When I was a kid there was a place that affected me like metal drawn to a magnet, our town’s very own Disneyland—the City Dump.
Like many boys, I looked forward to our annual trip to this place of riches and enchantment. The visit was preceded by Mom telling Dad it was time to clean out the garage because it was getting difficult to squeeze the car inside. It was a mystery to me how she knew this since she didn’t drive, but before long Dad would be cleaning out the garage and borrowing grandpa’s old pickup for the journey to junk nirvana.
A trip to the dump was anticipated like Christmas morning. I usually brought along my best friend, Ricky Delgado, who loved the dump almost as much as I did, not that Ricky looked forward to Christmases. His dad was usually incarcerated during the Holidays and Ricky had to settle for a package arriving from The Farm, a polite term for prison. Ricky’s dad was good with his hands and the Delgado kids would be treated to an assortment of handmade leather goods. Many times I’d watch Ricky fondling a new wallet embossed with the noble profile of an elk or lion and wish my Dad was an alcoholic so he could go to The Farm and make me a cool wallet.
When the time neared for our annual trip, Ricky and I would talk about the dump for hours, fantasizing over items we hoped to find on our next trip, things like Nazi flags or Civil War bayonets. Maybe we’d find a magic lamp with a genie inside, or a golden Spanish doubloon or pieces of eight, not that we ever found anything valuable. Once I found a mayonnaise jar filled with polished agates and Ricky found a broken water rocket he thought he could fix, but it was the quest for riches that attracted us most.
There were bottomless craters with castoff treasure beside mountain-size piles of discarded booty. A cloud of seagulls hung perpetually over the place and added to the unique smell, the third best smell on Earth, right behind bakeries and pet stores, a delightful smell that stuck to us like caramel on an apple. Dad had his hands full keeping me and Ricky from hauling home more stuff than we started out with.
When we returned home, Mom would send Ricky home and order me into the shower to wash off what she called, “The stink of the Dump.” I’d toss my clothes in the hamper beside the washing machine, but before stepping into the shower I’d give my shirt one last sniff.
A year would pass before I’d get another dose of this scent of paradise.