10.09.07: Writing 2: Diversity

KA-THUMP. KA-THUMP. KA-THUMP. She could feel her pulse in her head as she grabbed a hoodie and bounded out into the parking lot to meet his car as it approached. Before he even had a chance to open his door to greet her, she was buckled into the passenger seat, ready to go.

“Okay then,” he chuckled, “someone is excited. Haven’t you done this before?”

“It’s been awhile.” She tucked her hair behind her ears and snuck a look at him, but he was concentrating on the road. “You could turn here. It’s kind of a short cut.”

“You just want to go this way because of the architecture.”

“Whatever! Don’t pretend like you’re not interested,” she laughed.

Oh, the joy of accidental double entendres and the awkward silences that ensue. She bit her bottom lip and looked out the window as he silently turned down the road she had suggested, a half-smile slanted across his face. She wondered what he was thinking, but they both sat in silence a moment longer.

Finally: “I love this one,” he pointed at the yellow house with the aluminum roof. “The people who live here must be really cool. They are either designers or at least know something about architecture.”

“Maybe we should meet them,” she suggested, only half-joking.

“What, roll up the driveway and say, ‘Hello, I like your architecture?’ Ha!” He shook his head, mocking her. No comments or quips were ever safe in this car—everything deserved a quick rebuttal. She contemplated the yellow house, which fooled the eye as it appeared to jut out from the site at a sharp diagonal. Across the street, a blank-faced, traditional bungalow stared at its eccentric neighbor. It needed to be power-washed, among other things.

They silently observed how the undulations in the road seemed to mirror the range of housing alongside: Eccentric Yellow House and a few other impressive houses before it; Blank Bungalow and its monotonous neighbors on the other side of the street slowly giving way to a duplex or two, and then, at the bottom hill, “Ah, the projects!” he exclaimed, with feigned admiration.

“Joke all you want,” she said. “At least those kids still play outside.”

“Right, because their parents can’t afford Playstations!”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a boy sometimes.”

“Sorry, it’s just hard to rationalize the range of people who live on this street.”

“Oh, but it’s so fascinating! Why do you think it’s hard for you to accept?” she asked.

He thought for a moment. He didn’t want to sound terribly elitist—or terribly ‘boy.’ “I do accept it…but that doesn’t mean I understand it. I guess you don’t usually see this kind of transformation down one street; it seems like these groups tend to be separated by the division of blocks and neighborhoods and stuff.”

“Hmm.”

Had he offended her? He decided to shut up until they arrived at their destination. He felt like his immaturity leapt from his mouth and did a little dance on the dashboard every time they went on an adventure together. It seemed like the more he tried to focus on the things they had in common, the more their differences became glaringly apparent. He thought, “Why is she so sensitive about this, anyway? It’s not like she grew up in the projects.

An eternity of two minutes later, they pulled up, parked, and exited the car simultaneously. She glanced over at him and they spontaneously raced to the entrance, laughing. He shimmied up the ladder, hung from the top ledge, and deftly piked his legs through the opening, sliding inside in what seemed one fluid motion.

“Oh God.” she said, still standing at the bottom of the short ladder. She looked up at the opening where he had disappeared.

“Come ON.” he said, poking his grin out of the rectangular portal. She smiled back at him, but he saw the panic flicker across her eyes. “I’ll help you,” he added, quietly and sincerely.

It wasn’t as difficult as she thought it might be, but she felt her breakfast lurch towards her throat once or twice. She couldn’t tell if it was from fear of falling on the unforgiving pavement below or fear of embarrassing herself in front of him. Or maybe it was just because he had a firm hold on her legs to assist her as she clambered inside with far less grace.

He sat her down gently on a large pile of junk mail. “Well, what do you think?”

She blinked. He could tell her eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness of the dumpster, and the four openings to the outside world abused their pupils every time they glanced towards the light.

“Here, I just found a motherload of these.” He handed her a National Geographic with a photo of a brilliant butterfly on the cover.

“This is like 20 years old,” she said, thumbing through the pages. He’d already found a box lid that someone had mistakenly thrown into the magazine bin, and was using it to collect his treasures. She set the butterfly magazine on top and stood up, pausing to find her footing in the massive paper dunes. As she started to ease her way down the hill, she noticed an interesting corner protruding from the pile and pulled it out. “Ooh, a New Yorker!”

“Psh, there are loads of those in here. I have a ton of them back at school if you want them. But I mean, go ahead and save that one if you want it. Apparently people who read The New Yorker loooove to recycle. Here,” he said, thrusting another find into her hands, “now this is interesting.”

“Vintage Hustler,” she looked up at him, “very….nice? I’m sure you and the guys will have fun with that later. I didn’t realize you brought me in here to look at dusty old porn.” She handed it back to him. “Find me the issue that includes the paradoy of Jerry Falwell. That would be interesting.”

“Oh come on, aren’t you having fun? I thought you’d get a kick out of the diversity of the dumpster.”

“Of course I’m having fun,” she said, flipping through a small stack of magazines in her lap. “This is a treasure trove of randomness! Oh here,” she extracted a volume from the pile in her arms. “Now this is more like your demographic.”

“Oooh, let me see!” he plucked it out of her hands. “Seventeen?!” He chucked it to the side, where it made a loud thud against the metal wall of the recycling dumpster. “Very funny,” he said, scooping up a handful of dutifully shredded credit card applications. “VERY funny,” he repeated as he showered her with this repurposed confetti, someone’s attempt to avoid identity theft.

“HEY! Act your age, not your favorite magazine title!” She swatted at the shreds in her hair, stooping down to hurtle a handful back at him.

The box lid grew heavy with fortuitous discoveries: last week’s Time; Rolling Stone from 1999 with the Beastie Boys on the cover, all dressed in red; Oprah’s covergirl smile modified with an inky goatee, devilish eyebrows, and bat wings; a bridal magazine from 1946; a year’s worth of Architectural Record—the grand prize.

“What do you have there?” he asked. She was working at a small, square cardboard mailer.

She finally pried the corner loose. “There’s a CD in here!”

“What? Really? What is that? Let me see!” he sifted his way towards her, wading through the knee-deep piles of popular pulp.

“It’s a demo or something,” she looked inside to see if there was anything explanation to accompany it. “Oh look! It’s addressed to Tift Merritt. I guess even semi-famous people use this recycling center.”

He examined the mailer. “Who the hell is Tift Merritt? This isn’t even the right recycling bin for that stuff. You can’t just dump a CD in here. And this mailer goes into the paperboard bin. This is for junk mail and magazines! Just paper!”

“Dude, relax. I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time. People just throw all their junk into a box and then dump it all into here. They don’t sort.” She threw the mailer out into the light. “We’ll put that in the right bin later.”

“Shhh,” he quietly moved towards the far wall, towards the emptier end of the container.

“What!?” she whispered.

“Someone’s out there. Come over here.”

She silently released her feet from their periodical shackles and slid down the mountain of paper towards him, a slight shuffling of pages in her wake. She stood next to him, backs pressed against the metal wall. They watched the light. Outside, a man was talking to someone. He sounded like he was behind them, probably dumping a load of newspapers. That depository wasn’t nearly as interesting: just a heap of yellowing News and Observers sprinkled with the occasional USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and a rare glimmer of New York Times. It was all yesterday’s news, fit for lining the kitchen table for a messy craft project or cleaning the bird cage. White paper and magazines was a far more dynamic mosaic of castaways.

“Stop breathing like you’re at yoga class,” he hissed. “You’re too damn loud.”

She held her breath.

Then the window at the opposite end of the bin was dark, and a fresh stream of papers snowed on the peak of the magazine mountain as the man emptied his box into their hideaway. The darkness lifted and the opening was light again; the intruder was gone.

He chuckled softly under his breath. “I love it when that happens.”

She still didn’t move.

The opening grew dark again as a balding head invaded their space. It panned across the contents of the bin as the intruder’s eyes attempted to acclimate to the darkness. They froze, but he had already spotted them.

“What are you kids doing in here?” the intruder demanded.

His pinkie found one of her fingers and clutched it. “Looking for magazines,” he said.

The intruder looked unimpressed. “That’s pretty…desperate.”

“No it’s not,” she said, “it’s amazingly interesting.”

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