One Man's Trash Is Another Man's ... Trash

A box was lying next to the front doormat one afternoon. This arrival was unexpected. It came from a relative who was into electronics.

I couldn't imagine what it was. I couldn't even open the box with fingers alone. In the kitchen drawer was a steak knife. While avoiding the many huge staples, I began sawing at the top of the carton until I could tear it away.

Inside was an unusual appliance, resembling the weapon of a Jedi knight. There was a crinkled-up information sheet at the bottom of the box. I had a metal detector, a most unusual present.

I called the relative who had sent the box. "This brightened my day," I said. "I've never had a metal detector before."

"A metal detector?" came the offended voice at the other end of the line. "That isn't a metal detector. A metal detector is what embarrasses passengers at airport boarding gates. What I gave you is a treasure finder!"

I picked up the crinkled information sheet from the carpet and reexamined it, "Oh yes, treasure finder...."

After some study of the information, my second childhood was ready to commence.

I switched on the treasure finder and adjusted the volume control. A low-toned hum emerged from the speaker as I waved the wand slowly to and fro. If something metallic was hidden, the speaker would whoop.

Through pine-tree woods I crunched, dutifully waving the wand. The high-frequency howl was yodeling up and down the scale. I located a full quota of bent spoons, cake tins, conduit boxes, rusty bottle openers, sunglasses (one lens missing), and too many soda cans.

The treasure finder wasn't finding treasure; it was illustrating the need for more trash cans.

Later, I took a major stroll along a Florida beach. The wand wavered and listened, but the tone was low. All the way down the beach, and all the way back again, the treasure finder did not utter a whoop-de-do all afternoon. I said hi to some vacationers who asked if my treasure finder was finding any treasure. I shook my head.


The vacationers said, funny, they couldn't find any shells or sharks' teeth in the sand, either. I wondered why.

Then I remembered: that hurricane, years ago. No damage had been done on land, but awesome storm-driven tides had washed most of the sand on this beach out to sea. At enormous cost, the beach had been replaced. Much of the sand had been trucked in from inland.

So there were no shells or sharks' teeth for tourists, and no whoop-de-dos for the treasure finder.

This beach was cleaner than clean. The treasure finder could not locate so much as a ballpoint pen, a penny, a dime - not even a paper clip. But as I left the beach, the treasure finder began howling wildly. With a trowel I breathlessly uncovered ... a steel storm drain. I got no points for that.

I have a friend who is a devoted dumpster diver. He is constantly looking through other people's trash. If I were to compete successfully with him for the lost jewels of the earth, I would have to try much harder.

MY next hunting ground was the palmetto jungle in back of my house. But before the houses on the street had been built, the palmetto jungle had been used as a construction dump site. The roofing nails, engine parts, and aluminum scraps discarded there long ago were driving the treasure finder crazy. I did find a blacksnake, though. The snake didn't like the sound the treasure finder made. The snake went in one direction, and I went in another.

With a cold drink to ward off the heat, I tried to think of suitable terrain to explore with my new toy. The old coins and lost rings that one thinks are lurking just below the surface turn out to be power lines and drain pipes.

But maybe I'll try the beach again.

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