Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The detritus of education

Don't tell me we don't live in a spend and waste culture.

As I took my morning walk I passed mounds of garbage discarded by the seniors of Wesleyan University as they abandoned their academic careers in Middletown.

The walk which began as I startled a large blue heron in the holding pond across the street from the former Wilcox-Crittenden forge. As I approached the Wesleyan student neighborhood of Miles, Brainard and Homes Streets I began to see the piles of trash left behind by departing students.

At first, you're struck by the sheer volume, but that's because what has been relatively neatly gathered, is then pulled apart by scavengers looking for treasures. My assumption is that anything in the possession of a college student for four years is likely not rescuing, but friends have told me that they have found perfectly good pieces of furniture and clothing, unused kitchen utensils and items like microwaves and TV's that are too bulky to transport cross-country. The university has created a system where portable storage pods are placed in parking lots so that big items can be discarded and recycled.

One can only imagine this scene repeated at universities across the country.

The most savvy scavengers arose early Monday morning, after seniors had departed, to prowl the curbs and pull the most useful items from the piles of used goods left behind.

By the time I passed this morning, there was little left but the real garbage, much of it able to be recycled, but unlikely to be. And it was strewn from pillar to post by those in search of something of value.

I found these remainders of an academic career sad and beautiful in equal degrees. Entire contents of refrigerators heaped together. Unwanted wall decorations which now yoked Picasso with Janis curbside. Prodigious evidence that the students enjoyed the consumption of alcohol. The kitschy pitched carelessly with the pithy. And the well-worn carcasses of large upholstered chairs and sofas.

While Lucy forbids me carrying even one more chair-in-need-of-repair into our house, I did a bit of superficial dumpster diving near the fine arts complex where desperate students sometimes discard unwieldy masterpieces before they head out for careers in bohemian hovels in NY and Paris.

I'm hoping that the art, which now hangs on my office wall, will someday belong to the oeuvre of a well-regarded painter with a Whitney opening.

I had an idea while walking. I challenge one or more of the many non-profits in Middletown to organize an end-of-semester tag sale in town in which they could collect worthwhile items from departing students, bring it to a single location for sale, and make money for their organization while helping students with their clean-up.

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