The sights and sounds of the Central Valley countryside in mid-Spring are mythical in their splendor. The lush green rows of almond trees growing their meaty nuggets. A steady hum of a John Deere tilling the soil in preparation for planting corn. Hutches and busted up dresser drawers juxtaposed against a pasture of milk cows. The clanking of an old washer and dryer set, as it is tossed to the roadside from the back of a pickup at 3 a.m.
The countryside once again has become ground zero for people’s refuse. I will forgo the fact that the city has implemented free dumping sites during the pandemic. The hefty fine you’ll receive from the sheriff will be a far better outcome than being caught by a local farmer. Do you know what else we have out here besides fertile dumping grounds?! Mean dogs. Guns. Large holes dug to dispose of undesirables. (The holes are used for burnable refuse – not people found littering. *As per the Bulletin legal staff*)
It’d be nice if once and a while we’d find a safe full of cash or a book of Mountain Mike’s pizza recipes... Something of value, like an antique popcorn machine to fill our day with memories reminiscent of the El Rey Theater. But these days never come… or have they?
(Cue time machine to 1981)
The Summer of ‘81 wasn’t much different than now – people still thought it was ok to toss their unwanteds out here. But for a 9-year-old boy the discovery of trash bounty is a different game. A washer and dryer can be beaten with sticks. That hutch and dresser set are perfect for group karate practice. When you’re nine years old, the options are endless – when you have little to no options.
The discovery of an old dresser seemed an innocuous treasure; however, this dingy underwear box revealed itself to be the find of the century, one I still dream about today. The top drawer contained a nasty looking duffel bag, and in its front side pocket relic number one was discovered.
A switchblade. A real honest to god switchblade! Not the comb type that Arthur Fonzarelli would use to slick back his pomade-soaked mane, but the kind that Charles Bronson took from a punk’s hand, just before delivering the death wish. Little did I know, this was just a sunken ship in the Delta Channel, compared to the Titanic about to be discovered.
A lesser trash hunter would’ve just moved on and begun stabbing every inanimate object within arm’s reach. But I’d just seen Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and sensed that the blade was a decoy, intended to throw me off the trail.
It was then that my peer and noted trash archaeologist, Tony Coit, pulled up on his bicycle. He had spotted the dresser wreck site the day before. Sure, we were peers, but much like Indiana Jones’ cohorts, I knew he was not to be trusted.
“Is that a switchblade?!” he asked. “Duh, stupid. It ain’t a can opener,” as I tossed it in his direction. The dude loves knives, and I knew it would hold his attention whilst I pilfered the duffel bag....
And then it happened – the greatest moment in our young lives up to that point. The Arc of the Covenant and the Mona Lisa rolled into one.
The duffel bag was loaded with nudie mags! A true miracle. Not the tasteful type either, more New England Journal of Medicine. We were only 9, and although not really sure what we were seeing, we were certain of one thing: this treasure must not be turned in and it must be protected with a fervor. We dashed to the hay barn because as any farm kid knows, the safest place to be trash pandas is on top of a haystack. The vantage point and unobscured sightlines provided the necessary comfort needed. The stacks were safely stuffed in between hay bales, and our museum had its main attraction.
The Summer came and went. I returned to our house in between Manteca and Escalon, always begging any able-bodied driver in my family with, “Can I go to the dairy with you?” I reckon my family thought I was really amped on farming. Once in a while my grandma would call me, “Tony Coit rode his bicycle over here looking for you.”
What? It’s a Tuesday on a school night, and I live in another town? The treasure! Indiana Jones knew not to trust the Nazis, but in the mixed up world of Trash Archaeology, you crawl into bed with some nefarious bedfellows.
Time passed. Maybe a year. Just two boys protecting and enjoying valuable treasure… Then an unfortunate turn.
I visited the dairy and my heart sank – all the hay had been removed from the barn. Treasure and hope gone! I made that horrible phone call to my partner in crime.
“Tony the haystack is gone, the stuff is gone,” I whispered into the house phone. He didn’t hesitate, “Oh I have it, those haystacks were moved to our ranch last month.”
The second miracle had occurred. The bag had been safely transported and relocated.
While excited that our duffel of hope was safe, this was a misstep on my part. His father was in the hay business and moving and selling stacks is par for the course. But if he was there the day the stacks were being moved, why the hesitation in calling me? Can he still be trusted?!
I knew asking him to relocate them back to our dairy was an impossibility. The exposure time was too much to risk, and besides – possession is 9/10ths of the law. Not to mention that when we were 9, he was bigger and could easily beat me up, a leverage point that would change sides a multitude of times throughout our lives.
Like most things in my life, the adage “out of sight, out of mind” made its appearance. Until one day a broken-hearted Tony made that fatal announcement, “The stacks were moved, and I have no idea where.”
Such is life in the high stakes game of haystack treasure hoarding.
We moved forward. Despite searching the various nightstands and junk stuffed microwaves that littered the roadside, nothing ever compared.
By the time we were 12, motorcycles and three-wheelers became part of our everyday – and we didn’t look back.
Until the third miracle shone its beautiful light upon us.
The day was going as usual, riding around the countryside, making various pit stops at neighbors’ ranches. Tony Furtado was a few years older than us and could ride a dirt bike like Chris Carr. We cruised in, hoping to get a look at him catching air and riding whoops…
“What’s up, you monkeys?” he grinned. Tony Furtado was way cooler than us two nerds could ever be, so we just nodded. “You guys wanna see something?” he asked
Well duh, Tony, we are 12, all we wanna do is “see something.”
He led us to a shed behind their milk barn, and the third miracle occurred!
“Check it out. It’s a bag full of nudie mags. I found it in a haystack a few years ago.”
Three miracles bestowed upon one bag. Sainthood if there was ever a reason.
Tony Furtado listened to our story and was kind enough to parcel out a few pieces to us both. Though the shine of glory had been impeded, treasure of that value and beauty should remain intact. I always regretted not throwing my books on top of a random haystack. Pay it forward.
Anyway, this column is supposed to be about trash being dumped in the country. Stop it, you jerks!
“It’s not where ya do, it’s what ya do.”