Growing up in rural Oklahoma affords a curious kid many an opportunity. There are any number of natural wonders from trees and hills to climb to rivers and streams to ford to caves and holes to explore. But one of the worst blights in any community is also an absolute treasure to the right boy.
A sad part of rural living is that almost any country road or out of the way spot on a highway has a place where people decide to dump their garbage. Old tires and swing sets and couches and cans and bottles and roof shingles and washing machines and cars and televisions. And the list goes on and on. I spent many hours pilfering old dump sites for interesting treasures. There was a really old one not far from my friend Bruce's house that we frequented. There were all sorts of rusty metal cans and broken glass and boards with nails and I'm sure we got our fair share of injuries wading thru other people's garbage. When a nail goes thru your PF Flyers you learn to look down to where you step. When a can slices open your arm you learn to be more careful. When that copperhead jumps at your from under the old tire you learn to poke it with a stick first. These activities seem so foreign now and I wonder if there are still curious youngsters in the country who still get the chance to rummage thru the waste of others, or if they even would want to.
To me, I didn't see a pile of garbage. I could only see possibilities and the price of those possibilities was exactly zero. I was an original recycler. A turner of old things into, well, still old things but they were repurposed. There was old wood that made some perfectly good tree houses. There were discarded tires that were hung from trees or just rolled down big hills for entertainment. There were pieces of old chairs and furniture that could be used to make a perfectly usable outdoor living room for a few adventurous kiddos. I remember Bruce's dad had some old water ski blanks that we used to "snowboard" down hills in the winter before snowboarding was even a word in our world. We made make believe swords and fantasy worlds. We just plain threw a bunch of it further down hills just to hear it crash. Any unbroken bottle or light bulb was a treat beyond compare. Give a boy a bucket full of rocks and a bucket full of glass bottles and the day is set. Add in a glass of koolaid and a baloney (bologna) sandwich and you were king of the world. Store bought toys and games were grand but they were no match for something you made yourself out of some old scrap metal and a good imagination and a bunch of bailing wire. I'm a professional engineer now. I still make stuff from old scrap metal and a good imagination and some bigger better bailing wire. But, the song remains the same and close to my heart.
There was always a treasure that had no equal. One that always seemed better than all the others. Books. More specifically comic books. Most specifically...Playboy. Yessir, I found many a grown man's stash of comics that had been held since childhood and the porn that was treasured after the onset of puberty. Interestingly enough, comics and Playboys seemed to show up together. Two male vices. A childhood memory that needs to be discarded so maturity may ensue and pornography that has been collected and scoured till the pages are worn thru. Both tossed away, most likely due to a flash of guilt or embarrassment or because they were told to get rid of them or else they would be sleeping on the couch till they were OUT OF THIS HOUSE. And it's funny how they aren't thrown in the garbage can because that may cause embarrassment like you were committing the worst sin in the world and your sins may somehow be discovered by the garbage man or your neighbor or your mom when she comes over to visit. No, they are covertly and indiscriminately tossed into the woods when the world is looking the other way. Better to break the law than be judged by others. It's a silly game we play. One man's trash. Another young man's treasure.