I don’t know how bad our Summit, New Jersey, dump was for the environment, but I don’t think it was that bad. There was nothing burning, and if you wore shoes and had good balance and watched where you stepped you could poke around for hours without releasing toxic substances or causing yourself physical harm. At least that’s what we thought when it was in its prime in 1968. Actually, I looked at it more as an old-fashioned recycling center, where enlightened citizens pored over the discarded stuff of others, and, if so inclined, went away with some newfound treasures. In some ways it mirrored the point of view put forth years later by George Carlin in his famous piece on “stuff,” where your “shit” may become my treasure and vice versa.  But this pleasure was soon to disappear and be replaced by endless garage sales, the natural outgrowth of the sanitation of dumps that took place in the late ‘70’s. Just thinking about the effort of preparing and executing these backyard penny ante horrors makes me yearn for the disorganized junkyards of the past.

Two of our neighbor’s children, who had been born with electronic genes, returned home from the dump, regularly, with a carload of used radios and cannibalized TV parts, which they eagerly repaired, and sold in the good old American way…to my children. I was impressed by the ingenuity of these scavengers, since I had been placed on this earth without one electronic, or even scientific, gene. But it upset me to see my children, namely the younger ones, naively trade their meager savings for junk.

On one of my visits to this suburban Mecca of Discarded Abundance, I did find some classy picture frames and an old sofa that, when cleaned up, was perfect for the basement. So I wasn’t about to badmouth a practice that benefitted the entire family just because of the loss of a few allowance dollars. This was, after all, a good lesson in the prudent handling of money that might help my children in future dealings with con men.

“Hey, Mom, get a load of this. Can we keep it? Please, oh please,” was a familiar mantra and, in most cases, summarily refused. But one day, when their father was on duty, the children dug up the most illustrious of all treasures gleaned in the years before the dump was “sanitized.” A large naked female mannequin lying half-buried in a sand pile. They begged their father to take it home. I’m sure he didn’t think twice. Since it took up most of the station wagon the children had to fit in between its limbs, but the fun it provided made it worth all the trouble. The whole endeavor, you understand, was done entirely without my knowledge.

As you can imagine, this lady had many incarnations, but one stands out above all others. During that winter our neighbors took a two-week trip to Hawaii and asked us to watch their house while they were away. Fine. No problem. On the day of their return, our then-teenage children decided to place the mannequin on their couch, drape it scantily with a couple of large silk scarves, and wait for the reaction. They didn’t have long to wait. In the middle of dinner that very evening said neighbor came crashing into the kitchen, our lady held in his arms.

“Petersons…get rid of this bloody creature before it kills me. I almost had a heart attack when I walked into my living room. I can think of many places I’d like to put it. Use your imagination!” He propped it in the corner and abruptly stomped out.

You can picture the children’s delight. Nobody was chastened.

For the last few months of her residency at our house, the lady stood in a snow bank in the backyard. Her body had been severed at the waist and she sprang bare-breasted out of the snow like Minerva out of the head of Zeus. Her legs were situated in the bushes not far from her, as if executing a high kick. She was very much the worse for wear when, in the spring, we reluctantly returned her to the sand pile at the dump. She’d had a very good run while it lasted, and I couldn’t help wondering who would enjoy her next.

It may have been corny and unsophisticated, but I did miss that dump. We all did!