Now I'm Tempted By Dumpster Diving

Written by Galatea on Tuesday November 1, 2011

‘Galatea’ is a columnist writing about her experience looking for work after her recent downsizing. Previous entries in her series can be span class="s1">read here<.

In an alleyway in Tenleytown, somewhere between the entrance to Whole Foods and the free American University shuttle, I found a pair of wet jeans in a puddle next to a speed bump.

For a moment I kept walking forward, laughing to myself, thinking stupid AU girls, losing their pants behind Whole Foods, heh, that’s a horrible sexist joke.

Moments later, I found myself peeling the jeans out of the puddle, wondering whether I could possibly wear them.

They were Hollister jeans, which retail for $60 in stores—dark wash, with some mild distressing around the knees (probably manufactured), size 3L—the kind that carefree college freshmen girls can wear before they get fat. Somehow they’d landed as if a maid had pressed them, except instead of an iron, she’d used an SUV.

Despite all of this sketchiness…I really needed new clothes.

I had no idea how long they’d been in that puddle, or what kind of pollutants and/or dog crap has soaked into the fabric. But seriously, I thought, why not take them? It wasn’t as if I could return them to their rightful owner through, like, Craigslist:

FOUND: A pair of Hollister women’s jeans next to a dumpster in a garage behind Whole Foods. Will ask for proof of ownership. I promise I won’t rape you.

Yeah, no.

Ok, maybe I didn’t “really” need new clothes. My pants were acceptable for now, I had a lot of professional clothes suitable for interviews, and it wasn’t like my new work outfit didn’t consist of sweatpants and t-shirts. But I am a covetous little harpy at times, and goshdarnit, I like having things.

And the best part of having things is when they’re free.

Part of me compared this situation to the times when I’d kept an eye on the Lost and Found bin during high school, eyeing that North Face jacket that someone casually misplaced. I was a scholarship kid at a rich private high school and couldn’t afford the L.L. Bean backpacks and Coach bags, but even I knew better than to steal my friends’ things, like the classless townies often did.

Still, there were times when I’d see a girl wearing a pair of Uggs, and how carefree and happy she looked. Could her parents afford to take care of her? Could a rejection from Brown University truly be the worst thing in her life, something worth writing about in Non-fiction class? If I wore those same pair of Uggs, could I convince people that I really was one of them—a normal kid from a normal (for a school full of millionaires) family?

The jacket disappeared, but I still kept my eye on the pile, eventually scoring a TI-83, a few hoodies, a Burberry scarf, and a cool pencil case from London with some dinosaurs on it. Because hey, it wasn’t stealing if someone lost it, right?

And then there was the part of me that felt total and utter guilt over my inability to afford clothes that I wanted to wear, that my mom didn’t pick out for me from T.J. Maxx. Not that I hate T.J. Maxx (favorite store in the world!) or don’t appreciate the beauty of a vintage store find, but my mom was like Congress: she controlled the purse strings and had extreme oversight over appropriating money. No matter how bad things got, she refused to go to thrift stores. (“Why would I want to wear things that other people wore? That’s disgusting.”)

Ever since I got my first job, I’d loved that I could buy the clothes I wanted to—not just so I could look better, but because I could actually buy them with money I earned myself.

And then I lost my job and any chance of going to a store to lovingly look over that cute dress I really wanted completely and utterly vanished, along with the assurances of a steady paycheck.

So back to my present situation: I’m holding a pair of designer mystery jeans that would fit me, but they’re soaking wet in some sort of mystery fluid. I found them between a speed bump and a dumpster and I’m seriously thinking of wearing them. Why are these the choices I need to make?

I am so friggin desperate and/or materialistic, I grumble to myself, and then, running out of time to take the AU shuttle, make a flash decision between two options.

Option one: I take these jeans with me. Sure, they’re too long for me, but what-flipping-ever, they’re brand-name jeans and I would really like a pair. However, even eliminating the need to cart wet jeans with me on the shuttle, I’m about to visit David Frum, and I don’t think he’d be too happy with me schlepping a pair of gross dripping jeans around his pristine house. So…I’d have jeans, but lose my dignity.

Option two: I leave these jeans conveniently on this chain-link fence to dry off in the sun, so I can easily transport them to the dry cleaner’s later. If these jeans are still there by the end of the day, I think, then the clothing gods have smiled on me and I go home with a pair of shamefully-obtained jeans, and I will not whisper a word of how I found them to anyone.

The jeans were gone from the fence by the end of the day.

‘Galatea’ is a columnist writing about her experience looking for work after her recent downsizing. Previous entries in her series can beread here.