One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure


The first full sentence I ever uttered, according to a baby book kept for a couple of years by my mother, was, “I like to watch.” It was indicative of a lifetime of observation, which is what I’ve always done best. Though I tend to pretend otherwise, there is little that gets by me. That which does escape my notice tends to be the things I’d rather not see. But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the supposedly-bad and presumably-ugly. In fact, those are the objects that appear on my radar first. Like the junk that shows up on the street in the dying days of a snowy winter. All the dirty ice melts away to reveal the objects that once were hidden in a world of white. The usual suspects are all in evidence – tiny bottles, sticks and stones, fast food cartons and containers, ratty straws, cigarette butts, and shreds of discarded paper.

Yet it’s the more unusual objects that grab my attention and regale my interest. To them I attribute all sorts of fantastical back-stories and likely-untrue tales, letting my imagination rove free and wild, and taking flights of fancy along the few blocks around my Boston home. Take the orange peel below, for instance. Who was eating it? And why were they eating it on the street? Was it a grandfather awaiting the arrival of his grandchildren? Was it someone who just couldn’t wait for dinner? Or were these the scraps of citrus intended to keep away peeing dogs?

A single stalk of eucalyptus, either from a happy delivery of fresh flowers, or the opposite spectrum of that process – a bit of a discarded floral arrangement when all the beauty has faded. Was this dropped at the beginning or the end? At the time when all was hope, or when all hope was gone?

A striped paper clip. Not simply silver, not a single color, but a paper clip in stripes.

One open highlighter, embedded in a bank of dirty snow. Did someone drop it accidentally? Was it thrown in frustration? Is this the work of a careless worker, a thoughtful student, an angry professor giving up? Maybe it was the final act of a survey-taker who had enough of being treated like shit by smart-ass guys like me.

A belt. How do you lose a belt on the street? I’ll never understand how some things can go missing without immediate notice. Like a shoe. Or a belt. I’ve never been that drunk in my life.

A knife just starting to creep with rust. It’s not that unusual, but the way this was positioned spoke to my eye. The texture of asphalt, bordering stone, and a once shiny metallic luster dulled by the elements – and the parallel design, as it placed there for this very photograph to be taken – all pulled my focus from the walk at hand, but I was rounding the corner for my street, and the adventure was coming to a close.

Finally, a Kidde battery. 9 Volt. For smoke detectors. Hope this one got replaced, instead of thrown out in a rage when it wouldn’t stop beeping.

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