DUMPSTER DIVING IN PARADISE
The online ad for our beach resort reads, “This facility abounds with exotic tropical flowers, fresh fruit trees, songbirds, and the sweet scents of Hawaii.” It talks about “crescent beaches and Lava rock tide pools . . . only steps from your front door.” All the ocean-view rooms have already been booked, but the online reservation portal reports that one partial ocean-view room remains available. When I call, the reservation agent says, “I’d call it more of a garden view. It’s a very partial ocean view.”
When we arrive, we see she was right. From our first-floor deck, we can’t see a speck of ocean through the rooftops and palm trees. A dreamy fragrant white plumeria overhangs the steps to our deck. Other flowering trees are in clear sight; hibiscus, red ginger, and other plants native to Hawaii dot the grounds. But, what dominates the scenery is the blacktop-covered parking lot. That wasn’t mentioned, either on the website or by the reservation clerk.
From our deck, we can monitor the comings and goings of three victory red Camaro convertibles, all rentals and smacking new. Our beige midsize without sunroof keeps them company. We also have 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 is better described as a full-on parking lot/trash receptacle/dumpster view, bounded by an incidental array of native tropical plants.
After we’ve been there a few days, one of the red Camaro convertibles is replaced by a black Ford Fairlane circa 1970. We don’t immediately notice who the owner is. Indeed, we almost never see the occupants of any of the twenty-odd units. One morning we see 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 has a long, pointed beard, longer and pointier than a duckbill, a mix of grey and brown. He wears a smirk that suggests he knows something we don’t. He moves like someone who earned the right to feel humble.
One afternoon I return from a walk and find the boy standing at the foot of the steps to our deck. He looks up at me and as if surprised exclaims, “George Washington.”
I tell my wife a moment later and she says, “Maybe he’s telling you that you need a haircut.”
“Maybe he thinks I look Presidential,” I reply.
“More likely,” she says, “you remind him of the Revolutionary War.”
The next morning, my wife is up early and sees the man out tending to the dumpster. He isn’t contributing to it; he is sorting through and selectively extracting items he then deposits into the trunk of his car, mostly clothes: shirts, shorts, socks, sweatshirts, sundresses, flip-flops, running shoes. He’s almost passed by when she says, “Your boy was out last night and called my husband George Washington.”
The man looks embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.”
“My husband took it as a compliment,” my wife says.
Her impression is that the man and boy are 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 notice 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 maintain a respectful distance from a pair of giant green sea turtles who wash up at one end of the crescent and from a monk seal deserted at the crescent’s arid opposite point. The man and boy aren’t playing Frisbee, body surfing, building sand castles, or wading in the water. Instead, they’re unobtrusively inspecting the trash receptacles that line 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 looks lonesome standing guard by the sea turtles, or the red male chameleon that puffs his throat before aggressively subduing a smaller, rosier female. But, I don’t take pictures of the man and boy as they continue their ritual dance with the trash cans.
The man keeps investigating the dumpster at our resort complex, morning and evening when the sun hangs low in the sky. One morning, Ginger is out and he approaches.
“I have something I want to give you to give to your husband,” he says.
“Sure,” my wife says. “What’ve you got?”
The man reaches 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 hands me a pair of balled brown Banlon socks.
“These are from our friends with the black Fairlaine,” she says.
“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 urges.
I unball the socks. The feet are dark brown. The ankles are more of a caramel color. And the inner and outer ankles bear the spitting image of George Washington.
This essay previously appeared in Gravel.