Why I Eat Out of the Trash and You Should Not
Let me tell you a story. When I was 16, I was in my high school’s marching band, the Stomptown Brassers. I didn’t grow up in Stomptown; in fact, I still to this day don’t know if Stomptown is a real place, anywhere. You have to understand that at the time, it was pre-the-internet. Our name was a hopeful reference to our parade and football game audiences getting so excited for some classic rock arrangements on horns and drums that they would stomp their feet. We would occasionally shout in unison, demanding that they stomp their feet. It worked almost all of the time.
The year that I turned 16 (and please forgive me my vanity for not saying what year it was, although that alone will let you know I’m far past my belt-buckling days), the Stomptown Brassers went on a whirlwind tour of the state. After a parade in Dulcy, and an away game in Weekoah, we were shuttled up to the capitol for the Fireman’s Memorial Band Festival. I remember on the bus we all sang “Who’s Got My Goldfish,” which was a song Victoria Flawler made up. Or, more accurately, she said it after returning to her seat from the bus commode, and the rest of us turned it into a song. It actually had a pretty advanced syncopation going on. Not much to it melodically, looking back, but that’s marching band kids for you.
Not many of us on the trip had been to the capitol before. Victoria had, since her uncle was a congressman before he got busted. She always said he was innocent, but Father called him “crooked as a walking pole.” I tend to side with Father on such issues, to this day. Victoria had threatened not to give us what she called a “special guided tour” once the Goldfish thing caught on, by the time we reached the city limits, she couldn’t be contained. She spoke about parks and bridges and malls, and a fountain near the museums that would spray water up your skirt if you weren’t careful. At the time, I’d laughed, thinking how funny it would be if I, a 16 year old quadsman, wore a skirt outside of Mr. Ghoury’s Drama class.
But I wasn’t laughing for long. I never did get sprayed up my skirt, because I never wore one. Not even in the play I did at 17, Six Fastidious Dinners by Kermit Blakey, in which I played the part of Justin the First. Instead, the reason I stopped laughing was that we’d arrived at the festival grounds, and it was time to get down to business. It was always a sort of auto-pilot efficiency with which we unloaded the bus of ourselves and our gear. I sometimes wish I could have that time to do over again, so I could really savor the teamwork we had in those moments. But I’m alone now, and all I have are my memories. Not too different from my character, Justin the First, who was born and grew alone, and would have died alone if Justin the Second hadn’t joined him for dinner. The difference, of course, is that Justin the First had to make his own memories. I’ve got all mine on auto-pilot.
The festival was perfectly fine, as far as such things tend to go. I played well, not my best as I was still learning then. That year, the band still had one of our all-time greats, Charlie Chien, on trumpet. Man, he could really blow. When I was a senior, all the greats were gone. I was good, but I had other interests like Drama and Husbandry. Charlie played all the time. If you got to school early most days, you could hear Charlie tooting away up on the roof. He did it after school for a while too, but someone in the study hall complained, and Charlie actually ended up getting suspended. It seemed a little harsh at the time, and my feeling hasn’t changed on that. It was a little harsh. But that was a long while before this festival, and by now Charlie could blow with the best of them.
He blew like the angel Gabriel on that trumpet, and believe me, I felt the Presence. In a place like that, in the stadium you see every week on sports TV, with a thousand injured fire-fighters and fire-widows staring at you, it can feel like you’re on trial. About to be claimed guilty of the crime of being a regular high-school-aged joe, and not a hero. It doesn’t sound too nice, but I was a little bit of an anarchist back in the day, and I thought that fire-fighters were in the same pit as cops and politicians. Father set me right on that before my 21st birthday, and I thank him for it. Fire-fighters (not just firemen but firewomen, too— the festival’s name was a sad product of its time) are some of the bravest heroes in your town and mine, and I firmly believe it was their locus of God’s good graces that allowed me to feel His Presence while Charlie Chien wailed on the second solo of “Two Tops To The Teller” by Bicycle.
Now, just as an aside, because this part doesn’t really have anything to do with anyone’s reason for eating out of the trash, I want to talk about the Presence. His Presence. The Presence of Our Lord, with you every day. You can feel it if you smile at plants. Lots of people think plants are fake, or dead. But plants are actually living creatures that feed off of kindness just like you or me. If you’ve never done it, that’s one way of feeling His Presence. There are some others, but I don’t practice those methods. My half-sister, Quisla, could tell you more, but she asked me not to write her last name down in this report (it’s different from mine since she got married). Still, her given name is pretty darn unique, so you might still be able to track her down.
After the festival, we were all pretty beat from all the marching in formations (Hand, Man, Gun, Letters), playing our instruments, and shouting for the fire-fighters to “stomp their feet!” I can still feel my face flushing from when I shouted it and looked at a man with two false legs in the same moment. But he did it! He stomped with all the rest and didn’t bat an eye. So, of course, being at the head of a bus filled with hungry boys and girls, our band director, the late and truly great Wilbur Johnson decided to take us to Arby’s. We screamed when we found out. Some folks started singing “Who’s Got My Arby’s,” but it didn’t catch on in the long-run. It might have, but at the time Victoria joined in just a hair too quickly, and sang along just a hair too loudly. It wasn’t long before we moved back to the original version. These things can be delicate.
Arby’s was on its usual par that night. I myself ate over a dozen roast beef sandwiches, and washed them down with a fountain drink the size of a tuba mute. I remember when I was finished, we wadded up the wrappers and tossed them around like a beach ball. There were that many! And I’m talking about fresh sandwiches, right off the line, mind. I watched them make them. Well, I watched them make the first few, after that I was too busy eating to pay much attention. I ordered them in flights, two at a time. I knew going into it that I would probably eat upwards of eight, but it’s always nice to give yourself the opportunity to stop for you hit your limit. I knew it was going to be a long bus ride back home, and I no intention of spoiling the commode. We had a name for folks in the band who spoiled the commode: we called them “Stopbrown Assers,” which has a certain ring to it. I’m sad to say that I later learned it was re-purposed from an insult overheard at a competition some years before.
And 13 hours later, we were all home, saying good evening to the Mother and Father and dreading waking up for school the following day. That entire trip had been a surreal one, but I was glad I went because I forged friendships that would last me to the end of the semester, in some cases even longer. The real surreal part was coming home from a whirlwind tour with your bandmates, only to find that Mother still expects the chores to be done by end-of-broadcast or it’s time for Box. As tired as I was, I had no intention of going in Box, so I set to the chores at record speed. Somewhere around the late-middle of the list, I wheeled the trash can out to the street for the next day’s pickup. At the time, we had a separate bin for the glass goods and glass trash that comes through. Of course, Mother and Father didn’t seem to know it existed, so it was up to me to fish out the glass things and glass goods to put them separate. Only that night, I found something besides glass bits, or glass items.
I found a hunk of steak, and few chunks of cold mashed potatoes, sitting on top of the vegetable trimmings and plastickery that comprised Mother’s output. The meat was from Father’s supper, and even though I knew what I was looking at was the trash, I still picked up the steak and gnawed it down to the bone. A few months later, when it was getting time for the Large Dance and Victoria turned down my invitation, I got to thinking about that festival and the steak it led me to. I realized that that half-cut of perfectly okay meat wasn’t all I would ever find in the trash, if I chose to look. My life changed on that day, several months after the Fireman’s Memorial Band Festival, and I took to checking every trash can I passed for a morsel waiting on top. Nowadays I’m fed and nourished, and I can promise you I only pay fiat currency for four out of every seven meals I eat. The rest come straight out of the various trash cans in my purview, and I could not be happier.
I never told Father what I’d done. I told Mother, but she promised me she’d keep my secret. Part of the reason is that I understand Box now, and I don’t have fear for it any longer. Box’s power is my power. She can see that, I think. I never really told anyone else what I do, or why, until now. I’m telling you all this now, I’m writing this story down, so that I can finally say what I’ve wanted to say for a very long time: “Please, please, please do not eat out of the trash. It’s where I get most of my food, so if you eat out of it, you’re taking food out of my mouth. That’s going to cause us problems in our relationship, if we know each other.” Thank you so much for reading. I hope it’s made you feel, and made you think, and I really, truly hope you’ll consider eating only fresh food directly from stores and kitchens.