Friday, March 31, 2006

A Borrowed Hobby.

Our friend Roast Beef and a few of his cronies have long been involved with early-morning trashspotting—viz, the interpretation of trash-day recycling bins, much as the matronly Haitian might interpret the entrails of a freshly-killed chicken. To hear them speak of it, it is great sport, and at a party recently I overheard them recounting past and future excursions with all the argot and gusto of any expert assembly.

Piqued, I asked if I might get to know more, and to my surprise the little fellow Emeril invited me along on the next day's foray without so much as batting an eye. This morning I joined them sharply at 6:15am, well-bundled and holding an umbrella against the driving rain. As advised, I carried a flashlight and a pocketful of napkins.

Emeril's first order of business, upon meeting at the corner of Tate and Herschel, was to distribute a heavily spiced and, to my great delight, entirely succulent smoked turkey leg to each member of the group. He brines and then smokes these all night before a "hunt," and had even thought to make one for me. I found the steaming-hot poultry invigorating in the chilly morning air, and clutched it tightly in my napkin as I snacked. We moved onward, purposely taking a route which had no recycling out, so that the group could socialize a bit before the sport began. Then, without warning, we turned right at Crescent and the game was afoot. All conversation stopped as we drew within twenty feet of the first curbside bins, the regulars casting looks this way and that, scoping the entire context of the house before focusing on the discardeds.

Upon reaching the bins the group gathers round, and seems to have an unspoken five-second agreement to remain silent. Nostrils flare, eyes dart, glances are stolen at the sponsoring house. The first-to-speak makes a curt comment about the most obvious thing, a thing which all present are understood to have noticed immediately. In this case, it's a no-brainer. The residents of 621 Crescent have a new puppy, as evinced by empty cans of wet puppy chow. For my benefit, Roast Beef points out that this is consistent with the general evolution of the children's food packaging found in their bins over time: their child, most likely a boy, is about seven, a fine age at which to receive a puppy. Emeril notes that it is an upscale brand of puppy chow, and to underscore his remark, he points to the new BMW 6-series in the driveway, a paperboard dealer plate still in the license plate frame. The father has recently been promoted.

By and large I remained reticent throughout my first trip with the crew, though I did venture to make one statement at a moment of absolute certainty. Via the telltale price label on a jar of Marmite yeast extract, I divined that a person of British heritage had recently joined the household in question. The label announced a price a good three dollars greater than a knowledgeable local pays for the stuff, as the jar was purchased at the local gourmet foods store, and not the hole-in-the-wall UK Foods which one doesn't tend to notice for a few months. This drew a sliver of respect from the crew, and that was all I needed to know that I'd made an impression.

Later on the trip we threw our naked turkey drumstick bones into the yard of a pit-bull breeder, an outlaw move that left me a bit shaken, and also had occasion to use the flashlights. (Handy for simple mail-slot fraud, mainly used to see if distributors had dropped any sample packs onto the floor of the local tobacco shop, which were quickly picked up with Spongebath's spring-loaded gripper.)

The convocation ended abruptly at Central and Green, with an air of anxious anonymity, no handshakes or talking, like the diaspora of uncomfortable passengers getting off a bus. At first I felt as though the group had "ditched" me, but then I grasped the practicality of the dispersion. I treated myself to a coddled egg and toast a few blocks away at Yikes! family breakfast restaurant, then ambled quickly home.