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Ah for the life of a Freegan
by Gene Owens

The deeper I go into retirement, the more attractive becomes the life of a Freegan.

Freegans, I recently learned, are people who go scavenging for thrown-away items that still have use left in them. They don't have to pay cash, and plastic is not accepted.

I have yet to share this knowledge with Miss Peggy, who has never, to my knowledge, turned down anything that was free. I've learned to shun all the products offered "free" on the assumption – not yet disproved – that people don't offer you "free" stuff unless they expect to get back something worth more than the stuff they give away.

If the Freegan fever strikes in our condo, Miss Peggy will probably challenge me to rummage through the dumpster in search of furnishings to match our decor, gadgets to do things I can do better manually (it took a long time and an annoying case of arthritis to persuade me to accept electric car windows), and food to enliven our table – all hand-me-downs from our neighbors.

There seems to be an annual rush to the dumpsters at a New York University dormitory to collect the valuables that the rich kids throw away at the end of the term when they head for Europe or wherever rich kids' parents send them when they're not in school.

There, the Freegans vie for such things as still-working IPods, television sets, TV carts, desk lamps and other accoutrements only a spoiled college brat would throw away. One dumpster-diver even salvaged a half-full bottle of Jagermeister, the herbal liqueur unavailable at your average redneck bar.

Here in my town, you could stake out apartment complexes where people are evicted with fair frequency. If you keep a close watch, you'll be able to salvage sofas, mattresses and box springs left by the side of the road. I haven't been tempted since I sold my pickup, but I know folks who have furnished apartments with this kind of jetsam. People with technical and mechanical skills are at a special advantage. I know a guy who lived in an apartment complex and saw a neighbor throw away a microwave oven that wouldn't work. He recovered the oven, replaced a fuse, and had himself a fully functioning microwave.

The affluent often throw away area rugs, paintings and items of clothing, not because they're worn out but because they're tired of looking at them. I'm still wearing, on occasion, a Brooks Brothers suit Miss Peggy purchased for $10 at a flea market in 1991. Hey, it fits.

Freegans also search the dumpsters behind grocery stores, looking for vegetables that are slightly bruised but edible once you've pared away the bad places; looking for canned goods that are a day past their sell-by dates, and for meats that haven't gone totally bad. (Many Freegans are also Vegans, but some will eat meat if they know it will otherwise go to waste. I take the position that after an animal has been slaughtered, any meat that isn't eaten will go to waste.)

It isn't penury that drives Freegans to go scavenging for other folks' throwaways. They're doing it to thumb their noses at corporate America, which consumes natural resources in manufacturing stuff for the affluent.

I'm not sure what Freegans will do once we've all joined their ranks and stopped buying new stuff. I guess we'll be recirculating possessions among ourselves while the corporate executives who have consumed their companies into bankruptcy will be spending their stashed-away dollars on newly manufactured products from corporate India and China.

But for the present, Freeganism sounds attractive. I grew up in a less-affluent world where dollars were scarce but worth more. If you dropped a penny, you picked it up because five of them would make a nickel and buy you a Baby Ruth. Today it takes 100 dropped pennies to make a dollar and buy a decent-sized bar of candy.

Last weekend I attended an event in the Atlanta area in which a single cool-water drinking fountain was provided for an arena that seats up 10,000 people. The reason lay inside the vending machines that lined the concourse: They offered 20-ounce bottles of Dasani at $2 each. Nobody will pay $2 for a bottle of water when they can drink it free, unless the free drink is available only after you've stood in line behind several thousand other thirsty ones. My daddy would have freaked out over the idea of paying $2 for a bottle of water.

I remember my first house payment of more than $100 a month, my first home that cost more than $20,000 (followed all too quickly by my first costing more than $100,000), my first monthly car payment of more than $100 and, of course, the first time I paid as much as $10 to fill up my gas tank.

That has made a natural miser out of me, and as the cost of medical care rises faster than my retirement income and the cost of fuel rises faster than the national debt, the life of a Freegan becomes increasingly attractive.

Miss Peggy is fired up with a zeal to redecorate the condo. I'm going to have to persuade her to try the dumpsters instead of Lowe's and Home Depot.

She has a taste for Angus porterhouse steaks. I'm going to have to rummage the dumpsters behind Bloom's.

She says she needs a new wardrobe.

Well, maybe I'll let her go to Good Will and buy back some of the things she's given away over the years. Will I have to give back the tax deductions I took for those gifts?

Probably. Uncle Sam is not a Freegan.


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
Warning: Raspberry running ant is coming!
Polaroid fades into history
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
Greasepit Grammar: A Pronominal grand slam
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Putting on the dog!
The scars turned to flowers
If only our forefathers had used attack ads
Decent 'dogs
Thoughts from the Southern road
Sic the goats on your kudzu
Save the kudzu - fuel of the future

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com

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