Friday, August 3, 2007

Notes From The Dump

…stop me if you’ve heard this one…as Curator of The Dump for many years in the Town of East Eden (the provenance of this screed in case you‘ve wondered ‘…where in hell is this fool coming from!?’…) I came by everything you can think of…in its questionable wisdom (as I only learned much later) the town select board - with sweeping gestures of its collective arm - had told me when they hired me as we stood atop a mountain of putrefaction alive with dancing flies and disease-ridden rats itchin’ for a bite of my plentiful adipose tissue…‘It’s all yours, do what you want…don’t bother us with it…’

…man, it was like taking candy from a baby or leaving me your keys & credit card while you were away…cool, I’ll turn it into a cash cow and for awhile did, including one time finding 900 issues of LIFE magazine dating to 1936 when it started and even had a copy of the 1st one, it is a picture of the Fort Peck Montana dam…a 90 year old man had his manservant toss them away and so as not to tip my hand and let the guy know they were valuable in which case HE mighta got ‘em instead of me, I helped him wing them off the truck and over the bank laughing away with the dude as LIFE magazines went tumbling and blowing around and down a football field sized dump on a 30-degree incline, so they were scattered far and wide…soon’s he was gone I dove over the edge tossing rats left and right oblivious to the ten thousand flies, tons of Pampers, every chemical you can think of, all the stuff you see - and then the nasty stuff - into this ‘…stinking, steaming pile of shit…’ – to quote Zap Comics – I chokingly go enveloped in the smell and corruption of this festering detritus, and finally hours later had collected as many as I could, 896. I painstakingly cleaned them off and stacked them neatly in my storage shed at The Dump…

…fast forward six months, Dee is standing there looking thru the LIFE magazines, Dee a WW2 South Pacific Marine vet and even at his advanced age obviously rugged. ‘Hey Dee, how’s it goin’ with you…’ He looked up from the LIFE magazine - and I could see he was holding issue number one; he said, ‘My step mother took this picture of the 1st LIFE magazine, this one November 14th, 1936.’ I said to myself sure she did Dee and I said to Dee, ‘She did?!’ And he said yes she did.

…I was taken aback because I knew who had taken the picture…so I said well Dee, like, who was your step mother, and he answered ‘Margaret Bourke-White…’, bingo…’Margaret Bourke-White is your step mother!’ I said incredulously, he nodded, ‘…well, who is your father!?’ to which Dee - Dabney Withers Caldwell - replied, ‘Erskine Caldwell’ - talk about six degrees of separation…how’s that?

I have to say that if you’re 55 or over this story might mean something, if you’re younger than that you maybe never heard of one of WW2’s most renowned photographers, Ms. Bourke-White, and the famed author Erskine Caldwell, ‘God’s Little Acre,’ ‘Tobacco Road’…well now you have. When they are happening we don’t always recognize what ultimately becomes a significant moment in our lives…

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