation, “Big Mac Stroganoff.”

Although the ambience is crummy, the legality’s questionable and the hours are decidedly irregular, it’s clear that these parking lot entrepreneurs have discovered their own retail rubbish paradise.

Remember the motto: “Dive like no one’s watching!”

Originally published January 16, 2006

The ants appear to be winning…

Somewhere, somehow, I must have offended the ant gods – you know, the vengeful insect deities rumored to hold court behind a shimmering gold Dumpster just south of Barstow?

Perhaps I should explain…

Trouble started last week when I climbed into my car, sleepily flicked on the defroster and promptly got a face full of ants.

Hey, I’ve battled ants in the kitchen and ants in the bathroom and ants on the dining room floor, but never have I had to do battle with ants in my car.

Overcoming my initial shock, I quickly inspected the rest of my auto and found that the entire passenger compartment was infested with industrious hordes of the tiny black insects, marching purposefully back and forth across the dashboard, down the center console and along the doors.I eventually removed some of the tiny troublemakers from my steering wheel and drove to work, hoping that my better-informed colleagues might offer a solution to the problem.


Never expect useful advice at work.

One genius recommended blasting the entire interior of the car with a high pressure hose. Yes, this might get rid of the ants but I suspect it would also play hell with the car’s electronics.

“Just spray ’em with a big ol’ shot o’ Raid,” another colleague suggested.

Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea. Then the next time I hit the defroster I get a face full of dead ants and enough insecticide to kill a trophy lobster.

One can, of course, try to eliminate the problem by vigorously smacking the six-legged pests, but that extermination technique presents its own set of unique challenges.

Think about it – you’re cruising down the interstate when you observe a high-kicking chorus line of ants dancing across your dashboard, just daring you to take a swipe at them. This is, of course, impossible to resist, so you begin enthusiastically smacking them.

Bad move, amigo.

You’re now straddling two lanes of the interstate and going for three, drifting dangerously close to the road shoulder at somewhere between 45 and 75 mph as you escalate hostilities against your diminutive antagonists.

California Highway Patrol officers simply love watching bizarre maneuvers like this because it gives them lots of, er, options to weigh…

“Hmmmmm. Lookit that. Hmmmmm – pull him over or just shoot him?

“If you somehow survive driving with 12,000 or so of these rowdy little passengers on board, you’ll soon find out that ants will enthusiastically infest a lot more than your automobile.

They’ll climb into your coat, slip into your shirt and penetrate your pants before you’ve driven around the block, effectively annihilating whatever’s left of your rapidly deteriorating driving skills.

I hate to admit it, but in my case it appears that the ants are rapidly gaining the upper hand.

If you’re driving down Interstate 80 any time soon and see a dusty Mustang on the shoulder with a bleached skeleton slumped over the steering wheel, you’ll know the ants won…

Originally published December 28, 2003

Furry, but not funky

Pets – don’t ya just love ’em?

It seems as if everyone I know has an incredibly talented, hard-working and highly intelligent cat, dog or iguana that makes their otherwise dull and dreary lives somehow bright and meaningful.

They rarely miss an opportunity to remind me that I, too, could have a bright and meaningful life if I had a pet instead of two drooping house plants and a big rubber rat.

They persist despite the fact that I frequently remind them my last pet – a surly 100-pound Doberman named Drago – made my life ever so exciting by attacking parked cars, stealing neighbors’ barbecue entrees and barking at hallucinations around 3 o’clock every morning.

Drago also was rather adept at eating socks, intimidating law enforcement officers and driving my ex-wife into a towering rage by stealing freshly made sandwiches.

“Been there, done that,” I respond each time some well-meaning acquaintance shows up with a cute wee kitten or a cuddly little puppy.

Let’s face facts – cats are notoriously treacherous and puppies grow up to be large mammals with teeth who’ll eventually tree your neighbor and her attorney.

Before you know it, you and your dog are both behind bars and your neighbor’s attorney is driving a brand-new Mercedes.Really.

It could happen…

“No pets for me, thanks,” has been my oft-repeated mantra for many years, although I have to admit I once had a large can of tuna that I nicknamed “Charlie” and kept on my desk for several years.

Charlie had to be “put to sleep” in the company Dumpster after he began to bulge in a rather alarming manner.

Then, a few weeks ago while idly thumbing through a colorful toy catalog, I came across the pet that may make my life complete (or at least take up a significant amount of space on my coffee table).

There before my delighted eyes was the “Fur Real Friends Cat,” a lifelike electronic feline with slightly crossed green eyes and a cute little blue grooming brush for only $26.99 (with redeemable discount coupon…).

fur friends

“These pets respond to touch with lifelike movements!” the Toys R Us catalog trumpeted.


Most of my co-workers here at the newspaper don’t even respond to touch with lifelike movements, although our research librarian can throw a mean left hook.

Even better, this easygoing feline isn’t going to be shredding my flesh every time a perceived slight enters her pointy-eared little head.

At last, I’ve found a cat that doesn’t need a litter box – or a dark corner behind the sofa – because the only things this cat’ll leave behind are worn-out C batteries.

And there will be no need to locate a cat-sitter the next time I take an extended holiday in, say, Oildale.

I’ll just toss my new Fur Real Friend in the closet with a cheerful “Be good!” and hit the highway.

Perhaps best of all, if I spill a bowl of corn chowder on my Fur Real Friends Cat, I’ll have that handy little brush with which to clean things up, safe in the knowledge that my little electronic hairball won’t turn me into hamburger during the grooming process.

Hey, it doesn’t better than that, amigos.

Heeeeere, kitty, kitty, kitty…

Originally published November 16, 2003

Personal defense anyone can afford

I try, whenever possible, to ignore ringing telephones after midnight. Good news does, after all, sleep in until noon, right?

On the other hand, it’s hard to disregard a large piece of black plastic that continues to jangle insistently about 5 inches from one’s left ear.

I was wrestling with just such a dilemma about 3 a.m. one morning last week when curiosity – and lack of sleep – finally conquered my resolve. I foolishly picked up the phone.

“Wake up, bro, and greet the dawn of personal defense in the 21st century!”

The message seemed rather cryptic but the voice was unmistakable. My old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, was calling from his dockside crash pad in Oregon.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper seldom calls before midnight. His best ideas seem to hit him between 1 and 4 a.m. and that’s when he calls old friends to communicate his latest plan to stock the Great Lakes with ravenous piranhas as a feisty new game fish.

Last week’s call was no different. Sapper had found a safe and inexpensive way for average citizens to effectively arm themselves against thugs, serial killers and, er, rampaging Republicans, without having to resort to deadly force.

“Garbage!” he crowed triumphantly.

“Mmmph?” I responded.

“It’s simple, bro – I got the idea down by that Dumpster where I found my cell phone,” Sapper related. “Until now, if you wanted an ice cube’s chance in hell of survivin’ on America’s mean streets, you had to carry Mace or a .45 or a stun gun or a big ol’ spike-studded railroad tie to protect yourself.”


“But those are bulky and expensive, and sooner or later some cop is going to ask you ‘zactly what you think yer doin’ walkin’ around with a Stinger missile slung over your shoulder,” Sapper continued. “If you’re packin’ my lightweight, 21st-century personal defense bag of scientifically formulated garbage, though, thugs won’t get within 20 feet of you an’ the cops will keep their distance, too.”

The basic personal defense garbage device, he explained, consists of a small, 5-gallon kitchen trash bag “equipped with a quick-release handle and prestressed seams for rapid deployment and maximum dispersal capability” filled with a specially selected assortment of highly aromatic refuse.

“Think about it, bro. A lot of street punks will risk a face full o’ pepper spray or even a knife, but nobody wants to get smacked one upside the head with a sack full o’ fishheads and old coffee grounds and rancid salad dressing,” Sapper explained. “Throw in a couple of my brother’s old sweat socks an’ a rotten grapefruit an’ you’re slicker than a hoop snake in a hailstorm. You’ll own the streets.”

The garbage-based personal defense weapons, he added, have a long shelf life – in fact, the longer the better – and can be easily carried by most adults.

“I’m thinking of pricing ’em at about 25 bucks apiece – maybe five bucks more if you want extra anchovies or maggots,” Sapper added. “So can I put you down for four or five? They could save you life, bro.”

So, I thought, could an unlisted phone number…

Originally published March 30, 2003

Hey, let’s not jump the gun

I have to admit that I’m becoming a tad bit concerned over the growing number of disgruntled Californians – and probably a half-dozen Iowans – who are loudly demanding the recall of Gov. Gray “I Am Not A Weasel!” Davis.

Oh, sure, he’s managed to successfully annoy millions of voters year after year, and he’ll gladly back anyone who’ll donate more than a 12-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor to his campaign efforts, but he’s still the governor and he’s still got a lot of political savvy California’s going to need in the coming months of statewide turmoil, chaos and despair.

Consider the cost of fuel. Gasoline prices have jumped to more than $2 a gallon at the pumps for no readily discernible reason (although major petroleum producers will tell you that a broken pipe in the executive men’s room at Chevron’s Richmond refinery caused a significant slowdown last month).

Gov. Davis apparently became aware of soaring gasoline prices sometime last week. He promptly frowned, rolled up his sleeves and boldly indicated that he’ll probably think about looking into the causes of the price hike to make sure that there’s no likelihood that gouging might be going on.

He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. At least not for long. Probably. I mean, he could be really annoyed and be considering taking some kind of action in the not-too-distant future. Really.

We’ve got to give Gov. Davis a chance to think about turning this gasoline crisis around.

After all, he’s almost done it before.

Remember two years ago when gasoline prices skyrocketed and the petroleum producers said cost increases were necessary because there’d been a Dumpster fire behind the Martinez refinery and a pump broke at the Sebastopol Shell service station?

You better believe Gov. Davis was on top of that crisis. He repeatedly shook his finger at the petroleum industry and warned them if they didn’t do something to regulate themselves soon, he was ready to think about calling for volunteers who might like to perhaps consider investigating the situation.

The big oil boys were no match for the governor. They quickly capitulated and sent in their campaign contributions.

And what about the so-called energy crisis?

Gov. Davis stared those crooked energy producers straight in the eye and promptly bought up all the energy reserves in the Western United States. And he didn’t care what it cost, either.

That’ll teach those pinstriped punks to call Gray Davis’ bluff.

And now a few whiners want to recall Gov. Davis before he’s even had a chance to fix the gas crisis…

Sorry, disgruntled voters, but this is the time to exercise a little restraint and show some patience. Give Gov. Davis a chance to think about maybe doing something eventually.

Besides, who knows what we’ll wind up with once we recall Davis? If we just wait a little longer, though, outgoing Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura will have enough time to establish residency in California and enter our next gubernatorial race.

And that, amigos, will be a win-win situation…

Originally published March 23, 2003

Dumpster phones: Threat or menace?

A day seldom goes by that some curious soul doesn’t buttonhole me and ask “Hey, how’s your old buddy Sapper? I love that guy, man – what’s he up to?”

I usually have some kind of answer, since my old ’60s sidekick calls regularly from the pay phone outside the bait shop in Coos Bay to tell me exactly what he’s been up to – endlessly and in great detail.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper usually gets chatty about 3 a.m. and begins calling acquaintances from Barstow to Boston to let everybody know how his pet scorpion got stuck in the waffle maker. Or why George W. Bush’s middle initial proves he’s a renegade Belgian pole vaulter on the run from Interpol.

Unfortunately, Sapper entered 21st-century communications three weeks ago when he abandoned the bourbon-marinated pay phone outside the bait shop for a state-of-the-art cell phone he found in a nearby Dumpster.

Dumpster phones – don’t ya just love ’em?

Now the phone rings at 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m treated to 30 seconds of free-range Oregon static followed by “How-dee, bo! Whad-ya ‘ink o’ my nuuuuh shell phode? Pret-ty snarp, hah?”

Then there are some bird calls and stuff.

Try as I might, I can’t convince Sapper that a cell phone found in a Dumpster beside a bait shop might not be the most effective form of Oregon-to-California communication.

(Not that he can actually hear me when I try to convince him of this.)

Sapper, you see, is an incorrigible optimist. His glass is never half-empty, it’s always half-full. The Dumpster phone, he’s told me, has got to be the find of the century. He’s never seen one like it, so it’s got to be unique – probably an ultra-high-tech cell phone developed by a secret government agency and then abandoned when relentless Albanian spies began to close in on the old bait shop.

“Why else would it be there?” he asked quite reasonably over the sound of someone strangling a weasel.

So what’s Sapper been up to?

Well, judging by his last communication, it has something to do with eating nautical hardware en route to a place called Sam Damenagego…

“Wake up, ya knucklehead, I’m on my way over Fushtopfffff to Wizzzjester Bay to get a bloke I fussed up. Ate the hatch covers and muzzled the scuppers. Got a non sequitur, too. We’re ready to sail, buddha boy!”

(Buddha boy?)

Sapper, it seemed, was on his way to board a sailing craft to go somewhere. Or not.

“I’m shrewing down as far as San Damenagego an’ I’ll pro bono back round the Quart of October. If we stop in Sank Frankisko, I’ll call you an’ we’ll get a clutter.”


“Hakkadah-hakkadah, OK?”

Sure, why not?

This whole scenario might fit nicely into one of those vaguely amusing Sprint PCS phone commercials, but somehow I kind of doubt that Sprint has a lot of competition from the Oregon Dumpster phone industry.

As far as finding out exactly what Sapper’s been up to, I guess we’ll all have to wait until the Quart of October…

Originally published September 22, 2002

You want cheese with that shirt?

I try not to let day-to-day worries loom too large on my horizon.

Sure, I occasionally fret about the rising cost of petroleum products, the ease with which pit bulls can purchase handguns and the fact that Republicans are allowed to roam freely throughout the nation, but I somehow manage to keep smiling through it all.

A recent trend in television advertising, however, has me more than a little bit concerned. There appears to be a growing movement to establish voracious slobs as the next Great American Icon.

It seems like every time I turn on my TV there’s some food-splattered guy cramming an 18-pound cheeseburger into his mouth while making sounds similar to an untuned diesel engine with dirty glow plugs.

Our hero usually manages to spill about two-thirds of his meal onto his shirt, jeans, boots or hapless passers-by who express delight in being splattered by Mr. Cheeseface.

Whadda guy!

I think the Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain started this zany advertising campaign, and it seemed somewhat amusing at first. After about the 500th time you’ve seen one of these little gems, though, the chomping, splattering and licking gets a little tiresome.

And it’s spreading…

More and more commercials focusing on food products and the enthusiastic consumption thereof seem to be getting just a little bit sloppier as time goes on. Helpings are getting bigger every day and more of them seem to be landing in untoward places for no apparent reason.

(Can you sat ‘Splat!’? I knew you could…)

Hey, I’m no Emily Post. I’ve dribbled my share of chili dogs on ties and shirt fronts, but I’ve never reveled in the experience and certainly never wanted it televised. There’s just something about reddish-brown chili spilled on a turquoise shirt and maroon tie that used to make the average person want to hide behind the nearest Dumpster.

No longer, amigos.

Thanks to the miracle of television, we’re slowly and subtly being persuaded that it’s not only OK but commendable to feed your face, shirt and trousers before you actually swallow any significant portion of your meal. It’s cute, it’s manly, it’s American and chicks dig it.

You’re not a slob, you’re a diamond in the rough who likes his food – lots of it – on your forehead, chin, chest and dining companions.

And don’t forget the sound effects that frequently go along with these brief glimpses into American fast-food consumption. They’re kind of a loud pastiche of the zombie feeding noises heard during “The Night of the Living Dead” and one of those old high school science films during which you actually got to hear the amplified sounds of a pop-eyed praying mantis chowing down on a juicy caterpillar.

Yeah, like this is gonna give you a big hankering for a double cheeseburger.

We can only hope and pray that this trend doesn’t spread to soup or pasta distributors. Turning on the TV and seeing a big, hairy guy gleefully wallowing in a tub of ravioli is just a little more than I care to think about – particularly before lunch…

Originally published July 22, 2001

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

An increasing number of readers (all eight of them, two sober) have approached me of late to inquire about the welfare of my ex-wife and children in the Butte County community of Paradise.

“Hey, what ever happened to that psychic dog with the blue nose? Your ex-wife shoot up the saloon again? That’s some kinda woman you used to have, bro. We never hear about her anymore…”

There’s a, er, reason for that.

Three or four years ago, the sleepy mountain community of Paradise finally got electrical service and, a few months later, an intoxicated delivery man from Yuba City accidentally dropped a computer in the parking lot of the old Hootch Hut liquor store there.

Once the sleepy Paradisans discovered that they could plug the computer into an electrical outlet and enter the 21st century-world-of-the-Internet, there was no turning back – for them or for me.

You see, the newspaper also maintains an up-to-date Web page whereon this column appears. In fact, you may be reading this column on our Web page right now.

(Actually, I’m writing it right now, but you may eventually see it later, which is now for you. This is pretty technical cyber stuff, so try not to let it confuse you.)

As luck would have it, some folks in Paradise – including my ex-wife – discovered the newspaper’s Web page and began questioning the veracity of this column.

Hard to believe, but my ex-wife and full-time kids have implied that some of my reminiscences about pleasant days spent in Paradise may not be totally accurate.

“I never made you sleep in the Dumpster. I never even owned a Dumpster. And the dog didn’t, either, and neither I nor the Labrador ever shot up the Wee Lark Lounge, not even during Gold Nugget Days. And Lloyd the Dog had a green nose, not a blue one,” my ex-wife explained patiently one afternoon amid a growing pile of shredded column printouts. “And the toilet never flushed into the bathtub.”

Ah, how soon we forget the minutiae of everyday living in a primitive mountain beer-drinking community.

My son’s memory proved equally faulty as he began examining some past newspaper columns.

“Dad, my sister is not a vampire and I’ve never rolled a single car. Not ever. Thanks to you, people don’t even bother to ask if I’ve rolled my car. They ask how many cars I’ve rolled,” he pointed out. “Not that the cars matter all that much since I’m supposed to be the same kid who burned down the entire town of Oroville with a model rocket when I was 14 years old…”

I tried to explain to the lad that he probably doesn’t remember things as accurately as I do because he was somewhat traumatized by the conflagration, but he was adamant about his non-involvement in many of the painstakingly reported incidents in this column.

“Dad, Oroville’s still there.”


And last week my daughter called from her new home in Oregon and said she also wanted to take a closer look at the newspaper’s Web page.

Can it be that she, too, suspects me of inadvertently exaggerating some portions of her childhood?

As purposeless as it may seem, I’ve decided to carefully review any future family columns before publication, just to be on the safe side.

Until then, however, perhaps I can interest you in the true story of the Paradise Ridge Dog Suit Militia…

Originally published May 14, 2000

Some suggestions for the LAPD…

I was gratified to discover that the embattled Los Angeles Police Department has decided to seek advice from an independent review panel about how to deal with its seemingly endless series of legal, moral and ethical problems.

Despite the fact that the LAPD has for decades touted itself as one of the best-organized, best-trained and most modern law enforcement agencies in the world, the sprawling department continues to be haunted by periodic charges of brutality, corruption and acts which clearly fall under California’s little known felony stupidity law.

According to a recent Associated Press report, the Los Angeles Police Commission has approved a special panel composed of attorneys, management consultants and criminal justice professionals to determine exactly why the city’s finest keep getting into trouble and to make recommendations about how best to correct the situation.

Guidelines from the Rampart Independent Review Panel are expected sometime in the fall.

This is quite obviously a commendable effort on the part of the Police Commission, but it looks like it’s going to take months for the panel to review the LAPD’s latest excesses and make some helpful recommendations for the future.

What can we do in the interim besides carefully avoiding the Los Angeles city limits?

There are, I believe, some fundamental, stop-gap methods that Los Angeles police officers can take to at least temporarily restore their department’s credibility (and keep them out of the hands of a grand jury).

These recommendations may seem absurdly simple to a lumberjack or professional hod carrier, but you have to remember that we’re talking about the Los Angeles Police Department.

Let’s start with some basics:

Never, ever shoot an unarmed, handcuffed suspect while he’s lying on the ground.

Never try to stroll out of the Evidence Room with a big sack of cocaine over your shoulder. This also goes for a big old sack of heroin, methamphetamines, valium, morphine, quaaludes, LSD, DMT, PCP or contraband cigars.

If you absolutely can’t resist walking off with a few free samples, don’t sign for the borrowed evidence with another officer’s name. This is a serious social gaffe within the law enforcement community and can result in significant irritation among your unsuspecting fellow officers.

(“Whaddya mean I checked out 16 bricks of heroin Sunday afternoon? I was in Barstow, Sarge, honest.”)

It’s also, like, forgery…

Whenever possible, avoid engaging in public, running gun battles with members of other law enforcement agencies no matter how angry they may have made you. Before you reach for your piece, take a moment to close your eyes and slowly count to 10. You’ll be glad you did.

(You may want to duck behind a Dumpster or something before you start counting, particularly if members of the other law enforcement agency are already shooting back at you…)

Admittedly, this advice may not be as comprehensive as what one would expect from an independent review panel, but we’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Originally published April 23, 2000