Confessions of a reformed dumpster diver

Confessions of a reformed dumpster diver
The modern Bum’s Guide to Bumming for a Living
By David H Donahue

I decided to write this when I started realizing that I have not worked in over 5 years due to an illness
I suffered in 2005. I never really thought about not working or ever thought I would be in this position.
Unfortunately I had to stop due to medical issues. I initially thought it was great I had family but over
the years I’ve also realized they may have been what was holding me back. The wife would say no don’t
work it’s easier this way so I complied. I noticed my credit getting worse and worse, my funds lower and
lower, I was getting 1000 a minute, a month for disability and honestly thought it was the right thing to
do. Not work, just take the disability and shut up. Then the problems started, I found myself with a son
who needed things, he needed school supplies, tuition, rides to school, etc. I was the one to fill that role
because, well I was there and available. If I wasn’t I would have been out making money making life
easier. But as time passed I found myself more and more out of the loop and finally figured I was no
longer employable which is what happened, I had to foreclose on my house, was no longer employable
and still listening to stay home, it’s easier. In a way it was like being brainwashed. I thought was thinking
weird, here I am an ex-marine, an ex-electrician and now what is my role in life but to be someone
drooling on a couch. Turns out I became a drooling idiot on a couch, typing away, writing books and
eBook’s because I had nothing else to do, my mind turned to mush from doing what I didn’t really want
to be doing. I became depressed and really started losing it. I only knew work my whole life and now I
was just a bum for the most part. People would see me say hi and I would be like, “who are you, do I
know you”. I even started asking people at the store “Can you tell me what state I’m in?” That’s how far
gone I became, just a blubbering idiot. I forgot, I was also diagnosed with AIDS and almost died. I
survived but only to be healthy enough to be driven further insane from people in my own life with the
needs and wants. None of it was bringing me joy, driving t school, picking up from school, washing
dishes, etc. It was like I was just existing to take care of whoever needed help at the time. I moved to
an apartment, again, same thing, people I didn’t know asking for cigarettes, a dollar..whatever. I was
going insane, I knew it, the HIV was bad enough and the cognitive damage was overwhelming, The
problem is normal people can’t see the damage and I always act like I’m ok, so that’s where the needs
and wants come….people have problems I know, I have big problems, huge, suicidal problems, living
with AIDS problems. Normal people don’t see that, they see a guy standing there. And that’s why I
decided to write this. Who am I if I’m not working? Am I dad? Am I a babysitter until the kid is older?
Then what, how do I define myself when I no longer know who I am? I honestly don’t know who I am
anymore, I’m 49 but I’m not sure who I am. I live in a town 3000 miles from my home town and am
completely lost. I am a stranger in a strange town of bible people, hookers, crackheads, hustlers and
down and outers. Or is this just my perception? Maybe just perception but I do know I am lost and
don’t know who I am anymore and it’s because I stopped working and became a stay at home mom…uh
dad. This is also why since my hands are no longer used for working they are used to write and nothing
else. My friends say I went over the edge, I know it’s true, I listened to the “stay at home” for so long I
became the home, I became a loser surrounded by others who are told to stay at home. There is no
purpose, no joy, no money, no belief in anything but pain and the desire to keep surviving. I am in
constant survival mode, like a modern day Rambo. But’ as you will see, I wasn’t always in this situation,
in fact I used to live as a full on bum, a survivalist in a whole different world. A world of scavengers who
dive headon into trashcans and dumpsters looking for that big find. That big score of a bag of aluminum
cans or a half eaten pizza.

So the reason I wrote this is to help people figure out what to do when they basically have no life.
Well, if you have a car you can always go and volunteer and help homeless people unless of course you
are homeless. If you are homeless it is always great to go to a park, usually parks are quiet during the
day and there are always a few birds scrounging around for bread or scraps that people leave behind. In
the 1980s I was homeless for a time and spent hours and hours diffing through trashcan for cans and
and even old stale pizza, whatever I could salvage. I was a master can picker in 6 months, I never got a
degree or certificate but I could “Can” with the best of them. The only things that is hard is to not
identify yourself as a bum. If you consider canning, think of yourself as a aluminum recycle expert or
entrepreneur. It’s easier on your ego and could even be used as a future resume. Find a place to sleep
out of the rain, this is easily accomplished at baseball parks if there is one in your town. The dugouts
are usually covered and will keep you out of the rain. Invest in a box of glad bags, the big black ones,
punch some holes for the head and arms and your all set for in climate weather. I would also invest in a
cheap bike, preferably a hefty older 10 speed bike from the 70s or 80s. These bikes are great for
canning, ride up like a matador with your glad bag black rain jacket and assault the trashcan with all your
gusto. Its best to hit the cans early as other sterno bums or drunks may be right on your tail or worse,
ahead of you. I would start my canning early, like 3:00 am ad then beat everyone else to them. I usually
got about 2 cents a can, 40 cans and you have enough for a pack of smokes, “Mavericks’ which back
then used to cost a buck and a half. I’m sure they are more expensive now so you may need to can a bit
more feverishly. Just remember in in climate weather; always always wear a rain jacket, cheapest I’ve
found on the market are the 40 gallon Glad trash bags which come about 15-20 bags for 5-7 bucks. In all
situations a man must be able and willing to adapt.

Accepting your newfound bum status is difficult, don’t let it be difficult. Look at this as a new challenge,
especially if you had a job at one time. I was a Marine in the USMC, I served from 1981-1985. In 1987
I became homeless. I was devastated, I didn’t know how to react and my ego was shattered. It was
heartbreaking. I adapted though and accepted before long, like a newly imprisoned inmate, your
success as a bum will depend on your ability to adapt to your environment and make it as pleasurable
and fun as possible. Again and I cannot stress this enough, bumming is not a permanent solution, it is a
temporary solution to a temporary problem. Embrace the new status and commit to being the best
bum you can be. Look at your job as a quest; you are the conqueror of your newfound survival
techniques. Think of this as a broadening of your horizons. People kill themselves every year due to
foreclosure, health problems, marriage, not you you will succeed at being a top notch bum, surviving with
next to nothing, you are for all intents and purposes about to live green, off the land, off the grid and
survival is the ultimate goal. Think and you will become.

My experience in the art of bumming for a living was a challenging ride no doubt. I had been accustom
to having a job, a purpose and was in demand. When I became a professional bum in 1987 I did not
expect to last as long as I did. I had a backpack and that was it nothing else. I stayed close to the beach
and parks around the town. I would take showers at the local gym, I would even workout with the
member ship which cost me 30 bucks a month. I would then head down to the beach, diving in every
trash can in full on assault mode; grabbling very can I saw, pushing old paper plates, diapers, bottles etc.
out of the way so I could reap the benefits of my efforts. I would get the cans shove them in the glad
bag I used to carry them and trudge on down the beach, eyes darting around for new cans. I would also
wait patiently when lots of people were around until I found an opportune moment for my scavenging,
In bumming for a living like anything, timing is crucial. Digging for cans is no different, plan you assault
on your trashcans methodically and you will be rewarded. Cans are not the only finds out there though,
there are other things of value you just have to be determined and view yourself as a survivor.

Dealing with cops, other bums and hasslers can be a pain in the you know what. Never mind them
from day one. Once you decide to become a bum, think of yourself as being off the radar, elusive and
.undetectable. This means lay low when bumming, get to know who cans around you, who is local and
who may just be passing through. Many bums do nothing but hang out day after day, year after year.
Many of them drink alcohol, mainly cheap beers and wine. There are tons of liquor stores that cater to
local bums and hook them up with booze especially in my hometown. These people are not your
competition, they pose almost zero threat. The other canners and scavengers are your competition, like
any other job, bumming also has competition from other bums. Some are territorial so keep a low
profile or better yet befriend a bum or two, they may help you find some cool stuff, hook you up with
food or even a place to crash out. They can also tell you the cop deal and when and where to avoid
them. Bums are great at blending in with the territory as I was back in the day. It’s easy to get lost
behind a dumpster in an alley or behind a carwash, which by the way are great for finding stuff. When
people clean out their cars you would be amazed at some of the cool stuff thrown away. If you don’t
have a place to stash your pickings consider bartering with other bums, they can be a great resource for
cashing in and references.

Keeping your head together is just as important as being successful in bumming. Remember this is a
temporary solution to a temporary problem. You will not be a bum forever, look at it as a newfound job
if you like, self-employed and paying no taxes, Keep it simple, don’t expect too much and you won’t be
disappointed. Bumming for cans or food or whatever is a job, nothing else, it’s a form of survival. I
would not recommend being overly friendly either, stay away from crowded malls, shopping centers or
anything that has shopping carts. Bums are notoriously known for stealing shopping carts and
I guarantee the eyes will be on you if you are hanging around these places. Especially places like target,
Wal-Mart, Home Depot. If they see you casing a shopping cart they will probably run you off. Cameras
are always set up watching the parking lots for thieves who run off with their shopping carts. If you
think they are watching the cars to provide a safe haven for shoppers, think again….shopping carts are
expensive, about 600 bucks a pop for some so they are watching their investment not much else. Also
you may end up getting hit up to take an old ladies cart back to the store if you loiter too long. Bottom
line, low profile at all times, consider thinking like a soldier, a Rambo searching for cans, food, whatever.
Keep your head on straight and lay low.

A little about me, I was out on my own at 17 years old, I’m 49 now and I have seen a lot. I grew up in a
small beach town In San Diego California. My dad killed himself when I was 17 and I went in the Marines,
when I got out 4 years later I hooked up with lots and lots of beach girls and kept that way till the late
90s. I was not always a bum either. I had some good jobs, worked my but off and spent more military
time in the late 80s as a boat mechanic at north Island San Diego. I also went to electrical school in the
late 90s and completed 4 years and became an journeyman electrician. I also have bought 2 homes,
have had excellent credit and a great job as an electrician. In 2005 I was diagnosed with AIDS and went
down the toilet once more. It was my fault I fooled around and got bit. My point here is I’ve done a lot
and I’ve been up and down and I’m still alive, life for me is survival, every day, every minute and even
today I am in survival mode. I embrace it and write about my experiences in the hopes they may help
others. My life as a bum was an eye opening experience and I learned many many tricks to surviving.

Location is also key to being a successful bum. Using your tools of adaptability is also equally important. I for instance am now on disability because of my condition. I had meningitis which really
jacked me up, my life became unbelievably hard because of it but did I kill myself? No. Did I give up
and sit and wait for my next check? No, I started writing, I wrote my whole life story entitled “My life, a
life story of a man infected”. I wrote this because I knew it would be a good healing tool, I figured it
couldn’t hurt. It turned out to be good short book and I’m making sales on it today. I’m not rich, in fact
I’m a poor bastard but I’ve always been poor to be honest, even when I worked hard, I always struggled,
it’s my lot in life, I am really just a bum at heart. It’s all I’ve known. Using what you have can go along
way. Learn about your environment, find out where the parks are, where are the places to get a P.O
Box, the places to get an id card? Also get to know people who can help you, usually local merchants
who can direct you to a good place to chill, a cheap local hotel, all of it. It’s out there you really just have
to ask. Use your smarts when diving in dumpsters too. Dumpsters can be gold mines, filled with all
kinds of cool junk, anything from strollers to TVs , cans, bottles and stereos can be found in these
containers. I would suggest before swan diving in one of these things to look before you leap. Back in
the day when I was green I jumped in a dumpster in the early morning hours only to fall on top of a
sleeping vagrant hidden under cardboard. I woke him up and he totally freaked thinking he was being
attacked. This is an important aspect of dumpster diving, always check before you lunge in, you may be
crashing into someone’s living room.

Something else I learned was, share your rewards when bumming off the land. You may find a radio
you don’t want, an old Chuck Norris workout gizmo, shoes, clothes. As I continued on my bum quest I
would give to the few bums I met some of my scores. It will come back to you twofold and what goes
around comes around in bum land. I would hook my bum friends up with smokes, beers, an old pair of
shoes, even a hamburger and it would aways be reciprocated. Bums have their own codes for a lot of
things, it’s their means of survival and it will help you to get in on the loop. Just remember its
temporary, like this life is. No permanent problem and it’s a temporary solution, it will keep you sane.
Bums are people too but they are probably the hardiest of the planet, they are used to living this way
and survive like cockroaches. This is probably why AIDS didn’t kill me, I am a survivor, I’ve lived in the
depths of hell and come out, I didn’t take a bullet to the head, I didn’t fret over losing everything, I went
into survival mode, taking advantage of my Marine Corps skills and survived like the cockroach I am.

Speaking strickly though experience, I know times are hard, especially in today’s climate. Foreclosures
are at an all-time high, I am a victim of the fallout myself. I had a nice house and lost it too. My credit
fell into the 400s and I found myself getting pushed deeper and deeper in a hole I could not climb out of.
It was impossible, I felt like I was in a pool drowning and I was. Creditors calling, I would ignore them and
I fell deeper in debt. People in today’s society can be so close to being a bum but they are in denial, they
will have no job, no source of income yet drive a car with 500.00 a month payments. It’s all denial,
becoming a successful bum surviving on your own individual skills takes determination, creativity and a
desire to survive. The people who lose their homes and great jobs sitting at computers are the ones
who kill themselves, they have no real coping skills, no survival skills, and it’s all or nothing for them. In the
end, if there is a complete financial collapse only the bums will truly survive and live, foraging off the
land and living like cockroaches while the fat dumb and happy succumb to the pressures of the modern
world. Be that cockroach and survive while bumming it’s the easiest way. It’s all about identifying
yourself as a survivalist nothing else.

Tools of bumming are equally as important. I always had a knife, either a fishing knife or a pocket
knife. They are great for using when cooking, fishing for food or slashing bags in dumpsters when
looking for finds. I would call this a necessity. I would also recommend a military style backpack. I like
these because they don’t stand out and draw attention, easily concealed and can hold a lot of stuff. I
would also recommend a military style cooking wear. Forks and spoons and knives with a small pot used
for making coffee, soups or whatever else you can cook up. I also carry lighters with me, a five pack can
be picked up for about 5 bucks at a local liquor store. Cheap reusable and small, works everytime. I
remember a show called MacGyver, he used to be able to do all kinds of stuff, make things work with
safety pins, junk like that. When I was a bum I always looked at myself like a MacGyver, even if it was
pouring rain and I was riding my bike through flooded streets with my garbage bag rain suit. I didn’t
care and I was happy, I could care less what other people thought or said to me as I dove headfirst into a
beach or park trashcan. I was on a mission and the mission would not be called off until it was
accomplished. So, basic survival gear is a must, when living as a bum a bum must adapt but must also
be a survivor in all aspects.
The reason I wrote this little eBook is to show you anything in life is possible with even the worst of
odds. Life is a journey, that trash can 300 feet ahead of you is a destination, dive in with full gusto and
claim your prize you worked for it. Forget about the lottery, forget about that high paying job that
doesn’t work; forget about online get rich schemes because they don’t work.. There are too many
suckers in this world which is why I recommend diving in dumpsters and trashcans to fill your needs if
your down and out. I’m down and out now, I survive on peanuts every month, I did get diagnosed with
AIDS and it messed me up. But I’ve lived and lost, I had and I’ve had not. I’ve been a successful
Tradesman and I have been a successful homeless person. I am who I am and I’ve enjoyed most of my
endeavors, even if it’s diving in a can full of pizza dough and maggots. It’s an adventure I lived to tell
about. Riding a bike through the rain with a huge trash bag covering me as I drove to my next conquest
was an adventure a new feat behind my belt. I am saddened to have lost so much from getting sick but
in all I’ve had a great life, Ive had great friends and have lost some great friends through accidents,
cancer, etc. Life is a journey whether you’re driving 140 mph in a Ferrari or sloshing around in a dumpster
after a big rain, enjoy the ride!!

Dave Donahue

This article is a wacky look at personal adventures, I do not condone or claim that diving in a dirty dumpster is ethical or morally acceptable or profitable for that matter, but, it can be fun!
Dive Like there’s no tomorrow

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