Dumpster Diving in Paradise
The online ad for our beach resort read, “The facility abounds with exotic tropical flowers, fresh fruit trees, song birds, and the sweet scents of Hawaii.” It talked about “crescent beaches and Lava rock tide pools . . . only steps from your front door.” All the ocean view rooms had already been booked, but the online reservation portal reported that one partial ocean view room remained available. When I called, the reservation agent said, “I’d call it more of a garden view. It’s a very partial ocean view.”
When we arrived, we saw she was right. From our first-floor deck, we couldn’t see a speck of ocean through the rooftops and palm trees. A dreamy fragrant white plumeria overhung the steps to our deck. Other flowering trees were in clear sight; hibiscus, red ginger, and other plants native to Hawaii dotted the grounds. But what dominated the scenery was the blacktop-covered parking lot. That wasn’t mentioned, either on the website or by the reservation clerk.
From our deck, we could monitor the comings and goings of three victory red 2017 Camaro convertibles, all rentals and smacking new. Our beige midsize without sunroof kept them company. We also had a clear view of the two sheltered trash receptacles marked “kitchen waste/general trash” and “recyclable paper/glass/cans/plastics” alongside a small dumpster marked “reusables.” Our unit was better described as a full-on parking lot/trash receptacle/dumpster view, bounded by an incidental array of native tropical plants.
After we’d been there a few days, one of the red Camaro convertibles was replaced by a black Ford Fairlane circa 1970. We didn’t immediately notice who the owner was. Indeed, we almost never saw the occupants of any of the twenty-odd units. One morning we saw a man around 35 wearing a white t-shirt and tattered brown shorts getting into the Fairlane with a boy around seven, dressed in shorts and sport shirt. The man had a long, pointed beard, longer and pointer than a duckbill, a mix of grey and brown. He wore a smirk that suggested he knew something we didn’t. He moved like someone who earned the right to feel humble.
One afternoon I returned from a walk and found the boy standing at the foot of the steps to our deck. He looked up at me and as if surprised exclaimed, “George Washington.”
I told my wife a moment later and she said, “Maybe he’s telling you that you need a haircut.”
“Maybe he thinks I look Presidential,” I replied.
“More likely,” she said, “you reminded him of the Revolutionary War.”
The next morning, my wife was up early and saw the man out tending to the dumpster. He wasn’t contributing to it; he was sorting through and selectively extracting items he then deposited into the trunk of his car, mostly clothes: shirts, shorts, socks, sweatshirts, sundresses, flip-flops, running shoes. He’d almost passed by when she said, “Your boy was out last night and called my husband George Washington.”
The man looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.”
“My husband took it as a compliment,” my wife said.
Her impression was that the man and boy were occupying the basement unit in the rental complex—the only one lacking a deck and views of plumeria and other flowering trees.
Over the next few days, we noticed father and son hanging out at the nearest park, a wide grassy strip abutting a rocky shoreline, with a crescent baby beach on one side, and a children’s surfing beach on the other. Visitors maintained a respectful distance from a pair of giant green sea turtles who washed up at one end of the crescent and from a monk seal deserted at the crescent’s arid opposite point. The man and boy weren’t playing Frisbee, body surfing, building sand castles, or wading in the water. Instead, they were unobtrusively inspecting the trash receptacles that lined the beach and dropping any choice discoveries—mostly clothing, but also beach gear like flippers, goggles, snorkels, body boards—into a huge sack. I usually take photos to capture moments that move me, like a girl who looked lonesome standing guard by the sea turtles, or the red male chameleon that puffed his throat before aggressively subduing a smaller, rosier female. But I didn’t take pictures of the man and boy as they continued their ritual dance with the trash cans.
The man kept investigating the dumpster at our resort complex, morning and evening, when the sun hung low in the sky. One morning, Ginger was out and he approached.
“I have something I want to give you to give to your husband,” he said.
“Sure,” my wife said. “What’ve you got?”
The man reached into his jacket pocket. “I can’t believe somebody threw these away. They’re perfectly good. Please give ‘em to your husband as a sort of souvenir of this trip and of meeting my son, something to remember us by.”
A moment later, my wife handed me a pair of balled brown Banlon socks.
“These are from our friends with the black Fairlaine,” she said.
“These are the kind of socks my Dad was buying thirty years ago. Why would he think I’d want a pair of old socks?”
“Just open them,” she urged.
I unballed the socks. The feet were dark brown. The ankles were more of a caramel color. And the inner and outer ankles bore the spitting image of George Washington.
About the Author: Jim Ross jumped back into creative pursuits after retiring from public health research in 2015. He's since published 75 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and over 200 photos in more than 80 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. Publications include 1966, Bombay Gin, Columbia Journal, Entropy, Friends Journal, Gravel, Ilanot Review, Kestrel, Lunch Ticket, MAKE, Meat for Tea, and The Atlantic. Jim’s goal is to combine creative nonfiction with photography. Jim and his wife--parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones--split their time between Maryland and West Virginia.