Remembering the Dumpster Dance

During a Man Cave talk recently, a camper asked me about my first summers as a camp director.  What was it like?  What did you do?  Was life different then?

I felt a rush of memories; many funny, some nostalgic.

Then I remembered Dumpster Dancing.

This memory made me so appreciate Camp Champions today.

In 1993, my brother and I started a camp from scratch.  We wanted to be summer camp directors and we could not find a camp to buy.  As a result, we decided to start one ourself.

Starting a camp is not inexpensive.  Land, infrastructure and buildings all need to be in place before the first camper even arrives.  In the first year, I was burdened with graduate school debt and I was on some substantial notes for the camp.  The only money I had that did NOT go into the camp was set aside to buy a ring in hopes that the beautiful Susan Osborn might marry me.

Tight finances make for creative answers.  In the early years, I would help collect the trash each day.  It became clear that we had enough dumpster space for 5 days, but not for 7.  Our other maintenance man was begging for a second dumpster, but we were already way over budget.

This was the genesis of the Dumpster Dance.

I persuaded one of my good friends and fellow jack-of-all-trades to join me on the trash run each day.  We would throw the garbage into the dumpster,  put on old shoes and then jump into the dumpster and jump up and down for 5-10 minutes.  Any shorter, and we could not achieve the compaction necessary to assure us of 7 days between trash pick-ups.

This was not a pleasant task, yet I remember it so fondly.  I loved the comraderie of sharing such an awful task with a great friend.  I remember thinking I was the only graduate of Harvard Business School ever to spend 45-60 minutes a week manually compacting garbage (at least not literally, I suspect some others have done so figuratively).  I found the whole thing terrible comical.

One particular day stands out.  We had been filling our bags so much that they were too heavy to toss into the dumpster (once again, trying to save our resources).  In order to get the bag into the dumpster, we would use a pendulum swing.  We would make each swing wider until we could make the final swing which would bring the bags into the can.  This last swing is not unlike a golf swing.  On this day, I had the breakfast trash from the dining hall.  I was executing the pendulum swing perfectly: first from 5 o-clock to 7 o’clock, then to 4 and 8, then parallel to the ground at 3 and 9.  Since the bag was particularly heavy, I widened the swing further until the peaks of the swing were at 2 and 10.  As I brought the bag up for the final backswing, the back began to open up.  It disgorged its contents equally for the entirety of my swing, with the final milk jug coming out just as I finished the swing and put the (now empty) bag into the dumpster.

In cases like this, you can either laugh or cry.  We decided to laugh, though the laughter did not last through the ensuing pick-up process.

As I think about those early days, it becomes clear how little our actual circumstances define our happiness.  Instead, we get to choose how to respond.  My mother (the Silver Fox) always told me that “happiness is a choice”.  This is a lesson well-learned when doing the Dumpster Dance.

Steve Sir


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