My friend Tim and I went to see a performance by Stokely Towles called Trash Talk about garbage and garbage men just a few blocks away at the Shoebox Theatre. The show had the feel of an anecdotal, casual lecture (Tim, who is a math teacher, said it was like a spiced-up college student presentation), complete with visual aids in the form of photos and illustrations placed on a magnetic board, samples of garbage and recycling in shiny mason jars, and a model "transfer station" (a.k.a. garbage dump) with a miniature fence, red pickup truck, and little people. Towles had spoken to a lot of garbage collectors in his research and reported back what they had to say in the first part of the performance, telling us about the different kinds of dumpsters (or "boxes"), stinky and sweet (soap factory dumpsters); relationships between garbage collectors and their clientele, such as gifts of work gloves left on garbage cans, preschool children who waited at the window over the dumpster for the arrival of the garbage truck every week, and an incidence of a topless woman appearing regularly at a window of a house on the garbage route. The second part of the show was a history of American garbage, from the time when people recycled as a matter-of-course from making old bedsheets into washcloths to taking a pail to the store to fill with beer, to the aftermath of WWII and America's affluence and the beginning of planned obsolescence. In the last part of the show, Towles reported anecdotes from a transfer station, using toy people and red pickup truck to act out the disposal of chairs, buckets of sand, and an ex-boyfriend's clothing, among other garbage. He ended by depicting his fantasy version of a transfer station in which a giant conveyor belt carried unwanted items around the perimeter of the garbage dump so people could take what they wanted and re-use it. This made me wonder: Didn't he know about thrift stores? Actually, I know of a version of his fantasy dump. On Lopez Island the transfer station has a covered area full of neatly folded clothes, shelves of shoes, books, tables with household goods and appliances, an area for building materials, old bicycles, and furniture-- all of it donated and free.
Closer to home, just steps away from the door to the Pistil office/warehouse, we have a "Free Pole." It's a telephone pole on the sidewalk at the end of the alley and has become the neighborhood site for giving away anything and everything, from really good stuff to not-so-good, and whatever's left there almost always disappears. Once a friend of ours who owns a local apartment building dropped off at the bookstore door about six boxes of really crappy books leftover from a former tenant --we're talking incomplete encyclopedias and Reader's Digest Condensed books, and much to my chagrin, Sean let him. I hauled them all over to the Free Pole, and like magic they were gone by the end of the afternoon. There's nice stuff left there too - we have a lovely handmade wooden table in our living room gleaned from the pole. Actually, one of the "rules" of a free pile (should you wish to start one) is to only leave usable, working goods. Currently, there's a somewhat damaged overstuffed armchair sitting at the pole that's been there two days; we'll see what happens to it.
I just finished a very enjoyable comic novel, Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge. The book takes the form of a diary written by a retired British linguistics professor who has a serious hearing problem. This leads to some very funny conversations in which Lodge juxtaposes what the narrator hears with what is actually said. Museum of Modern Art becomes "mum tart," for instance. Since the narrator is a retired professor, he also has some interesting things to say about pop culture, art, and language, too.
Books Left for Dead: The Horror of Abandoned Schools
11 minutes ago