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dumpster diving

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Debunking the `Don't Ask' Myth

What for me initially was a pet peeve, turned into full fledged anger as I kept encountering the same blind mantra in nearly every single text on dumpster diving that I've read: "never ask for permission to dive." Unless your location of choice happens to be a government or corporate facility, this little nugget of `advice' is bullshit, pure and simple. The reasoning of the `don't ask' advocates is something along the lines of `if you ask, and they say no, you can't go back to dumpster ever again.' Thus assuming that ignorance of the laws in the first place is some sort of excuse? Further, it also presupposes that the same person you ask will be the one that catches you in the act (as if that matters anyway, as will be shown later).However, consider this: if you ask and they say yes, you have a free pass if you are ever questioned. If they say no, you can dive just as you would without asking, and assuming you're discovered and a scene or confrontation occurs, you act the same way you did had you not asked in the first place. Thus, asking for permission can only chalk up positive points, with no more negatives than not asking. My advice: always ask for permission. Consider the following exchange, occurring at a major retail book shop:

Diver, approaching customer service desk: Excuse me, do you have any of yesterday's newspapers left?

Clerk: No, I'm sorry. We throw them out daily.

D: Oh

[Pause]

D: So, um, you mean you threw them out in the dumpster or do you guys like send them back or what?

C: Yeah we just throw them out.

D: Hmm, could I guess...maybe just go fish them out of there? They ran a story on my friend and all

C: Well, if you want.

D, taking note of the clerk's name on the nametag: Ok, well thanks, I hope it's clean...

Another Falsity: The Lunatic Time Constraint

A second widely encountered idea in the literature on diving is the limitation of time to be spent dumpster diving. Many articles stress that this should be no more than 10 minutes. `The more time spent diving, the more your chances increase of being caught.' Very true. If you spend 2 seconds diving instead of 1, your chances increase twofold, and it only gets worse from there! While 10 minutes seems like ample time, plan to spend about 30 minutes thoroughly exploring a dumpster that you highly suspect has worthy bounty. Once again, unless you're diving corporate, much like you're not literally diving into the dumpster, you also wont be literally piling bags of trash into your trunk (indeed, this approach of `pull up and pile up' only creates the impression that some illegal dumping just went down, as well as allowing anyone to catch a glimpse of--if not your license plate, which should be obscured with mud--the make of your automobile). Instead, quickly sort through promising bags, put loose items in a box, collect any sealed boxes, and stack everything outside the dumpster, next to the side of the dumpster that faces away from the street. Then either lug the content to your vehicle, or do a drive by that will last 30 seconds. Have the trunk popped ahead of time, as well as the doors opened. Headlights and radio should be turned off, and neither doors nor trunk should be shut before the vehicle is out of earshot of the dumpster perimeter. However, this is getting into Stealth and thus we're getting ahead of ourselves (hmm, maybe there is some structure present after all). The point here is: don't count on only spending 10 minutes at a promising dumpster: plan to perform at least initial sorting on-site.

Getting Caught

The traditional adage of the red-handed dumpster diver is `I'm just looking for some boxes.' Much like asking for permission, this mantra can work even better when asked proactively. Consider:

"So we're walking behind this retail strip, wanting to score some reading material from the B&N. Shit! At the Circuit City pick-up area a few doors down, there's plenty of workers loading some gear into the back of a truck. So I approach them and go `hey man, my mate and I are moving, and we're just lookin' for boxes, ya'll got any by chance?' `Nah, sorry' `oh ok, well, we'll just look around some more, maybe find some.'"

The result of this proactively initiated questioning is that the fore-looming thoughts of the witnesses have been modified from `what the fuck are those sketchy guys doing at that dumpster' to `meh, they're just looking around for some boxes.'

Moral: proactive tactics can be used to avert suspicion.

Another example:

"Right, so my buddy is down deep in this Radio Shack dumpster behind the store, and I'm standing outside. Suddenly I hear--but don't see!--an engine. I give a whistle, and any rustling in the `ster grows silent (and I guess the flashlight turns off too, though I couldn't see it anyway). Now this local mall security SUV pulls up, it didn't have its flashers on, or even it's normal lights. This is around 11pm, couple hours after the store's closed. I'm standing there, leaning against the wall, looking nonchalant and hoping you can't see--or smell--sweat in the dark. The pig asks, without getting out, `what are you doing?' `Just waiting for Marv to get off work, he hadda do some late inventory.' `You have to wait out front.' `He'll be out in like 10 minutes' `There's no loitering back here, he'll see you up front.' So I begin drudging around the back to get to the front of the store, when I'm there, the pig comes pulling out from behind, and goes on making his rounds. I wait til he's outta sight and then rush the fuck back. I knock on the dumpster, Harry scampers out with a box full of goodies, and we get the fuck out of there."

This example delineates several core points worth considering.

1) As will be discussed in more depth below, always have at least one look-out. This is essential if you're planning to fully submerge yourself in the dumpster.

2) Have an innocuous signaling system (i.e. whistling or bird calling) worked out that tells your partner to go into hyper-stealth: stop everything, turn off the light, hide.

3) Keep your ears open more than your eyes. Assuming your diving in the dark, you won't be able to see much of anything anyway. So keep your ears open for any noise: footsteps, car tires, engines, howling (?!), etc. At any noise, give a warning signal. Better safe than sorry. Following a false alarm, give an all-clear signal (i.e. two whistles).

4) Keep your cool. If you're standing next to the dumpster, and you have the time, try to distance yourself, for added effect, pull out a cell phone and appear to be in a conversation. However, if you're two close, or you're the one reaching in there and grabbing shit, drop what you're holding back into the dumpster (including the flashlight, though first turn it off) and appear to be just leaning on the edge of the dumpster. Only start running if 1) you don't have a friend `on the inside' and 2) you're confident that you can get away. Comply with the demands of whoever apprehends you, unless they turn hostile. In extreme cases, mace and excellent sprinting ability may well come in handy. Obviously in such cases the entire quadrant where the altercation occurred is now permanently off-limits. Note that I have never heard of such dire measures being necessary, and I have `heard' quite a lot. The `worst' that has been mentioned was a sprint through ankle-deep sewer run-off to get to a waiting car on the next block in order to get away from an approaching mall security car.

If the area you are diving in has a private security force, it will behoove you to observe their patterns. Spend the weekend trailing the various patrol cars to learn their scheduling. Likewise, recording when store employees come outside to dispose of `trash', take a smoke break, or enter/leave is of course also beneficial, as are the times when the garbage truck comes around.

Stealth

To eliminate the rattling noise of the dumpster, which to your heightened senses should sound like thunder, cut off square pieces of cardboard, and folding them to the necessary width, place them under the off-balance edges of the dumpster, as well as between the grooves of the sliding doors of the dumpster (both on the top groove/bottom grove, and preferable on the inside groove so it looks less conspicuous to passersby). Don't forget to remove all of the wedges (including the one on the bottom) after you're done.

Obviously keep your talking to a minimum. Exclamations of malehood upon the procurement of that Penthouse can wait until you're away from the scene (and likewise for the ladies). Use the aforementioned system of signals to communicate.

To find out how cameras are monitored (primarily to see whether they are actively being observed or merely recorded), disable or obstruct the camera (either via snipping the cabling with prolonged tree sheers--available from your neighbor's toolshed--or via obstruction/destruction of the `eye' with standard school-boy artillery: bb-gun, paintball gun, slingshot). Retreat to a comfortable observatory distance (for instance down the block), and monitor the area for a while (an hour should suffice), to see if any immediate action is taken. Note: snipping live cable is not recommended. Be sure to be firmly grounded and have rubber gloves/boots on. Methods of destroying the `eye' are preferred.

Partnerships & More Alert Systems

"So we get to the B&N dumpster and prop the giant black lid open. Now, the backdoor is sort of raised on this platform, and the dumpster is perpendicular to the door, so we hear this tin smoke can that was standin' in front of the door rattle and we immediately get down to the opposite corner of the dumpster exterior. We heard a bag being tossed in, and then the door slammed shut."

In order to gain some time (every second counts: how long does it take to drop something?) to cleanse yourself of potentially incriminating act, i.e. bending halfway into the dumpster with a box under your arm, you should setup various alert and deterrent systems. These can be inanimate objects, as illustrated in the above example, or animate objects in the form of accomplices.

In both cases, the goal is to create an alert (usually auditory) that will let you know that someone is coming. The backdoor to the shop that faces the dumpster can be obstructed with a doorstopper, or if there's no space under the door, can be further obstructed by the placement of a large and/or heavy object in front of it that will slow its opening (assuming of course that it opens outwards). A cinder block or a stack of crates has definite potential. For auditory alerts, a simple tin can placed by the door, or a glass bottle balanced on the door handle, will let you know that it's being opened.

However, you will also have to worry about the possibility of certain undesirables (read: pigs) coming from the streets. This leads to the development of a partnership system. For instance, assuming that you are diving in the middle of an alley, with street outlets on either end, and a fence on its backside, ideally you should have two partners positioned at either end of the alley, ready to alert you via one of the previously discussed makeshift audio alerts (whistling or bird-calling), or to communicate via portable radios. Alternatively, cell phones could be used, however as radio communication is instantaneous it is the preferred means of communication Upon receiving an alert, you should drop whatever you are doing and begin walking in a linear direction away from the dumpster. However, as you should have studied mall security patterns already, you should not run into this problem in the first place.

When selecting partners to come along, it is best to select those who either have no predilection for dumpstered goodies (although experience has shown that this a priori disinclination quickly changes once they actually see what you've got) or those who have different interests. For instance, consider dumpstering for magazines: although you often may find multiple copies of each magazine, you will likely find only a few of the `good ones', thus it is desirable to bring along partners of a different sexual preference than yours, and those who have different hobbies (for example model building versus computing). If you bring those who share your interest, be prepared to either split your bounty or to agree to a policy of `you keep it this time, I do the next.'

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