Chapter 5

The Karmic Dumpster

With the exception of a short stint in the ritzier River North neighborhood of Chicago, I lived in the same apartment building on the south side for three years. The first two years were spent in a 400 sq. ft. (37² meters) studio on the 18th floor. Later, I moved to a two-bedroom corner unit with a stunning wrap-around view of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. 

My neighbors were a mix of older Black residents who had been there for years, perhaps decades, and an ever-growing number of international students attending a technical university nearby.

I moved in without much. When I separated from my now-ex-wife, I took only what would fit in my car. I had no furniture, no electronic entertainment, and no kitchenware other than my set of good knives, which I was happy to have had the foresight to abscond with. I had planned to go back and retrieve a few items, because there were plenty more than necessary for her.

She, for her part, told me to give her a list of what I wanted, and she would decide what I would be allowed. Fuck that. Not in the mood to kowtow to her over material items, I decided that I’d just start over and buy all new things. And thanks to IKEA, I was able to get the basics fairly inexpensively.

Of course, there are always items that you discover you need later on. When I began hosting couchsurfers, I found that many of them preferred to drink tea instead of the free coffee that was available in the lobby downstairs. So I purchased a kettle. 

And a toaster, because when my girlfriend visited, she told me that she enjoyed toast for breakfast. I seldom ate breakfast at home because of my work schedule, and when I did, I simply toasted my bread on a skillet after the bacon and eggs were finished. But I didn’t mind having to purchase these items at the store, as they helped me be a more accommodating and confident host.

While I no longer confess a belief in an omniscient and omnipotent God, I have reached the conclusion that karma, or something like it, may, in fact, be real. I have always tried to treat others well, and many times gone out of my way to be helpful. And it appears that the universe has perhaps been paying attention and rewarding me for my good deeds. 

I opened my home countless times for travelers, hosting over 150 individuals, and never had a bad experience. Rather, it seems that I was blessed instead. And one of the ways that I seemed to find blessings was by simply walking out the door and passing the trash dumpster on the path to my car.

I had purchased an iron, because that seemed to be something that a grown-up would own. When I was married, we had an iron, and I am fairly adept at using one, even though back then I preferred to let the dry cleaner press my shirts and pants. But a traveler may not have the time to wait on a dry cleaner. So the iron was mainly for my guests.

I did not, however, want to spend money on an ironing board at the time. I figured that in a pinch, they could iron on the floor with a blanket or something underneath their clothes to be pressed. But not two days after I acquired the iron, I passed by the dumpster corral behind my building, and there stood an ironing board. Not new, but in good condition. And it went right up to my apartment where it fit neatly in my walk-in closet.

Later, after hosting a party of five young ladies for a weekend, it became apparent that the bathroom mirror above the sink was insufficient. They were all trying to crowd in the tiny space to take turns making sure that their make-up looked right, and then having to ask their friends how they looked in their clothes. This was important, because we (they invited me) were going out to a swanky club.

One of the girls mentioned to me that what I really needed was a full-length mirror. I had not considered that as a need before, but now I completely understood her point. Again, within the week, the dumpster provided for my “needs”.  Someone had put out a 12″ x 48″ (30cm x 122cm) framed mirror that simply needed to be attached to the back of my bathroom door. Brilliant!

After that experience, I continued to find folding chairs when I needed them, a set of four nice wooden dining chairs in excellent condition that went to a friend who I knew lacked their own, a beautiful lacquered wooden table with legs that folded neatly underneath. This was perfect for when I required a coffee table for after dinner drinks or a game of cards with friends. And optimal for when it wasn’t in use, as it tucked perfectly inside the gap beside the refrigerator. 

It was uncanny how the dumpster knew what I needed.

As I was preparing for my move to Thailand, one of the items that I kept in the back of my mind was a large piece of luggage to replace the suitcase I gave to my girlfriend to take her belongings back to California. So I had been planning to see if there was a sale on luggage before I had to vacate my apartment in December. Near the end of November I walked downstairs and out to my car with a friend so that I could donate a frozen turkey that my employer graciously gave me every year before Thanksgiving.

To my amazement, sitting right in front of the dumpster was a large black suitcase. It was in excellent condition. The wheels worked. The handle worked. The zippers worked. It was clean, though emblazoned with stickers on the outside indicating that it had recently been through Hong Kong International Airport. The inside was filled with empty shoe boxes, women’s size 6. It was exactly what I needed for my move.

The shoeboxes served to remind me of another good deed that I had promised myself that I would do. I filled two of them with gifts to be distributed by the Samaritan’s Purse charity for their Operation Christmas Child drive, something I never would have done while one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I created one box for a girl, and one for a boy. Which in retrospect was rather sexist of me. What can I say? I’m still learning. While I have yet to find a magic dumpster here in southeast Asia, I have continued to try to pay things forward. This may take the form of helping a neighbor in need, assisting a tourist with information or directions, or volunteering to practice English with those who want to improve their skills. And whether it’s celestially reciprocal or not, I have not stopped receiving good things in my life.