So it is Monday morning after Duke’s 2013 commencement weekend – and I put on old clothes and running shoes and head for campus. A year ago an outing on this day produced a windfall [3 carloads] of free perfectly good items from student dorm rooms that we rescued from campus dumpsters and sold at Recyclique: fans, books, mirrors, rugs, coolers, etc., whatever did not fit on the plane, had been put in big clear plastic bags and pitched. Many were just stacked outside the dumpsters, which were overflowing.
So I get to East Campus, and realize that things are different this year. Only one dumpster has useful stuff leaning against it, but most are either emptied or have been replaced with lockable compression type units. West campus too. Nada. Only one potential target: a gigantic construction-type dumpster on East filled to the brim with big plastic bags of dorm stuff. So I ease around to the side near the bushes, climb up to the rim and begin to pick out items. Less than five minutes and a Duke campus policeman appears out of nowhere: “Can I help you?”
So without hesitation (or reflection) I lied: “I’m looking for a book.”
“For a book?” he repeated with skeptical eyes, as if to say, tell me another one. So I did.
“Yeah, I threw it away by accident.”
“What kind of book?”
“It was an art book.”
“An art book?”
“Well I don’t remember the author, but I know it’s in a bag on this side.”
“Do you have any connection with Duke?”
“Yes, I’m a Duke alumnus. I’m an anthropologist. I teach at UNC. “ (at least that part was true).
At which point, he begins to be nice, explaining that Duke does not allow people to go through dumpsters, but says I can get my book, and he walks away.
So I climb back up, retrieve “a book” and a couple of small items, and slink back to my car. But I have a plan: I will come back after 5 pm, I resolve, when this guy has gone home.
So it turned out that Trinity Heights was full of good pickin’s anyway from people moving out of student houses who were leaving piles of furniture and household items on the curb. I score two strong metal shelf units, a wood bookcase, a brass hat stand, a storage ottoman, a floor lamp, and beaucaup small stuff. Not bad at all. I unloaded it at the shop and spent the afternoon working on other things. But that giant construction dumpster was still lurking in my consciousness.
Come 5:30 pm, I resolved to give it another try. I parked at a bit of a distance from the dumpster, walked around to the side covered by bushes, and climbed up again. Less than two minutes, and snap! The same campus cop pops up out of nowhere. Must have had the dumpster staked out.
“Still looking for that book?” he says to me with a glib smile.
So I jump down and tell the truth, my name, that I’m with Recyclique, that I’m completely bummed that my timing was so bad this year, and that he is not going to let me retrieve useful things that will soon be dumped in a landfill. He sympathizes, and tells me TROSA was on campus all weekend reaping donations before stuff got trashed. He gave me his card – Officer Eric L. Hester – and offered to help me get on a list of charities for next year. I am pleased at least to hear some recycling is happening on campus. Then Officer Hester tilted his head at me and said, “You’re not really an alumnus are you?”
“I am, in fact, class of “78” and I really teach anthropology at UNC too.” I insist.
He seems to believe me, but gives me a certain kind of look. I can almost see the gears turning in there as he ponders what on earth happened to the value of a Duke degree that alumni can be reduced to going through dumpsters. I wanted to explain. But it seemed too complicated, so I thanked him and drove home.