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Proving That One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

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Some of my clothes came from the streets. I didn’t pick them up myself. Someone else did, washed them, handed them over. Ditto my last dresser, adorned with crayon scribblings, Superman stickers—that knobless piece of shit. Maybe that makes me dirty (I feel dirty), but I’m (we’re) not alone.

In his book Mongo (slang for “any discarded object that is retrieved”; also, “idiot”), Ted Botha chronicles the hunting habits of the real pros, not once-removed trash-bearers like me. Meet Dave, “the treasure hunter” (he found that expensive bracelet you accidentally flushed down the toilet); “the anarchists,” who dine off dumpsters and maintain a balanced diet; and Charles, who collects (usually worthless) pieces of buildings. What makes them tick? “The sense of adventure,” says Botha, a mongo man himself, “the little kick you get when you find something.” That something could be an old jelly doughnut, or the first-edition Finnegans Wake that Steven found. But the stigma persists. “That’s the irony of it all,” says Botha. “If someone sees that same piece of jewelry in a store, they’re fine with it. But someone else considered it valueless, so it is.”