North was wearing the same threadbare sweater he always seemed to have on, a decades-old gift from his mother. It was moth-eaten, the elbows worn through, then darned, then worn through again. Split seams at the shoulders left stitches dangling loose in midair. The collar was almost severed and hovered above the chest like a necklace. Knitted by hand in a cable pattern, the sweater was now far too small: his powerful frame had outgrown it long ago.
North and I were in our living room, reclined on beanbag chairs we’d found curbside at the university dorms after school had let out the previous spring. I was eating a PB&J made with the last of our Adams peanut butter. North was systematically shelling pistachios one by one until he had a handful, then scarfing the pile and starting over again.
We were listening to the news. A story was breaking.
It was about salmonella. Much was still unknown, but what was certain was that an outbreak had compromised as many as half of the peanut-related products on the market. Contamination, cross contamination. Of the foodborne pathogens, none was more notorious than salmonella, its cells capable of surviving without water. Once in foods it could persist for years. A total recall of peanut products had been announced, and all grocery stores were ordered to comply.
Stumped by a tough shell, North stuck it in his mouth and cracked it with his teeth. Next came reports of salmonella’s wrath on the body: cramps, chills, diarrhea, fever, blood in the stool, invasion of the organs, life-threatening hypovolemic shock, septic shock, death.
I turned off the news.
Laughing with excitement, we grabbed our giant stacks of grocery bags, jumped in North’s Civic, and headed for the vast network of supermarket dumpsters we’d traced across Bellingham, Washington.
This was March 2007. I was twenty-one years old. During the previous year I’d survived solely on food salvaged from dumpsters. In twelve months I hadn’t set foot in a supermarket, hadn’t compared the prices of two brands of bread, hadn’t stood in a checkout line to buy anything, not even a pack of Tic Tacs. Everything I ate had been thrown away. Everything I ate, I’d found first.
North was my roommate and coconspirator. We dumpstered together, cooked together, ate together. I would have been happy with simple dishes, but for North every meal was a feast: mushroom frittata for breakfast, croque madame for lunch, French onion soup for dinner. He was a good cook, and no fuss was too much.
Our apartment was the first floor of a drafty Victorian furnished with couches we’d found on corners; pallets we’d dismantled and hammered back together to make tables, shelves, and the island in our kitchen; mattresses we’d salvaged, beaten with brooms, and laid bare on the floors of our bedrooms; broken chairs we’d repaired by adding arms and legs and whatever else was missing. Lamps had been rescued from behind Aladdin’s Antiques, their shades patched by taping T-shirts over the old wire frames. Jackets and hats were mined from the dumpster at REI.
Listening to the news for disasters had become a compulsion. Storms, heat waves, power outages, bomb threats, terrorist attacks, stock-market crashes — all had the potential to create excess waste by changing shopping patterns, which ultimately led to an overabundance of certain products, which would then be purged. (Even heavy shopping led to more waste: perishables were abandoned in shopping carts and had to be thrown away for safety; crowded stores caused more items to be dropped and damaged and tossed for cosmetic reasons.) A salmonella outbreak was exactly the kind of news we were hoping for.
It was a quarter past midnight by the time we hit the road. Quiet streets. Everything closed but bars and fast food. North’s Civic was a ’93 held together by tape. The wipers didn’t wipe, the AC didn’t work, a portion of the back seat was blackened from a fire. The front bumper was a strip of plywood. The gearshift was missing its knob. North had carved a replacement from a block of maple that fit loosely on the shaft and wobbled like a bobblehead. North hadn’t neglected the car; he’d bought it in much worse shape. One repair at a time, he was nursing it back to life.
As he drove, he cracked the window to smoke and asked what I was praying for. This was one of our rituals. Embarking on our nightly dumpster runs, we offered up prayers in the form of a grocery list, making known to the dumpster gods what foods we hoped to find on that particular night. Our belief was that the gods hated generalizations: if we wanted their blessing, we had to be specific; otherwise they’d torture us by misinterpreting our words. If we asked simply for bread, for instance, we might find any number of bread-related items: flour, yeast, croutons, even bread crumbs. So we voiced our desires clearly. This meant we’d memorized the names of just about every drink, snack, chip, mix, bar, and brand on the market.
“We’re out of Adams,” I said. “Crunchy style.”
North shook his head. “Think bigger.”
“What do you mean?”
He took a long drag and ashed his Camel through the crack in the window. “It’s a total panic.” He swept his hand at the world around us, then burst his fingers apart and let them trail through the air to mimic an explosion.
I knew what he meant. This wasn’t a normal night; it was the beginning of a food crisis. No time to pray for staples. All peanut products had suddenly become dangerous liabilities. Every supermarket chain had its good name to protect, every shopper was terrified of being poisoned — and we stood to benefit.
“Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” I said.
“Good. Keep going.”
“Trader Joe’s Bambas.”
“Nature Valley Sweet & Salty bars.”
“Chips Ahoy! Chewy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cookies.”
North flicked his cigarette out the window, laid on the horn, and took the Civic up to fifty-five even though the street was a narrow, residential thirty.
At the time I was working as a personal trainer at a popular gym, a job I’d obtained through a clerical error. After being hired, I’d studied how to be a trainer on my own, reading books with names like Muscle Mechanics and The Naked Warrior, developing routines for my clients based on various strength-training theories I only vaguely comprehended. It was easy. It paid well. I clocked just enough hours — about three a week — to cover my dirt-cheap rent and was severely protective of the rest of my time.
From a young age I’d wanted a life in the arts. I knew this meant I’d never have much money. I was fine with that. But I needed time. Lots of time. I couldn’t waste it grinding out an income. My mom and dad were supportive of my plans, and my dad had taught me self-reliance — how to camp, fish, canoe, read the weather, and cook over an open fire. From 2003 to 2006 I’d attended several wilderness-survival schools across the country, studying a range of primitive skills. I was taught how to make a bow-drill fire, a technique that wraps a string tightly around a stick and employs a sawing motion to spin the stick until its friction creates an orange ember that glows like the tip of a cigarette. I was taught how to track animals. Build shelters. Set traps. Identify and harvest edibles. I did all this training because I wanted a simple, frugal life, and I wanted to live sustainably, leaving no footprint, benefiting the natural world instead of hurting it. Unexpectedly I was introduced to an array of urban-survival techniques at these wilderness camps, including dumpster diving, which in the years to come had a bigger influence on me.
When North and I met, dumpster diving was our point of connection and quickly became the crux of our friendship. We both cherished free time and were willing to eat trash to have it. Moving in together took our scavenging to the next level. From there my transition to buying no food was done by degrees, like a child’s tooth left to loosen in the gums until one day, without as much as a drop of blood or a wince of pain, it comes free.
I could have found another way to eat cheaply, like shopping at discount groceries and surviving on a spartan diet, but I saw a huge difference between a food budget of forty dollars a month and a food budget of zero. Once I realized I could eat for free, I never looked back. And why would I? Dumpster diving wasn’t limiting me to oatmeal and ramen; it offered up cases of extra-virgin olive oil, assortments of fine cheeses, crates of fresh fruits and vegetables, flats of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, loaves of sourdough by the dozen, pounds of some of the most expensive chocolate on Earth. Dumpster diving granted me access to a diet I never could have afforded had I been paying for it.
It’s funny how we define trash: anything thrown away. If I gathered everything in my house — every book on my shelves, every tool I use to cook, every rug, every table, every perfectly good belonging — and tossed it all out, the moment it sank below the dumpster’s rim it would become trash. Once it has that status, almost no one will touch it. Why would you? New rugs can be bought. New tables. New clothes, free of stains and smells. Our culture grinds forward in a straight line, always riding the notion of more. Meanwhile the world’s landfills multiply and overflow; oceans thicken into plastic gyres; great forests are hacked down to create grazing land to produce ground beef that, on its expiration date, is quietly thrown away behind a supermarket.
As North and I finished the drive across town, we added more items to our growing prayer:
“I could go for a LaCroix.”
“Why just one?”
“I could go for a case of LaCroix.”
“That’s better. What flavor?”
“The fuck is that?”
“Then say grapefruit.”
“It’s French for grapefruit.”
“The gods don’t speak French.”
Our first stop was our most dependable: Trader Joe’s. North parked at the loading dock as if we were there on official business. To cut the headlights, he had to use pliers he stored in the glove box because the on-off switch was busted.
In the dark we dug through the trunk for our supplies, which included two Trader Joe’s work shirts, complete with name tags. We’d pulled the shirts from the dumpster some months earlier and had been wearing them whenever we came here, partly as a cover, in case suspicious neighbors saw us rummaging through the trash, but mostly as a private joke. We worked here: North was Sasha; I was Jeff. We walked toward the dumpster enclosure and waved our arms to trigger the motion light, which flashed on, blinding us. When our eyes recovered, we saw a dumpster full of bloated white trash bags rising high above its rim like so many uncontainable bubbles in a bubble bath, their collective bulge forcing the dumpster’s lid into the air, a jaw unhinged. More bags lined the fence, stacked three high like crude snowmen.
North gazed at the scene, joining his hands like a man about to worship.
“Gotta love salmonella,” I said.
North scaled the dumpster and crawled on top of the pile to begin sorting. We wore tennis shoes. No gloves. He lifted the bags to test their weight, tossing aside what was too heavy or too light — heavies were full of wet coffee grounds, while lights were nothing but paper cups, napkins, and rags. When the bags were of middle weight, he shook them. If he heard the right sounds, he ripped the top of the bag open and glanced at what was inside, announcing his discoveries before passing the bag down for further scrutiny.
Much of what we’d prayed for was there, mixed with stuff we hadn’t even thought to request. Jars of crunchy, jars of smooth, peanuts of every conceivable variety (shelled, salted, unsalted, honey roasted, cocktail, Virginia), mixed nuts, corn nuts, trail mix, peanut-butter chips, peanut-butter pretzels, peanut-butter cups, peanut-butter cookies, Bambas, peanut sauce, peanut flour, peanut powder. Out of an abundance of caution it had all been tossed.
Now we were saving it.
Part of the thrill was knowing that salmonella could be lurking among the products we were harvesting. Most of them, in all likelihood, were fine. But there was no way to tell which was which.
We took everything.
Trunk full, rear deck full, back seats mostly full, we headed on, offering up fresh prayers as we drove.
At the second store we left on our Trader Joe’s shirts: Fuck it, we work here, too. This new dumpster was piled almost as high. Cap’n Crunch, Reese’s Puffs — anything with a flake of a peanut had been tossed.
Tunneling far down in a corner, North unearthed a massive bag full of snacks, each labeled with a name. We knew immediately what this was: the staff’s food from the break room, a favorite score — not so much for the food as for what it told us. Over time we’d learned a great deal about the employees’ lives from looking at their trash. We saw their work schedules and their notes asking for days off to go to a concert, a funeral, a dentist appointment. We knew their diets: Zach’s sweet tooth, Rachel’s daily kombucha, Eve’s hummus and nut-butter sandwiches (she was almost certainly a vegan). We knew who smoked and what brand. Who did their makeup at work. Who got fired or promoted.
“I’m worried about Zach,” North said. “All he eats is crap.” He was holding a tub of Nutella with Zach’s name scrawled on the label.
“You think he’s got the sugar?”
North screwed off the top, dipped two fingers in, and put a dollop in his mouth. “Well, if he doesn’t yet, he’s running toward it pretty fast.”
CLIF Bars, PowerBars, LÄRABARs — the peanuts kept coming. I was about to pitch a heavy bag aside when I noticed its bottom wasn’t rounded by coffee grounds but square at the corners. I tore it open. Inside was a case of Adams peanut butter. Crunchy style.
North got so riled up he ripped the lid off a pint of Häagen-Dazs and, finding it completely melted, chugged the ice-cream soup. Halfway through he stopped, closed his eyes, and howled, then attempted to wipe the cream off his mustache with the back of his filthy hand, only to spread it.
North was a wild man. When he got excited like that, a sort of charged abandon overtook him, and he couldn’t be reasoned with. This was especially true late in his off-season, which was nine months of the year. North was a fisherman. In the summers he worked in western Alaska on a gill-netter, fishing for sockeye salmon, a job that brought home enough income to cover his whole year. The rest of the time he made art and dumpstered with me. Anyone could see he had a lot of pent-up energy. Sometimes it burst. I resented him in those moments, because he made me painfully aware of how measured I was, how calculating, how tame.
He passed me the Häagen-Dazs. I jiggled the soup and watched it settle. I wasn’t going to drink that. “Shouldn’t we at least wash this stuff first?” I asked.
He sat down awkwardly on top of the trash hill, nine feet in the air. “The news got to you, didn’t it?”
“Well, there is a salmonella outbreak. That’s not a hoax.”
North took the Häagen-Dazs from me and polished off the pint, tilting back his head to let the final drops fall into his mouth. “Do what you want,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it might as well be a salamander outbreak.”
“You’re not even a little worried?”
North pried open a fresh bag, surveyed its contents, and, smiling, thrust it out for me to take. “Plantains!” he said.
Upon retiring from his ministry in the Lutheran Church, my grandpa, the Reverend Roald Carlson, settled in St. Paul, Minnesota. Out on a stroll one day he picked up some litter from the sidewalk and carried it to the dumpster behind Bruegger’s Bagels to throw it away. When he lifted the dumpster’s lid, he saw a massive pile of bagels — a hundred or more — that appeared perfectly good. Bothered by the waste, he went inside the store to inquire why they’d been thrown out. The manager explained that what my grandpa had seen were two-day-old bagels that hadn’t sold. Roald made the manager a proposition: If he came each morning and picked up the old bagels, could he deliver them to the students at Luther Seminary? The manager agreed. For the next fourteen years my grandpa picked up bagels every morning and took them to the seminary, where he became known as the Bagel Man. The seminarians were so grateful, my grandpa received a steady flow of cards thanking him for his bagel ministry. Then new management took over at Bruegger’s and said he couldn’t have the old bagels anymore.
On the second night of the crisis the news was worse. To the horror of supermarket shoppers, the salmonella outbreak was more widespread than originally feared. Hosts of additional products and brands were compromised. The true extent of the epidemic was still unknown, but symptoms of salmonella poisoning had been reported in twenty-four states now, growing into a national rash of cases.
“Fuck,” I said. “This is getting real.”
North tossed back a handful of unblanched peanuts. “Yeah. Tonight’s gonna be the biggest score of our lives.”
North was in the kitchen working at the island we’d built out of pallets. He was crushing a ziplock full of peanuts with a hammer, making what he called “double-crunch butter.” (“That bullshit they sell in stores isn’t thick enough.”) Bam, went the hammer. Bam. Bam. Bam.
North stopped and looked thoughtfully at his mess. “Last night,” he said, “we brought home two grand worth, give or take.”
“Give or take,” I agreed.
North slammed the hammer again: bam, bam. “I’ll bet you my share of the Adams we double that tonight.”
This was another common ritual: betting shares of our food stocks against one another as a way of upping the ante. North knew how much I liked Adams peanut butter, and he meant the bet to draw me back in, win me over. It was true, the news had gotten to me. I was afraid of being poisoned. But was I scared enough to crumble in front of North? The sad truth was that North was my only friend. Living such an extreme lifestyle, I found it almost impossible to meet new people. I frequented no restaurants, no cafés, no bars, no clubs. By cutting out money, I’d cut out the world. North was all I had. Everything I did, I did with him. I was terrified of losing that. Besides, this was how I lived: eating trash. Getting sick had always been a risk. Always would be.
I leaned forward in my beanbag. “I’ll see your Adams and sweeten it with my Pound Plus.”
“All of it?”
“All of it.”
North set down the hammer. “You’ve got yourself a bet.”
I decided we needed a bigger car. If we found as much food as we imagined we might, the Civic wasn’t going to cut it. Also I wanted to impress North, show him I was on his level after acting like a total wimp by worrying about getting sick. Our friendship, at least to my insecure mind, depended on keeping up with him. Still, I wasn’t sure how he’d take the suggestion — it might come off as insulting to his car. I tried dropping hints about max capacity and potential volume. Finally I just said, “Your car’s not big enough.”
North smiled. “That’s the first thing you’ve said tonight that didn’t smell like shit.”
Me at the wheel, we headed across town in a two-ton truck that North had borrowed from a friend who ran an organic farm just outside town. It was red. It took biodiesel. When I gave it gas, it roared. North slid his hand along the dash like he was petting the side of a horse.
By the time we got to Trader Joe’s, we’d prayed for a dozen things. We parked and donned our work shirts, pulling them over our sweaters because it was a cool night. Over the years we never swapped work shirts. There was an unspoken understanding that North was Sasha and I was Jeff.
The motion light flicked on. The dumpster was piled higher than we’d ever seen it, a tower twelve feet tall, so precarious it was a wonder it was standing. I tried to imagine it being built by the staff just an hour or two ago: Who could possibly have hurled the bags so high? Some of them had tumbled away and were now sprawled across the ground beyond the enclosure, as if the trash were a living, uncoiling thing.
We got to work. The scale of this trove was easily five times what we’d found the night before, and it wasn’t limited to peanut products. Just about every item they carried was in there, everything from Joe’s O’s to Unexpected Cheddar, curry sauce to Brooklyn Babka, garlic naan to mandarin chicken, twos and threes and fours of each. It was the mother lode.
Halfway through our sorting I knew I’d lost the bet.
North moved quickly and efficiently, never looking at me, his eyes going only where they needed to go as he tore into each new bag. He said nothing, just breathed in and out of his nose.
It took us two and a half hours to excavate the goods, both of us silent the entire time. We loaded the truck bed to the brim. Exhausted, we took off our work shirts and climbed in the cab.
“Cash & Carry?” North said.
I looked at him like he was crazy. “You want to get more?”
He shrugged. “The truck’s not maxed out.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Dude, that’s insane. It’ll take us months to eat this stuff. We don’t need more.”
North took off his glasses, cleaned them on his sweater’s sleeve, put them back on. “We don’t need,” he said. “We want.”
I drove in silence, our haul so heavy the engine sounded deeper, almost desperate. North smoked and rattled off fresh prayers as if we weren’t already dragging a food bank. Quaker steel-cut oats, Greek Gods honey yogurt, Cascadian Farm granola . . .
I didn’t help at Cash & Carry. I sat on the truck’s hood and watched North work, smoking one of his Camels. I was mad. He was pushing this thing just to push it. Just to be in charge. He wants to get on my nerves, I thought, to outdo me.
He hoisted a box of olive oil overhead to show me, ecstatic. The waxed cardboard slipped from his hand. The box tipped. A cap must have been loose. Oil spilled all over the front of his sweater.
He jumped six feet down from the dumpster, tore off his sweater and T-shirt, peeled the T-shirt from inside the sweater, and began using it as a rag to sop up the oil.
Once the surface oil was gone, he wet a sleeve of the T-shirt and dabbed at the wool, trying to pull up what had sunk in.
“Is it coming out?” I asked.
“Does it look like it’s coming out?” He wet the other sleeve, dabbed again.
I was careful not to say anything more. I knew how much the sweater meant to him.
Having done what he could, he hung the sweater on the truck’s sun visor. Then he returned to the dumpster, shirtless, to harvest the rest.
By the time he finished, it was 4 AM. Now the bed of the truck mirrored the appearance of the dumpsters: cans and crates and boxes and loaves piled so high we had to crawl around turns, its silhouette like some great prehistoric turtle. Inside, the cab’s back seats were jam-packed. Spillover was amassed on the dash and across the front bench seat. We squeezed in among it.
“Grocery Outlet,” North said.
I didn’t argue. In fact, I’d come all the way around. Feeling bad about North’s sweater, I was ready to follow his lead. But, more important, watching him at Cash & Carry had changed my sense of what this night meant.
In many ways it wasn’t so different from a typical night — we always prayed, always prized the expensive items, always hauled in more than enough food. What was different about this night was a question of scale, of magnitude. It was the supersize version of our regular routine, as if a light had cast our shadows onto the face of a cliff and we could see ourselves as giants and briefly perceive the strange, particular glory of the moment. Never, in all likelihood, would we get a haul this big again. Why not go all in?
I drove, North shirtless beside me, both of us wedged in among the food. Every time the truck hit a bump, the sound of crinkling wrappers filled the cab. Hanging on the sun visor, North’s sweater blocked his view of the road. I asked if he was cold. He shook his head. He was smiling.
Having already scored so much tonight, we had a hard time coming up with prayers. Eventually we managed a modest list: Annie’s mac and cheese and beer.
Grocery Outlet was a total bonanza. There was little we could do. What an hour ago would have been cherished was tossed aside or stepped on in search of rarer treasure. I told North we could unload the lesser items from the truck and retrash them, swapping for upgrades. But North wouldn’t hear of it. That would be ungrateful. We’d made our choices.
Next to a rat trap at the bottom of the pile I found not one but four six-packs of beer. North lifted his arms toward the heavens and began singing the national anthem: our prayer had been answered. Then, looking more closely, I realized the beer was nonalcoholic. North’s arms fell. We’d prayed carelessly, neglecting to specify even so much as a brand.
The next afternoon North and I woke up sore and groggy and listened to the news. The confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning had spread. A middle schooler had been rushed to the hospital and was currently in intensive care. A whole family had been poisoned — three members were hospitalized, and two were being monitored at home for any sign of worsening symptoms. The threat was greater than ever, a reporter said. The most extreme precautions must be taken.
North yawned, stretched, and made us breakfast: Greek omelets with feta, spinach, and dill. He cooked in his sweater. If you hadn’t known to look for it, you might not have noticed the faint, dark oval of the stain.
I made us coffee. Then we began the long process of inventorying what we’d harvested over the last two nights. All items were cleaned, labeled, sorted, and counted. Costs were looked up online, then plugged into a calculator. The total was so high, I ran the numbers again; they came out the same.
Next we brainstormed where to store it all. The perishables were far too extensive to fit in our fridge — seven fridges wouldn’t have done it. Nonperishables, which composed the lion’s share, were a less pressing concern, but even they needed to go somewhere.
We filled cabinets and closets, lined windowsills, and stacked pyramids of favorite snacks on the night tables in our bedrooms. We cleaned out the toolshed — a relic of some past tenant — and packed it with four-gallon buckets filled with dry goods and labeled with tape, creating a bulk section not unlike a food co-op’s. It occurred to me that we’d become our own private grocers.
All told, our take from the second night was $7,697.03. Sweeten that with the first night’s haul, and we’d brought home a total of $9,761.45 worth of groceries in under thirty-six hours. North wondered about donating the surplus, but I shot the idea down. This was ours. Besides, it was probably tainted.
As the reported cases multiplied into the hundreds, my concerns about getting sick grew. I wanted to confront North, hash out pros and cons: the risk of medical bills were we to contract salmonella, the odds our spoils would end up costing us more than they saved. It was no use, though. I knew his conviction wouldn’t waver, so I said nothing.
Ultimately I just couldn’t stomach the idea of cracking. North’s opinion was too important. I needed to appear to share his level of resolve, however short of it I actually fell.
Also, my worst fears were no match for my frugality. The longer I went without buying food, the stingier I became, the more resentful of money — afraid of it, even. Having learned how to live on almost nothing, spending anything overwhelmed me. And here was all this food, this bounty, an abundance that would last us months, if not years.
As we entered spring and the heat began to hit, our perishables took a turn for the worse. We’d hardly made a dent in them. What we could cram in the fridge and freezer we saved. The rest we retrashed.
You’d think it would be easier to throw away food that came from the trash to begin with, but in fact it was much harder. We’d ransomed that food from the jaws of death, and now here we were tossing it back again. It was shameful.
“Relax,” North said, covering his nose against the odor. “We’ll get more.”
For weeks we sat around, dreaming up lavish ways to consume our spoils: grilled cheese packed with figs and blue cheese; s’mores made with Ghirardelli chocolate; energy bars stacked two and three high, wolfed as one. We never got sick.
My time of not buying food lasted for five full years. Looking back now, I miss it. Being a full-time writer, I’m still extremely frugal, and I continue to dumpster dive, but only to augment my food supply. Consequently my diet has fewer fresh foods in it and thus is lower in vitamins, fiber, and protein; my meals less flavorful, less colorful, less pleasing to the eye. And, perhaps more profoundly, food has become routine for me, the flavors already known to the tongue before the first bite is taken. As a dumpster diver you forgo the consumer concept of choice and live opportunistically: you eat what you happen to find, invent recipes that combine seemingly opposing flavors. You’re forced to try new dishes, new seasonings. Each meal is a chance to change, to improvise.
But what I miss most from those days is North. Now, sixteen years later, he owns his own gill-netter boat and fishes alone in Puget Sound. He lives in a yurt. In the offseason he makes clothes, tools, paintings, and canoes. His art hangs in galleries. He drives a truck. (Five years back his Civic finally died.) He wears that same sweater, though now it’s more patches and darns than original thread.
North and I live on opposite sides of the country. From time to time we get on the phone and talk about relationships, health problems, upcoming trips, old times, but the ties that bind us are growing thinner and thinner. We both still dumpster dive, each of us alone, and sometimes we tell each other stories about the craziest things we find. We laugh. We disbelieve. No way, we say. Although it’s a feeling resuscitated only for a moment, it’s almost as if we were young again, building a common life. No matter how old we get or how distant from one another, I’ll always go back to that night: North standing on top of the towering dumpster behind Cash & Carry while I watched him from the truck’s hood. His years of fishing had made him strong, graceful, tan. All summer he navigated the open sea, pulled heavy ropes hand over hand, shouldered hundred-pound loads, ate meals of raw salmon. His build was that of a Greek statue. The sleeves of his sweater were rolled up, and each time his arms flexed lifting a bag, he looked godlike, unbreakable. We ate like kings.