Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Little History From A Dumpster Down the Block

During the course of my daily walks I out of habit nose around the things put out for the trash folks. The other day I noticed a dumpster outside a house that has been abandoned after foreclosure two years ago. I took a superficial look on the surface level and what was there? An Arthur Godfrey 78, not playable, a totally destroyed version of Ideal's toy called Jimmy Jet, which I got for a holiday present in I think 1958. It was damaged beyond salvaging, not that I would. That was a Cold War toy. You sited Russian planes on the screen and shot them both electronically and via four darts at the top of the simulated jet cockpit, onto a target silhouette of the plane. I think it was several weeks before I more or less destroyed my own Jimmy Jet.

Back to the walks and the dumpster. A few days later I noticed somebody had liberated the Jimmy Jet anyway, in spite of its terrible condition. I noticed one other thing that day, which I grabbed. It was a pretty elaborate, tiny Japanese finger bowl. I took it home for my wife. After we washed it and such, I looked at the back of it, on the bottom. It had printed on it "Product of Occupied Japan!" Wow. So I'll bet whoever lived in the house was stationed in Japan at the close of WWII. That dumpster was evidence of a life, of history. Two centuries from now a museum would probably be proud to display a significant part of that trash, as examples of 20th Century America.

Another weird thing in the dumpster. . . anybody remember those solid steel toy trucks the boomer generation had as kids? (OK they were boy toys...) Well, there was one of those, a dump truck, but its color was solid rust.

It was eerie. Like all the stuff in the house you grew up in had been left in that house, abandoned for the past 40 years, and finally somebody went in there and it was just like the whole family had disappeared into thin air some time in 1960. The stuff had sat there undisturbed except by the processes of time and only now somebody realized it was a good moment to throw it all out. There were reel-to-reel tapes, Bobsie Twins books, the guts of a 1950's TV set, a tube clock radio from like 1957...

This economic disaster we all are dealing with has as a by-product a kind of archaeological unearthing of cultural history. Every time someone loses their home, dumpsters of historical artifacts appear on the corner. This is not the way I would like to recall the history of my region. Dig we must, I suppose. No other choice. But I hope the foreclosures stop. Now.


  1. The histories of these homes are worth recording and sharing for future generations. I thought you would be interested in a new website I have just launched: www.historyofhomes.net

    Members are invited to record the history of homes that are special to them, ultimately creating a concise history of houses around the world.

    Hopefully many of these homes will survive the economic downturn -- if not, then their stories.

  2. Thank you Betty for letting us know about your interesting site. This is an important step in recording the history of our present times. Luckily (one hopes) we won't be in the position of those residents of Pompei. The responsibility then goes to all of us to record what we now take for granted, so that it will not disappear when we go the way of all flesh.


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