Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anne Goes Dumpster Diving


I didn’t get a picture of this. You’ll have to take my word for it.
Saturday we found a pile of roof slates, most of them broken, a few still whole, raining down from the roof of a fine brick building.
Sunday we went back for them. It didn’t prove quite as easy as we thought.
We discovered them on our walk through the Neponset River Reserve, beside an estuarial river that runs along the border of the city of Boston. Men were throwing the skin of an old roof off the top of a handsome brick building. What looked at first like a great dark trash pile proved to consist largely of pieces of slate roof pieces. Later, on our way back down the same path, a worker in a hard hat was taking down the yellow caution tape; apparently roof removal was over.
“Do you mind if we take a few of these?” Anne asked.
“Take as many as you want,” he replied. He picked up a few unbroken slates to help us gather a haul. But we could only carry a few each; they were remarkably heavy and the sharp ends cut into your fingers as gravity tugged on their weight during our burdened trek back to the car.
A boy on a bicycle road by. “Scavenging,” he observed.
We made plans to come back the next day, park nearer the building, and scavenge with a vengeance. We wore work gloves. We wound our way through Dorchester streets to Lower Mills and found the business, let's call it “Superfluous Storage,” which had its own convenient parking lot.
Sunday noon. Mostly quiet. A young man raced across the apron on skates, playing street hockey with himself.
We parked, found the opening through the fence, walked down to the path and discovered the roof refuse pile completely cleaned up. They worked quickly, Anne observed. The answer was back up in the parking lot: a large black dumpster brimming with roof debris, most of it brilliantly shaped stone.
We back the car up close to the dumpster. The thing has tall sides, too all to reach inside from the pavement, but the dumpster has been parked next to a loading dock.
Anne walks up the dock, puts her feet on the lower rung of a black metal fence and reaches into the pile. She pulls out a few pieces, piles them on the forward corner of the dumpster. From there I can grab them and carry them to the trunk of the car.
After the surface pieces have been gleaned this way, my wife needs to extend her reach. She climbs a little higher on the fence, extends a foot experimentally into the dumpster and calls,
“I’ve been wondering if it’s safe…” – appearing to make up her mind in mid-sentence – “…to do this.”
The second foot lands with a lurch beside the first on the top of the pile.
She’s standing in the refuse. Dumpster diving.
“If I fall in,” she calls, “I know you’ll rescue me.”
As it happens, I’m simply the mule, carrying armfuls of recovered slate to the trunk of the car. We gather forty or fifty of them, maybe more, I lose count quickly.
The slates are beautiful in the way of strong natural materials worked by human beings into a general homogeneity of size and thickness. I realize I have no idea how rock is turned into roof slates. But whole or broken, they have character. They’re all the same “slate gray” color. Their striation patterns are all unique.
We take them home. It’s time to rebuild the garden paths.
Now we have something to walk on.