I am a fireplace junkie. One of my favorite things in the world is a huge crackling fire in a big fireplace. I can sit for hours and read by the fire, write, or have conversation with friends and family. But, firewood ain’t free. In fact, its damn expensive, and burning firewood is like tossing dollar bills in the fire like Richie Rich.
For many years, I lived in a beautiful, old, Spanish-style house on La Jolla’s “Street of Dreams.” How I came to live in this house is a story of its own, but for now, I’ll stick with the fireplace. That house had a fireplace that was large enough to cook a fucking pig. It. Was. HUGE. It was perfect for a fireplace junky like me. In fact, this great old house also had a fireplace in the outside courtyard where I could sit with friends and have scotch by the fire while enjoying the outdoor environment. Perfect for cigars. And, three other fireplaces throughout the house. Yeah, five fireplaces. It was a grand old house.
For anyone who has been to the typical grocery store, you have probably seen stacks of “firewood” near the front of the store, usually where ice and charcoal is sold. You know the grocery-store-firewood; usually shrink-wrapped into tiny bundles and maybe a hemp-rope handle stapled to the wood, so you can carry it out. How much wood do you get? Five pieces, if you’re lucky! For $6.99, you get five crummy pieces of wood. Each time you toss a log on the fire, you are burning a buck-fourty. Now, imagine how much firewood a guy like me could use in one cold season (between 5 fireplaces). One sitting for a couple of hours could easily cost $100. I could save a little money by ordering wood from a tree trimmer. But, still, after paying for delivery, the cost of firewood is just a lot of damn money.
One drizzly day, years ago, I was at home when my wife called me. “Babe,” she said, “I just passed a spot where a dead tree is being cut up into pieces by city workers.”
Now, she didn’t have to say more than that. I actually knew the spot she was talking about because I had passed a dead tree on my way out of La Jolla many times. I had fantasized about borrowing a chainsaw and taking that precious wood home in beautiful, pine-scented stacks.
“I’m on it,” I replied.
“I’ll be passing back by it in an hour, actually,” she said, “I’ll meet you there and help.”
Ha! I didn’t think twice about the fact that I lived in a multi million dollar house on the nicest street in the nicest town in the county. I didn’t think that it was beneath me to drive my Mercedes over to a public street in a rich town and pull off to the side of the street to scavenge some wood from a felled tree. So, that I did. I drove my black Mercedes sedan over to the spot, and met the wife, also driving a Mercedes, SUV. I took off my dress shirt and kept my t-shirt on and just started filling the back of the SUV with luscious free fresh-cut firewood. I filled the back of the truck and was putting in the last few pieces when a convertible BMW drove by, full of rich kids, and one of them yelled “TRASH DIGGERS!” and I could hear them laughing as they sped up the hill.
I laughed, then I paused and said aloud, “hey…those spoiled brats probably didn’t have to pay for that BMW with their own money” and then I shook my head and said “motherfuckers” under my breath. Heather laughed, and said “they don’t know what its like to pay for anything, and they never will.” I nodded, and then got my happiness back when I looked and beheld an entire SUV full of free firewood.
Do you know anyone who would see $100 bill on the ground and not pick it up? I don’t. Yet, every day most people do just that. They don’t want to be a trash digger. If you happen to be rich, then it is certainly your prerogative to walk past a $100 bill. Scrooge McDuck burns $100 bills to stay warm. In this wonderful free country of ours, it is your choice to do what you want with your money, and for the majority of Americans, they do just that.
Alright, so you don’t want to dig in the trash. That’s fine. It’s a metaphor more than anything. So, even if you don’t want to actually touch trash, if you want to get out of moderate American poverty, you need to tap into your inner scavenger.
I am a trash digger at heart. I vividly remember the first time I dug in a trash can as a child. It was after a neighbor’s house was cleaned for a move, and their trash was full of delightful things, auto magazines, nicknacks, jewelry, dishes. I brought a treasure trove home. Much of those “treasures” ended up in our trash, but a few items found a home in my room. The second time I dug in a trash can was even more amazing. There was a full sized dumpster in the next-neighborhood-over from us. I rode my Scorpion BMX bicycle (with Shimano cranks and a numbered Haro handlebar plate) in that neighborhood often. One day, I was riding and noticed the new large green dumpster. I thought, “why not have a look in this thing, it might contain something valuable.” I hung over the edge with my head inside the dumpster to find that it was almost entirely full of blown glass sculptures, glass vases, ceramic figurines, and more. Was some of it broken, you ask? Of course. Was some of it not broken? Hell yes. I climbed into the bin, and carefully extracted dozens of unbroken hand-blown items. I found a box that had originally held some glass items and filled it with my new possessions and then managed to climb back out and walked home with my bike as the trolly for my box full of glass treasures.
“What in the world did you do?” my mother asked. “I found this all in a trash can. You wanna come see? Maybe there’s more stuff I missed!” I exclaimed. My mom rolled her eyes. But, not my little brother. He was immediately at my side, fondling my precious glass swan (with fiber optic plume intact), and asked, “can I go see?” Damn right he could go see! And see we did. We rode back on our bikes and dove in for round two of the dumpster dive. He wasn’t disappointed. I can’t entirely recall how we got my little brother into the dumpster but we both ended up in that dumpster and we picked through all of the hundreds of broken items to acquire many more unbroken things. We were kings! We lugged more stuff back home, and to our mother’s chagrin, we showed off our trash digging finds. We shared them of course! Not only did we hand things out to friends and neighbors, well, you can guess what our aunts, and grandmothers got for Christmas that year? Yup. Random glass figurines, vases, and at least one person got a glass swan with a fiber-optic plume.
It isn’t like we were poor. But, we weren’t rich either. That position, between poor and enough, is just uncomfortable enough to motivate a kid to look for something valuable in the trash. In fact, it was one of life’s great lessons. I have many stories about success later in life that flow from my willingness to find value in unconventional places. I’m talking about things as simple as a computer monitor, and as complex as an entire business. Trash digging, if you want to call it that, has allowed me to claw my way out of the socioeconomic class that most people want to rise out of. I’ve never won the lottery. I’ve never inherited a dime. I’ve never had a huge paying job. What I have done to rise out of the middle class is to embrace my inner trash digger. If you’d like to learn more about how, then follow me, and watch for more articles. I’ll take you along a series of journeys and help you find your own unconventional path to success.