A Day Scavenging with the Authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto

March 27, 2009 at 7:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s it like to go out scavenging with the authors of The Scavengers’ Manifesto? A few days ago we took a stroll (we almost always scavenge on foot, because you can find more stuff that way) through the tree-lined streets of Albany and Berkeley, California. It was a typical scavenging excursion for us, except this time we brought a camera to immortalize our “treasure hunt” — a treasure hunt with no goal, in which we didn’t know what we were seeking until we found it. That’s the true spirit of scavenging, always: the magic of the random.

Would that hint of rain in the air hinder our adventure? Let’s see….


First stop: a garage sale. On most Saturday mornings before leaving the house, we survey garage-sale listings at Craigslist, marking the location of each sale on a map. Then we chart a route through town. (At the height of the garage-sale season, which in our area is May — right before school ends and summer starts — our typical Saturday route winds through neighboring towns as well.) Hmm, what’s in that box? We rummaged through it with no luck, though the sale-giver (on the right) tried to tempt us by drastically lowering prices, since she didn’t want to lug any of her stuff back into the garage.


We love it when folks place stuff on curbs bearing “FREE” signs. That makes things so welcoming and clear, and as a fellow scavenger once told us eagerly: “Free is the best price.” Wooden pallets, though. Traveling on foot, we couldn’t exactly carry them. And even if we could, what would we do with them? A reporter who interviewed us recently said that pallets are her favorite things to scavenge — that whenever and wherever she finds pallets, she pulls her car over and collects them. We left the pallets for the next scavenger. Hopefully, someone like that reporter happened along after we did and found them.


Why not scavenge entertainment, too? At the branch library, we borrowed some DVDs. Of course, you can’t go in with a preconceived notion of what you’ll end up watching, because the choice depends on what happens to be on the shelf when you get there. But the magic of the random expands your entertainment spectrum when you see films you might never have imagined seeing otherwise — and end up liking them. This time we lucked out with Knocked Up.


The first and foremost scavenging skill is vigilance. Keep your eyes open at all times because the more you see, the more you get. And the most important place to look is down. That’s how we spotted this extremely well-camouflaged dime on the sidewalk.


This vintage 78 rpm record turned up at another yard sale. On the label, its genre is listed as “Hillbilly.” You don’t see that un-PC term very often these days!


We passed another scavenger who was busy Dumpster-diving, but the Dumpsters did look very tempting so we decided not to join him.


This banner, a 1960s souvenir from a now-defunct Southern California amusement park, was pinned to a wall at an estate sale. The park’s mascots, “Oto Moto” and “Izzy Moto” looked like cavemen — another bizarre un-PC relic from a different cultural era.


A familiar copper glimmer caught our eyes in the dirt at the base of a streetside tree. As a rule, we always pick up pennies — because who in their right mind would just walk past perfectly good money just because it’s on the ground? Every cent adds up. On closer inspection, our find was a penny. But it had been processed into a souvenir of Alcatraz, the prison island in San Francisco Bay.


A few blocks further along, someone was giving away free paint, the leftovers from a home-improvement project. Because it’s usually illegal to throw away or dump paint (and other such chemicals), giving it to others who can use it is a great idea.


At yet another yard sale, the sellers set out a dish of “conversation hearts,” left over from Valentine’s Day. Time to scavenge a minty-sweet snack!


Many yard sales have a “free box” in the corner or on the curb. In this yard sale’s free box, we found a vintage Haitian record. It was free because it was cracked. But it’s still interesting and rare, so we took it.


At the next yard sale, we found an old Christmas card with this disturbing message written inside. “At the moment, I have a headache,” the writer begins. That’s perfectly reasonable, but a bit odd for a holiday greeting. “It’s only temporary,” the writer offers, then adds the slightly ominous “I hope.” The tone darkens farther with: “Don’t mind admitting I’m worried.” Eeek! Did the writer have a history of devastating headaches? Did headaches, for this writer, portend some devastating medical condition? Did that particular headache lead to … something worse? We’ll never know. Scavenging is an endless parade of history, sometimes very personal history, which keeps us learning and wondering.


It was a day of dimes!


Found on the ground, this bauble looked intriguing at first. But when we realized that it was just a zipper pull, we put it back — but placed it where it could be clearly spotted by some later scavengers, perhaps a homesick Chicagoan.


As evening fell, we made our way to this reception for an art exhibition in a university building. Its listing in online event calendars, which we had surveyed while planning our day, had specified that the reception was open to the public and that free refreshments would be served.


We piled our plates with free edibles. When you scavenge food, it’s ALWAYS “pot luck.” This time, we were lucky to find fresh fruit, even high-antioxidant blueberries. Those red things in the front that look like disembodied organs were actually delicious little wraps.


Home at last, we photographed a few more of the day’s yard- and estate-sale gleanings, including this 1920s sheet music. The language of romance has changed a bit since back then.


This sheet music is even older, evoking the sad but spirited ethos of World War I.


And this example was produced during the next world war, World War II. Our dads were soldiers during that war, so this find felt personal for us.


Art is one of our favorite things to scavenge. It’s such a matter of taste that what’s worthless to the seller or the discarder might look like a masterpiece to the scavenger. And who knows — one of these pieces might actually BE a masterpiece.

Well, that was a lovely round of scavenging. At a cost of $2 over the course of an entire day, we enriched our world with music, art, food, entertainment, intriguing historical ponderings, and more. We also saw a lot of things that we didn’t take — which our fellow scavengers hopefully found and enjoyed.

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