Teenage dumpster dreams

Teenage dumpster dreams
Addyson Santese - 04/18/2024

One student’s trash is their underpaid teacher’s treasure.

Every year during finals week, college students move out of the dorms in a mass exodus of biblical proportions. In their haste to escape the oppressive shackles of an ordinary academic workload, demanded under the constraints of reasonable-if-not-comically-lenient due dates, students leave campus as quickly as possible, sometimes seeing fit to skip their finals altogether. These fleeing students are forced to triage the value of their possessions against the cubic square footage of a Toyota Camry’s interior, and in the end, decisions must be made. Items must be discarded. 

Innumerable box fans. Unopened textbooks. Untold numbers of moldy bath mats and unwashed crockpots. Care packages filled with candy and stuffed animals carefully chosen for their resemblance to the family dog back home. Color-changing strip lights, artificial ivy and other hallmarks of Gen Z “drip.” Ski boots. Sleeping bags. Sexy Polaroids. All must be sacrificed to the dumpster. All will be assessed by your teachers. 

That’s right, while you’re moving out, parting with your uber-cool collection of decorative Schnapps bottles, your teachers will be dumpster diving, rooting through your garbage. For three days straight, the dive team will swim 30-yard laps through shattered glass, soiled bedsheets and trash bags full of rotting meat (those of us who are tall enough to plunge into industrial-sized dumpsters and hoist ourselves back out, that is), all in search of riches.

We will come equipped with old jeans and leather gloves, empty cardboard boxes, and plenty of sunscreen, veterans in the art of sifting through your stuff. Although the team is comprised solely of professors from the humanities side of campus, you shouldn’t read too far into that. The inverse relationship between the amount of money I make compared to my level of interest in dumpster diving is purely coincidental. I just love trash.

Some people look down on dumpster diving as a disgusting and easy way to get tetanus, but those people have clearly never experienced the all-consuming high of finding an 18-month supply of Method dish soap alongside a tiny sombrero. Again, the fact that I’m elated to find household necessities and whimsical dollar-store party favors shouldn’t be cause for concern about my financial well-being. Like I said, I’m just all about that trash. And stories. 

The dump weaves together narratives, spinning yarn after yarn from your abandoned craft projects (seriously, students need to stop buying art supplies – crocheting isn’t the relaxing hobby they imagine it to be). By now, I’ve unbagged a vast library’s worth of stories. 

How many tales could be strung from the single trash bag containing the Thing 2 of a matching Thing 1 and Thing 2 costume, an empty box of extra-large Magnum condoms, and a half-finished prescription for penicillin? Or what about all the notebooks, abandoned after the first day of diligent notetaking (and probably class attendance), nary a stray pencil mark to mar the pages after the fateful words, “Econ 101?” Just think about the sheer number of stop signs and traffic cones found in the garbage! The immense psychological transformation that must’ve taken place to allow a 19-year-old boy to let go of such coveted displays of masculine anarchy in the conformist face of street signage is unimaginable!

There are, however, a few stories I’ve yet to uncover in the refuse. Like the one where a large group of students is so moved by the thoughtful cards their loving family members send during the holidays, they completely overlook the gift cards tucked inside. The family members were surprisingly generous with the dollar amounts of their gifts this year, but all the students truly need is the invaluable support of their loved ones! 

I’m also holding out hope that one day I’ll find a manifesto from my former students wherein they collectively detail their disdain for ChatGPT and all other forms of generative AI. In the manifesto, they’ll say something like, wow! Who knew writing could be so powerful? Addyson sure did! Thanks to her, we’ll continue to hone this skill for the rest of our lives because we’ve realized there’s a certain kind of beauty in struggling to write something meaningful and true!

The only reason the document is in the trash is because the students accidentally messed up a citation (yes, they even used citations!) and they’ve totally learned the value of giving credit where credit is due. A long shot, I know. The only story more fantastical than that would be finding a livable wage in the dump. Ah-ha-ha! Such dreams!

Anyway, as diving season dawns, students, please remember to black out the labels on your prescription bottles, and fellow divers, keep the faith. Remember, the dumpster provides.

– Addyson Santese

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