At Bernie Madoff’s sentencing yesterday, one of the swindler’s victims told the court that, due to Madoff’s depredations, she now scavenges food from trash cans.
As reported in Time, 65-year-old Miriam Siegman “described how she … can’t afford to buy new reading glasses and sometimes rummages through trash cans to eat.”
As reported in the New York Daily News, Siegman — depicted at left, wearing a hat — told the court:
“Madoff took away my ability to provide for myself. I lost everything, I lost my life.”
She said she was in court to represent those hundreds of unsung Madoff victims who lost their pensions and retirement funds: “There’s this notion that all Madoff’s victims were well-to-do,” Siegman said, “but that’s not true.”
Costumes for Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video were purchased at a thrift shop, an insider reveals today. In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Washington resident John Brune remembers the time he spent as an assistant choreographer for the 1983 production:
“Part of the preliminary work on ‘Thriller’ was shopping at a thrift store, Brune said. ‘We bought a lot of ugly dresses.’ …
“After Jackson’s extensive run of legal problems began in the 1990s, Brune said, an inquiry came his way. ‘I got a call asking if I’d seen anything involving children and sexual behavior. I never saw any of that,’ Brune said. However, Brune recalled a show business idol who still had a lot of growing up to do, particularly when faced with something he didn’t want to do.
“‘He’d act like he was tired, or act like he didn’t understand,’ Brune said. ‘Childlike, really.'”
“Most Americans,” writes Jeff Yeager in his infinitely useful book The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches, “suffer from what I call anal glaucoma when it comes to forms of transportation other than the automobile. That is, we just can’t see ourselves dragging our asses down the road unless we’re driving a car.” A diehard scavenger who adores “quality Dumpster-diving” and “curb-shopping” and has restored, repaired, remodeled and furnished his Maryland house with scavenged materials for the last twenty years, Yeager bicycles just about everywhere, even when he has to travel out-of-state:
“A bicycle is arguably the fastest machine ever invented,” he writes. “When you factor in the time it takes to earn enough money to buy a car (plus gas, insurance, etc.)” alongside the comparative prices for a bicycle, “the bicycle wins hands down.”
On every page of his book, Yeager offers sage advice on not spending. Covering nearly every aspect of life from investments and equities to the many uses for baking soda, his thousands of practical tips include buying only groceries that cost under a dollar a pound; adopting free or frugal hobbies such as whittling, yodeling, palm-reading, ghost-hunting, masturbation (hey, it’s mentioned on page 194), ventriloquism, origami, and gravestone rubbing; and buying a “starter home” but staying there. His “cheap-speak glossary” includes such terms as “Diluter,” denoting a subset of cheapskates who “add water and other less expensive substances to stretch supplies of things like milk, juice and detergent,” and “BOGOF,” meaning “buy one get one free.”
First step on the road to happiness? “Put away your wallet,” he asserts.
Scavenged on a New Hampshire beach: a 40 million-year-old tooth.
According to the Seacoast Online, “The woman who found a rare fossilized Great White shark tooth at Hampton Beach has decided to donate what she calls the ‘find of her lifetime’ to the University of New Hampshire.
“‘What was I going to do with it?’ asked 63-year-old Diann Barber, who lives on the beach. ‘It would just sit in a drawer and I would take it out every once and a while and say, Oh wow.’
“Hunt Howell of the Coastal Marine Laboratory at UNH accepted the donation of the tooth last week and told Barber the university will use it for educational purposes as well as keep it on display in the Rudman Biological Science Building….
“Barber called donating the tooth the end of an incredible journey. She found the fossilized shark tooth several months ago while searching for sea glass along the shore of Hampton Beach. What appeared to be an odd looking sea shell, she said, turned out to be a tooth of some kind.
“‘Something made me go back and pick it up,’ Barber said. ‘I didn’t know what it was. You find all kinds of things at the beach you never expect to see — beer tabs, cigarette butts, condoms….’
“After the find, her husband, Bill Levis, said his wife spent countless hours researching what kind of tooth it was…. David Bohaska at the Smithsonian aided in identifying the tooth by having Robert W. Purdy, a retired museum specialist, who is an expert on fossilized sharks, take a look at it.
“‘He confirmed that it is carcharodon carcharias, the Great White shark,’ Bohaska said. ‘Bob tells me that this species is known from the Miocene Epoch (about 15 million years ago) to the present.’
“Exactly how old it is and how it got to Hampton Beach is still the question. Bohaska said it’s hard to pinpoint the age of the tooth because Barber found it on the shore. If it was found encrusted in rocks or cliff, it would have been easier to pinpoint a rough time frame. In general it takes approximately 10,000 years for a tooth to become a true fossil, he said.
“Barber said she has enjoyed learning about sharks. ‘I called it doing my homework,’ Barber said. ‘It was really cool to learn about how long ago it existed and how large the animal was. I’m sad that it’s all over. I temporarily had it wrapped around my neck because it was kind of a spiritual thing because it is so old and rare…. This was a really cool journey that will be in my heart always. It was a unique experience in my life.’
“In return for her donation, Barber received a Wildcats sweatshirt and also a mug with a photo of the tooth that she found on it….
“Barber said she still walks the beach every day looking for her next find. ‘I doubt that I will find anything as cool as the shark tooth, but you never know…. There is always something to find at Hampton Beach…. Maybe there is another treasure waiting for me.'”
I love stories like this.
On last week’s episode of her Mary Queen of Shops TV show, self-proclaimed retail expert Mary Portas (depicted at left) insulted charity shops, the British version of thrift shops. In that episode, Portas visited an Oxfam shop — with over 700 establishments, Oxfam is the UK’s biggest charity-shop chain — and called its merchandise “smelly.” Outraged at this defamation, the manager of another charity shop is now challenging Portas to change her opinion.
Pamela Mandel, who runs the Children’s Trust charity shop in the Thames Riverside town of Chertsey, told the Surrey Herald:
“I was horrified that Mary Queen of Shops could tar all charity shops with the same brush. We spend hours on our window display, colour co-ordinating it and making the shop look good. We also get some really good quality items here which we can sell for much less than they would go for in other shops and some of them are unused. We have staff here aged 15 to 70 and I would challenge Mary Portas to come and see this shop and hopefully we can change her opinion on charity shops and show her they’re not all the same. If she had some constructive criticism for us then I would certainly take on board her advice, but I think we can really prove to her that a lot of charity shops deserve their place on the high street and are just as good as other stores.”
That being said, Portas has helped charity shops in the past. Among other efforts, she played a key role earlier this month in establishing London’s Living and Giving Charity Shop, whose proceeds aid Save the Children.
Even Chinese factories — the source of unnecessary oceans of mass-produced cheap junk; let’s not mince words — are now jumping onto the waste-reduction bandwagon. Massive quantities of waste matter left over from the craft-manufacturing process used to be discarded. But these days, according to the gift-industry journal Global Sources, much of it is being scavenged, recycled, repurposed and reused:
“Typical waste in craft manufacturing includes leftover materials, residue, defective and broken products, and contaminated water. At most suppliers of ceramic models, the defect rate is 10 percent and the breakage rate is 3 to 5 percent. Melting rejected pieces for reuse is difficult due to the temperature requirements. As such, enterprises face the problems of accumulated waste and decreasing clay supply.”
But 1,100 manufacturers in the city of Dehua “are finding ways of reapplication. [Their] total utilization rate of recovered material is 90 percent, amounting to 30 kilotons per year. This saves US$2.2 million of expenditure and translates to about US$11.7 million in output.
“Waste ceramic is recycled by pulverizing the substance and fortifying it with additives before fresh clay is combined in specific proportions. The resulting material costs 30 percent less than alternatives. Being previously subjected to heat, recovered ceramic has lower temperature requirements, minimizing energy consumption. The defect rate of finished products is also reduced…. Of the 50 kilotons of clay employed annually by [Dehua company] Fujian Guanfu, 6.5 to 7 kilotons become detritus. The company reduces production outlay by nearly US $600,000 via the use of all scrap material.
“At Fujian Dehua Ningchang Ceramics Co. Ltd, the utilization of recovered ceramic raises output value by US $1.5 million each year. In addition, the more than 30 plaster recycling enterprises in Dehua repurpose 220 kilotons of plaster generated by ceramic molds, dropping costs further. They established the Dehua Plaster Science & Technology Association for technological improvements and information dissemination.
“Some makers, including Fujian Dehua Ningchang, have also started recycling slag tailings from the manufacture of ceramic models and metal glaze. About 100 megatons are generated annually in China. This byproduct does not require crushing to process, thereby reducing the manufacturing cost of the metal glaze and ceramic items made from it.
“Most of Fujian Dehua Ningchang’s ceramic photo frames have recycled content. Pieces with 40 percent waste ceramic and versions that use 80 percent slag tailings are priced 40 and 60 percent less, respectively, than releases exclusively in virgin clay…. Fujian Jiamei employs 90 percent of its leftover materials, including plastic foam. The step results in cost reductions of 5 percent. Similarly, Fujian Dehua Jiamei Printing uses recycled paper in its gift boxes and bags. This lowers prices by more than 10 percent.”
Which means … even cheaper Chinese junk. But hey, at least it contains recycled materials.
Well, we had a yard sale yesterday. We do this every two or three years as a way to clear out excess stuff that has been piling up in the garage. Stuff we’ve scavenged and thought we could use, mostly, but then realize that we won’t. Might as well put it back into the endless flow of acquisitions and possessions.
Because we live on a street with very little foot traffic, we didn’t have a great turnout, but everyone who arrived ended up buying at least something — and then being given a free thing or two just for stopping by. Among other visitors, we met a young couple who just moved back to California after a long stint in Connecticut. (I asked them what Connecticut is like. The woman said, “Um — a lot of trees.” The guy said, “There’s not much else there.”) We met an artist who has great plans for those slide carousels she carried away from our free-box. We met a man who told us he is “intensely devoted to picnics,” and bought some picnic supplies as well as a beige china teapot. Curiously, no sooner than we had sold the teapot than a neighbor who works in the food industry came over and brought us a big free bag of tea — apparently it had been mis-mixed at the factory and two varieties got into the same bag, so it couldn’t be sold. We were glad to get it, and will brew it in saucepans having sold the teapot (which we never really used anyway). This neighbor bought a radio, a vintage can with Chinese writing on it, and a large faded flag which we think was once on a boat or ship. We gave him a sumo-wrestling program (as his wife is Japanese and a big sumo fan) and a bag of lemons.
When you give yard sales, people always ask for stuff you don’t have. This time it was jewelry and camping equipment. But we DID have books, scented candles (still in their original boxes with German labels), a toy balalaika, computer parts, a sequined sundress, pan-pipes, lampshades, a pocket-sized slot machine, and so much more. For some reason, no one bought the pan-pipes. Also, no one bought the two walking-canes, the wheelie-cart or most of the clothes. A row of free-boxes is now lined up at the top of the driveway, just waiting for some scavengers.
Are thrift shops more susceptible to combustion than other establishments or what? And which one will be next? This time, it was Doodles Resale in West Ossippee, New Hampshire. The Carroll County Independent gives a blow-by-blow of Tuesday’s tragedy:
“Fire Chief Brad Eldridge said the fire, which tore through the ceiling and completely gutted the thrift shop in Pine Hill Plaza on Route 16, is not considered suspicious.
“The owner of Doodles Resale was in her store when the fire broke out in the ceiling. She called 911 and ran back in the store three times to retrieve belongings including a pet fish.
“According to Chief Eldridge, the fast moving fire was called in at 2:55 p.m. with first emergency crews arriving on scene in five minutes. The fire was knocked down within 20 minutes with help from fire crews from Center Ossipee, Tamworth, Madison and Freedom and placed under control within 40 minutes.
“Firefighters stretched fire hose across Route 16 to tap into water supply just north of Pizza Barn Restaurant. They used ladder trucks to reach the metal roof and cut vent holes in it. Firefighters inside the building fought through the intense heat to beat down the flames.
There was heavy water and smoke damage in the showroom at Charrette’s Flooring at the southern end of the three-unit building as well as a vacant unit on the northern end. But the office remained unscathed. Doodles Resale was completely ravaged by the fire and few recognizable items remained except an office chair and cash register. Route 16 was closed for a short period until firefighters set up hose ramps that allowed drivers to drive over the fire hose across the highway. Emergency crews cleared the scene at 5:35 p.m.”
A local lumber store lets Susan Duhan Felix scavenge sawdust from its floors and gather plywood remnants from its scrap heap for free. Her art goes like this: She digs deep holes in the sand at the beach. Into the holes go clay slabs, over which she sprinkles the sawdust along with salt and copper carbonate. In go combustibles, which she then ignites, letting the piles smolder for hours.
A creator of ritual objects, Felix never knows what she’ll take out of those pits. Exposed to extreme heat, salt creates white areas on the clay, sawdust creates black areas, copper carbonate creates red or pink. The shapes these colors will take on any given piece — blots, billows, speckles, streaks — are anyone’s guess, as is the texture of each finished piece. No two are alike. One might resemble human skin, the next a bullet-riddled wall. This is pit-firing, the earliest known mode of firing clay. Our primitive ancestors did it.
“Pit firing is a very amazing process because you have so little control over it,” says the award-winning ceramicist whose exhibition, “Mystery Made Manifest,” is currently on display at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. “You take a blank slab of clay. You make a big fire. What happens in that fire is completely unpredictable. In Hebrew, the word for ‘faith’ and the word for ‘art’ come from the same root. Pit firing is a test of faith.”
A devotee of both Buddhism and Jewish mysticism, she sees both reflected in her work. In the kabbalistic creation legend, God sent forth vessels filled with primordial light to illuminate the brand-new world. But the vessels broke enroute, scattering sparks, which rendered the world imperfect. According to the legend, humans must gather and nurture the sparks in order to fix the world. Working with fire and clay, Felix is surrounded by sparks and imperfection. As for Buddhism — unlike other art forms, pit firing allows no control and no do-overs. It’s all about random chance, and you get whatever you get. (In that sense, it also echoes the spirit of scavenging.)
Among her works are a series based on the idea of b’reishit or creation, another series of pieces all expressing the imprecation “Stay Amazed,” and another incorporating the Hebrew letters spelling Shaddai, one of the names for God which is affiliated with the word for “breast.”
She never discards a piece that breaks. Sometimes she glues its bits together. And sometimes she uses the bits to augment or create a new work.
“When my pieces break, I don’t say, ‘This is garbage’ and throw them away. I heal them,” Felix tells me. “I put them together and I put gold in the cracks, which is a Japanese tradition.” She paints the glue gold, or adds gold leaf. “Somebody else would have thrown them in the garbage. In my work, nothing is wasted. Everything that comes out of the pit, I use.”
Cracked-and-glued pieces hang boldly on the exhibition hall’s walls. “One of the things this show is about is loving the cracks,” Felix says, “and the idea of cracks bing the place where the light comes through.”
The scavenged scrapwood becomes backings and frames.
According to USA Today, Illinois garbage collector Jeff Olsen keeps an eye open for the stars and stripes while making his daily rounds:
“Whenever he sees a U.S. flag in the trash, Olsen retrieves it and takes it back to Waste Management offices in this Chicago suburb. He has rescued more than 250 flags in the past 18 months.”
Soon after Olsen was hired in 2005, a coworker showed him a “battered flag” he had rescued from the trash. The coworker told Olsen that he and fellow army veterans were highly offended by the number of flags they typically found in people’s trash. Canadian-born Olsen decided to make rescuing flags his personal mission. American Legion Post 57 and Elks Lodge 737 honored him on Flag Day, which was two days ago.
“Flags collected by Olsen and other Waste Management drivers go into a box. When it’s full, the flags are taken to the American Legion. Don Sleeman, Post 57’s adjutant, says enough flags to fill a 35-gallon container 40 times are dropped off every year. Flags made of cotton or wool are burned in disposal ceremonies; those made of synthetic materials go to a local crematorium, which incinerates them for free.
“Some people know how to properly discard flags, Sleeman says, but others ‘don’t respect the flag, or they are ignorant of what to do with it.’ The American Legion distributes pamphlets on flag etiquette, and members visit schools to tell fifth- and sixth-graders about the flag’s history and appropriate care.
“Mike Schuiteman, Olsen’s supervisor, says drivers aren’t allowed to scavenge items from the garbage they collect, but flags are an exception. ‘All our drivers have gotten together to do this,’ he says. ‘They realize this is a symbol of our nation.’
“Olsen’s wife, Stacie, a former Army medic, helped him understand the flag’s importance….
“Several found flags are on display at the Waste Management facility; Olsen has one in his garage, next to a Canadian flag.
“‘It’s the symbol of our nation, so you have to take care of it,’ Olsen says.”
Uh oh. The hottest news out of Botswana today is that the owners of bars there are serving garbage plucked from landfills to their patrons. And the unwitting patrons are buying and eating it. Consuming your own findings is one thing. That’s your choice. Feeding it to others who don’t know it’s been foraged is another.
Mmegi Online reports:
“Patrons at these drinking holes are said to be eating food prepared from leftovers picked from refuse dumps. The scavenged foodstuffs range from canned products to perishables such as meat. Sources say that people come from as far away as Monarch to buy the food prepared from stuff retrieved from the landfill. ‘Some of the stuff is clearly rotten or spoiled but they wash it and sell it,'” one source told the reporter. Another observer told the reporter that “shebeen” (bar) owners “‘are not scavenging the foodstuffs for their own consumption but to sell it to unsuspecting individuals. We know that some people forage for food from the dumping sites but it is for their own consumption,’ she said.
“Francistown City Council (FCC) public health specialist Dr. Paul Nashara said that though they are not aware of the situation, measures to educate people against scavenging for food in refuse dumps had to be taken immediately.
“‘It is very dangerous. First of all, this stuff is there because it is condemned. Public education has to be reinforced immediately,’ he said.
“The shocked Nashara said that people should be immediately made aware of the health hazard of going into a landfill. He is alarmed by the fact that community leaders do not know about the dangers. A visit to one of the yards where food from the dumps is supposedly sold did not reveal much because the owners were not willing to talk.”
Some thrift shops — or charity shops, as they are called in the UK — “choose a soap actor or reality TV star to stage their grand openings,” we read at This Is Sussex. But last Wednesday a charity shop in the town of Crawley, 28 miles south of London, “went out on a limb — by getting monkeys, clowns and a drag queen to do the job.”
The YMCA Shop “got a drag act called Gabby to open the proceedings. The transvestite chose a rather unusual way to mark the occasion, by breaking the tape with her teeth.
“Shop worker Chris Nicholson said: ‘It was brilliant, we had a really good response from the public and they gave us a lot of support.’
“The team dressed up in various outfits to celebrate the opening, including a pirate outfit, a medieval princess and a member of children’s favourite, The Flintstones.
“Chris added: ‘We thought getting Gabby to open the proceedings would be great and she brought lots of fun. We had a really good time dressing up and it definitely attracted a lot of attention.’
“However, the shop workers suffered for their art, when a fire alarm meant the pirates, princesses and animals had to be evacuated onto the street, in their glorious garb.
“Chris added: ‘We were having something done with the electrics and it made our alarm go off. We were all evacuated for about 10 minutes, but it didn’t put a downer on the day.'”
Hey, the shop seeks donations and volunteers. So if you’re in Sussex and want to join the fun….
In our Scavenging Code of Ethics, Rule #5 is “Don’t remove historical or archaeological artifacts from areas where they are protected. The United States is full of historical sites that are protected by law. Battlefields, ghost towns, Native American settlements, archaeological sites, historic buildings, and so on. As tempting as it might be, never ever remove any artifacts of any kind from protected sites such as these. It might feel like scavenging, especially when no one else is around, but there’s another name for it: looting.”
A man who allegedly broke that rule and was arrested on Wednesday promptly committed suicide, as we read in today’s Los Angeles Times:
“Dr. James Redd’s body was found in his car on Thursday afternoon at the edge of his property outside the southeastern Utah town of Blanding…. Redd, 60, was one of 16 Blanding residents arrested Wednesday and accused of trying to sell artifacts taken illegally from public and tribal lands. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the indictments at a news conference in Salt Lake City, and dozens of federal agents hauled Redd, his wife and others from their homes in handcuffs shortly after 6 a.m…. A family spokesman, Phil Mueller, said that more than a dozen agents took James Redd and his wife, Jeanne, from their house.
“They were driven 72 miles to Moab, where a federal judge admonished them not to tamper with other artifacts in their possession. They were then released.
“The deserts of the Southwest are abundant with ancient Native American burial grounds, settlements and cliff houses. In towns like Blanding, scavenging for centuries-old arrowheads, beads and bowls is a local pastime….
“Juan Becerra, an FBI spokesman in Salt Lake City, also declined comment. In an interview Wednesday, he contended that the people charged in the case were not mere hobbyists. ‘It’s looting a grave and disrespectful and desecrating a valuable burial site,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of illicit money to be made in this market.’
“The federal case, more than two years in the making, stemmed from an antiquities dealer who surreptitiously recorded transactions with what authorities called a network of excavators, grave-robbers and middlemen in the Four Corners states.
“Redd and his wife were charged with trading two illicitly obtained pendants for two other pendants. Jeanne Redd was also charged with other counts of theft from tribal organizations for her possession of a ceramic bowl, hatchet and other artifacts.
“The Redds have been in similar legal trouble before. In 1996 they were charged with illegally taking Native American items from state land. The charges against James Redd were dropped, and Jeanne pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. The couple paid $10,000 to settle a lawsuit, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Family spokesman Mueller “said the couple had been looking for ancient beads on what they thought was private property and had strayed across the boundary onto state land….
“Redd was not the only prominent Blanding resident charged in the case and the effect is being felt across town.”
So many obsolete credit cards … so many crafts. This time, I designed a choker — just in time for summer, when bright sunshine works wonders on the hologram:
I found the chain and glass beads in the street.
And just for the heck of it, I also made a bracelet out of a French phone card, scavenged on a pre-Euro trip to France:
“Flip-flop bargain hunters mob store” is our favorite headline of the day. It comes from Pennsylvania; it’s at LancasterOnline; and the accompanying story goes:
“A throng of shoppers reportedly hunting for bargain-price flip-flops jammed the Old Navy store at Red Rose Commons, 1700 Fruitville Pike, Saturday, and had to be dispersed by police and firefighters.
“Police responded to a call at 9:49 a.m.
“The store temporarily closed its doors until the crowd thinned and the exits were cleared, Lancaster Bureau of Fire Battalion Chief Brian Klugh said. ‘We went out and helped them out with it and got it under control.'”