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Do you mongo?
November 3, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

"One of the categories of garbage has its own word in New York City, but it’s a category found everywhere that there is trash. There are things people will put out for discard: they’re done with it, they don’t want to see it again. Somebody else looks at that same object and says, “Whoa, wait a minute. That’s pretty nice. I want to keep that.” Those two chairs you’re sitting in were on the curb to be thrown out. They’re pretty nice chairs. I’m happy to have them. In New York, that’s called mongo. It’s a noun and a verb: those are mongo. People who take things from the trash to keep are mongoing. "

NYU anthropologist Robin Nagle writes about trash and performs ethnographic studies of the lives of sanitation workers. She's also the Anthropologist-in-Residence for the NYC Department of Sanitation.
posted by liketitanic (87 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Either someone threw the "pretty nice chairs" out because they didn't want them anymore or they had bed bugs. I don't think I'd take that gamble no matter how nice the chairs looked.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:53 PM on November 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


What is that mental process where we invisibilize something that’s present all the time?

Denial.

In LA I call mongo 'the sidewalk sale'.
Which is also what I call the people milling outside of a bar at 2:30am. This sort of thing really confuses me. (NSFW)
posted by carsonb at 9:56 PM on November 3, 2010


Also, this: Every single thing you see is future trash.
posted by carsonb at 10:01 PM on November 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've certainly mongoed before but I don't think I'd do it in a city that had a problem with a bed bug infestation. It's crazy some of the things that people will mongo though. When I moved from my apartment to my boyfriend's house, I had to get rid of a lot of furniture which included a torn and tattered computer chair completely covered in cat hair. Someone mongoed that shit. Actually, everything that I put out in the alley next to the trash cans was picked up by people (not the garbage man since they won't take anything that isn't in the actual trashcan). It was a huge relief because I didn't feel like making a trip out to the Goodwill.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:01 PM on November 3, 2010


I have never once heard someone call it mongoing. It's always been considered "recycling" or "dumpster diving" in my book.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 10:03 PM on November 3, 2010 [17 favorites]


*looks around to see who's delivering the candygram*
posted by mannequito at 10:03 PM on November 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Because of the tradition of foraging things off the street (never heard the term "mongo" before, interesting...) here in New York, usually if an item looks perfectly good but is contaminated with bed bugs, the person throwing it away will deface the item by writing BED BUGS!! DO NOT TAKE!! all over it in permanent marker or spray paint.

I once saw a beautiful velvet couch out on the street and scurried over only to find it was spray-painted all over with warnings. So sad...
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 PM on November 3, 2010


This is funny, because it's sort of an unwritten rule in our apartment complex that if something is still potentially useful to someone, you put it beside, not in, the dumpster. It's sort of a virtual swapping post, and yes, I have been known to pick up a thing or two (who throws out perfectly good cast iron pans?). There's also the twice annual bulk item pick-up that the city provides, when, if you're quick enough, you can find all sorts of second-hand stuff from plastic furniture to bed frames to bookshelves. Yes, it's usually trash, but occasionally, it's just stuff that someone didn't feel like hauling further than the curb. And you know, one man's trash...
posted by Gilbert at 10:04 PM on November 3, 2010


It's so sad how the reappearance of bedbugs has brought the whole sidewalk furniture culture to a complete halt in New York. I now see people carefully skirt around even nice-looking couches sitting innocently on the curbside. My neighbor had a beautiful studio furnished entirely in street-finds; now it must stay forever as unchanged as her controlled rent.
posted by chortly at 10:05 PM on November 3, 2010


Freecycling seems to be mongoing with a little more structure and a bigger geographic spread. Perhaps the greatest difference is in thinking of it as gifts.

Then the question comes: which one is the better verb? "Freecycling"'s meaning can be deduced more speedily, but "mongo" has a big lumberingness to it which, perhaps, evokes a more accurate meaning.
posted by curuinor at 10:05 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ahh, Mongo! My dad used to work for the NYC Sanitation Departmentwhen I was a kid back in the 70's-- Our house in Rosedale was furnished in Early Modern Mongo. Nothing matched, but you wouldn't believe the quality of the stuff that people threw out. Hell, half of my toys were mongo!
posted by KingEdRa at 10:14 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was at the GEL conference in 2009 and saw Robin give a talk summarizing her work in NYC (video of the talk here). It was pretty amazing for anyone that has ever lived in NYC or even visited. The sheer infrastructure to manage Manhattan garbage is totally insane and it can break down very easily and inundate the city with waste.
posted by mathowie at 10:15 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always understood "mongo" to apply only to the stuff sanitation workers glom. Because it involves transporting the goods in a government vehicle while on the job. It's specific to that situation, like payola is to disk jockeys.

The term and her observations precede the bedbug reemergence.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:17 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dirt: A Social History
a bibliograhy bar none and not cheap.
posted by clavdivs at 10:18 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy knows how to mongo.
posted by vrakatar at 10:39 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


One rule someone proposed to me re: salvage and bedbugs, is that if you can't tell why someone got rid of it, don't take it with you.
posted by fuq at 10:45 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ted Botha's Mongo: Adventures in Trash is an enjoyable read. (As is Bill Rathje's Garbage Project book, which was namechecked in the Believer link.)

Elsewhere than NYC, I've heard mongo (the noun) called cultch (not sure about the spelling). No corresponding verb form that I know of, though.

I think mongo (or cultch) is distinct from freecycling and dumpster-diving in that there's a lot more reliance on someone just happening by who wants the thing. Freecycling is more organized, and dumpster diving is more, um, unilateral. Closer to the mongo tradition is the put-and-take that small town dumps sometimes have.
posted by hattifattener at 11:03 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've picked up from the neighborhood garbage spots in Japan (a while back, admittedly). People through out tons of stuff here, and when I got here ten years ago, bookshelves were pretty steep.

On the other hand, cleaning out my father's house after he passed away? After not living in the house for five years, and sometimes leaving a cat inside for days at a time? I was pretty stunned at the stuff people took (some of which we left on the lawn, rather than toss in the dumpster so as not to need another dumpster). I mean, if you'd like the broken leather recliner that reeks of cat piss, go ahead, neighbor...
posted by Ghidorah at 11:11 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


In college I dated a girl whose entire apartment was furnished with street cast-offs.

Now that I live in Brooklyn I find that people don't throw out anything very good (or maybe that's just the recession talking?) - I've moved a step up and now tend to scope out stoop sales.

I think my last big foraging trip was 4-5 years ago when I lived around the Pratt Institute. So much amazing stuff just thrown out at the end of the school year...
posted by Sara C. at 11:13 PM on November 3, 2010


Despite being an avid "mongoer" (though I'd second the "sidewalk sale" terminology; maybe it's west-coast vs. east-coast vernacular?), I draw the line at stuffed, fabric-upholstered furniture that I can't adequately ensure is clean.

I think the avoidance stems from having been a patron of a punk-rock venue where scavenged couches cycled through on a near-weekly basis, each the scene of countless unspeakable acts. I have seen the horrors that can befall permeable fabrics, and I have seen sullied and abused furniture show little evidence of its sordid past. I've always been afraid that I would unwittingly pick up one of those couches.
posted by Graygorey at 11:14 PM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The computer I am posting this from I literally pulled from a dumpster by its VGA cable. I guessed that if was a whole tower in there I might find the monitor, mouse, keyboard, and other peripherals. Which I did!

Protip: mongo at a private college, university dorm complex, or apartments serving students the day after finals. Return every day for the following week.
posted by clarknova at 11:15 PM on November 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


The end of school was a great place to pick up dumpster stuff. So much furniture tossed out. Lumber, too (for making lofts). Pretty stunning what you could find.

Senior year, we had a hand me down chair. Deep armrests, like sitting in a marshmallow. Its lineage had been lost in the mists of time, but we knew of at least three people who'd had it before us. Some times, comfort can overcome the mystery.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:19 PM on November 3, 2010


Also: Lars Eighner, On Dumpster Diving.
posted by Graygorey at 11:24 PM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's become a bane for local councils over here. Not super long ago they introduced a once-yearly free disposal of large household goods. Fridges, furniture, bikes etc.

Residents simply put their crap on the verge a few days before the designated date.

But the good old law of unintended consequences kicks in about 15 years down the track. People are now chucking crap out onto the verge all year round. Sometimes it gets mongoed but often it doesn't.

Old CRT computer monitors will sit outside for weeks. At the other extreme you get people who are moving house and leave a metric fuckload of garbage out the front. Dirty bastards.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:46 PM on November 3, 2010


"...the poet as archeological garbologist ponders the significance of garbage in an attempt to construct a cultural mirror that will allow us to see who we are and how we can meaningfully advance to the next age."
posted by clavdivs at 12:15 AM on November 4, 2010


who throws out perfectly good cast iron pans?

Maybe someone couldn't stomach making spaghetti in the same pot they used to boil their child's lice-infested hat and scarf, or their pet's flea/tick infested bedding. Maybe they used the pans for mixing up who knows what concoction of industrial chemicals (meth lab?). Or maybe the pans were used to boil/fry some pesky evidence before eating it.

You're welcome.
posted by Marla Singer at 12:17 AM on November 4, 2010 [17 favorites]


The sheer infrastructure to manage Manhattan garbage is totally insane and it can break down very easily and inundate the city with waste.

What amazes me is when I go to some city and find they don't have universal garbage pick-up. It feels like you've stepped back in time. You can pretty-easily tell the cities that don't have tax-paid garbage pick-up because there are no public trashcans hardly anywhere. Because you wouldn't want people taking advantage. Seriously! That's how people that live in such backwaters think. Public trashcans are welfare handouts to the poor and full-of-trash. So what happens? LITTER! Everywhere litter. And bed bugs! Because no one wants to pay to have a mattress removed. No, we'll just leave this here mattress on the curb until someone else picks it up. Great thinking, city planners!

Why yes, Portland, Maine does just-so-happen to be one of those cities!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:30 AM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


le creuset and meth cooking
posted by clavdivs at 12:31 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From uncanny hengeman's description, it sounds like parts of Australia follow the same awesome logic.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:33 AM on November 4, 2010


From uncanny hengeman's description, it sounds like parts of Australia follow the same awesome logic.

** We have a once-per-year garbage pick up for LARGE items [and another one for large piles of green waste]. We have a normal weekly pick up.
** People think "Hey last time I put crap out on the verge it got mongoed let's chuck crap out there ALL YEAR ROUND! It will magically disappear. A victimless crime."
** But a lot of it doesn't get mongoed and council workers eventually have to come and clean it up. The problem seems to be getting worse.

Pretty sure you were describing something different[?].
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:47 AM on November 4, 2010


When I was a kid we lived on an Army Post in Germany. From what I understand there was some kind of tax on home items or some such thing where every few years it was less expensive for the locals to just toss out their furniture and buy new stuff. (I was very young and this was the explanation given to me, I have no idea how accurate that is.)

The Americans called the night that furniture was put out for collection "Junking" and would load up in any available van or large car and drive around the neighborhoods looking for good stuff well after dark. If somebody saw something they liked everybody would hop out and very quietly load the item onto/into the vehicle. Considering that that furniture the Army issued was really ugly, the fact that it was pretty expensive to ship furniture overseas, and that this stuff was practically brand new, lots of frugal housewives furnished at least parts of their homes this way.

I also have a vague recollection that it may have been illegal to take the stuff, but like I said I was about 8 and the memory is kind of fuzzy.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:51 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From uncanny hengeman's description, it sounds like parts of Australia follow the same awesome logic.

I lived in a university shared house in Melbourne (Carlton) that was almost completely furnished with this sort of junk. I started replacing some of it with new purchases a few years later when I got sick of the cardboard supermarket display cases, witch's hat lamp shade and foam couch with the cover disintegrated off. One of my housemates (a thirty year old banker by that point) got so disoriented and upset that he had to move out and start his own mongo house.

When I finally moved out I put out a whole lot of it in a hired bin out in the street. I was particularly heartbroken to be discarding of all sorts of rescued computer and audio hardware (Sun workstations, huge old tube amps etc), until I heard various excited young neighbours climbing around in there, wondering aloud at how anyone could be just throwing away such awesome stuff. In a few hours almost all of it was gone.
posted by vanar sena at 1:13 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


My neighborhood is so awesome. We can have useable stuff/junk/etc. sitting outside our house for weeks or months and no one will touch it. If we move it 10 ft to the designated trash pickup area, it's usually gone within 30 minutes. I love it because a) our neighbors are great scavengers and b) they will not fuck with anyone's stuff until it's very clear that it's no longer wanted.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:21 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's called garbage picking where I come from, but mongoing is definitely a much cooler way to say it. The best mongo I ever scored was when the local college upgraded their photo lab, and I scored an awesome colour/bw enlarger with all the bells and whistles. Sadly, I had to sell it when I moved, but I got 800 bucks for it.

Another pro tip: I don't know if Home Depots everywhere do it, but the one here has a bin outside their loading dock where you can pick up spare lumber and all kinds of other mongo for free.
posted by empatterson at 1:38 AM on November 4, 2010


Also, this: Every single thing you see is future trash.
posted by carsonb at 6:01 AM on November 4


"Future Trash" is, with tiresome inevitability, the name of my new band.
posted by Decani at 1:57 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought it was called dumpster diving? Either way, I managed to make a futon-couch out of a futon and a "Police line, do not cross" blue wooden traffic stopper things. When I had to move, I suddenly thought I might get arrested for having dragged that home when drunk years earlier. Put it out by the trash.. and it was gone in ten minutes.
posted by dabitch at 2:44 AM on November 4, 2010


I don't have that problem in my council, uncanny. But we get pretty stern warnings and fines if we leave stuff on the verge outside of the prescribed times, so I guess that's taken care of a lot of it. Plus we have the bulk waste collection two or three times a year instead of just once. But when it's on, then I can expect to see people driving slowly along my street, hopping out to inspect a pile more closely if it looks promising. Very annoying when you're trying to get somewhere, but it's helped me to easily get rid of great stuff which I just didn't need anymore.

Geraldton doesn't have recycling collections, which shocked me when I was there last. If you want to recycle newspapers you have to bundle them up and drive for ages to find a barely-staffed facility.
posted by harriet vane at 2:48 AM on November 4, 2010


In LA I call mongo 'the sidewalk sale'.

I've heard it called "chavcycling" in Britain. Though that referred to the other side (leaving unwanted, but working, things out in the, usually well founded, faith that they'll get snapped up, presumably by someone of inferior socioeconomic status).
posted by acb at 3:25 AM on November 4, 2010


I like to call it salvage, because that's what it is: saving things.
posted by tommyD at 3:30 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I call it "rescuing" furniture. The only things I purchased new for my place were two Ikea bookcases and all my cookware. Aside from secondhand finds that never cease to amaze me, my favorite being a French Art Deco couch and matching chairs for a total of 50 euros (yes, that's fifty, it's not missing any zeros), I've rescued the following from the street:
- First and foremost and most adoréd: My two kittehs! (Grey passed away a few months ago, though :( ) Kanoko was found wandering around in an apartment entry in August, which is vacation time (and thus pet abandonment time, grrr) here; no ID, no one claimed him, so I took him in. Grey had been abandoned to the streets by his previous owner; it was witnessed by a non-profit org that cares for street cats in the area...
- Gorgeously simple wood chair with modern lines. I actually said, out loud, "what are you doing on the street?!" when I first saw it.
- Pair of dining chairs, nice lines, need sanded and repainted + reupholstered.
- Another dining chair, also needs reupholstered, has been declared Kitteh Birdwatch Post N°4 until then.
- Wood trestles that I now use for my makeshift desk.
- Not photographed, a wood stool carved with Moroccan (or possibly Tunisian) patterns and a beautiful wood console (side table) that I found last week. Totally weirded me out since, two days earlier, I'd given myself budgetary permission to start looking for a console to use in my bedroom. Free is always cool.
posted by fraula at 3:55 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


But when it's on, then I can expect to see people driving slowly along my street...

It's rampant here too, I imagine it would be everywhere. Stuff gone in seconds.

Once I took an old clothes dryer out the front for mum, and I basically helped load it straight onto a trailer of someone cruising past. She was slightly shitty when I came back in and told her. Dad and I told her to pull her head in. :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:35 AM on November 4, 2010


I got something as a pre-mongo once. I was coming home to my apartment building, and was about five feet from the door when the door burst open, and a guy came out, an air conditioner in his arms. We looked at each other.

"Anything wrong with it?" I asked, pointing.

"Nah, it's just too small for my space. I just got a bigger one."

"Did you want anything for it?"

"Nah, I was just going to put it out on the stoop and let someone take it."

"....Would you mind bringing it back inside and up to the 4th floor?"

"No problem."

And that's how I finally got an air conditioner.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:35 AM on November 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Future Trash" is, with tiresome inevitability, the name of my new band.

I guess Tiresome Inevitability is the opening act?
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:00 AM on November 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


About every 6 months, the Austin waste services people send out a notice for "Bulky Trash Collection day." The day is specified as more of a week -- "between x and x date" so people put stuff out early, and it sits on the curb for a bit. This is when you put out old mattresses, broken lawnmowers, worn out tires, etc. and they come along with a big hopper/claw truck and take it away. Except that there's actually almost never anything left by the time pickup day comes around. In South Austin especially, we celebrated the day as "Bulky Trash Exchange Week." People actively cruise the neighborhoods inspecting one another's junk for anything with a modicum of utility. I myself have scored some nice chairs and books.

Protip: If you want rid of something bulky, and it's not Bulky Trash Exchange Week, put it on the curb with a sign on it that says $10.00. Someone will steal it pretty rapidly. Much more effective that a "free" sign. I've used this tactic to my benefit with quite a bit of garbage over the years, once I figured it out. I put a funky little dinette set on the curb with a "Free" sign on a Friday afternoon once, and when it was still there midday on Sunday, I went and changed the "Free" sign to "$10.00" and the dinette set was gone in 15 minutes flat. It's all about perceived value.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:13 AM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also: Lars Eighner, On Dumpster Diving.

Travels With Lizbeth is such a fine book. The part of Austin he describes in just about 6 blocks from my house, and he really nails it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:17 AM on November 4, 2010


I'm generally a little leery of stuff found by the side of the road for the reasons named above (although I have a hard time figuring out what you could do to a cast iron pan that would survive a good scrub and a 500° sterilization). But anything with a known provenance should be fine. *That's* why Freecycle is great--you can be pretty sure it didn't come out of a meth lab. (Freecycle is also great even if you never take anything from anyone--it's a pretty guilt-free way to get rid of stuff you don't want. And they come pick it up!)

Not to mention flea markets and secondhand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. My current winter is 100% wool and completely pristine, other than a difficult zipper. I saw a similar coat at JC Penney for over $200. I got it at Salvation Army for $15.
posted by DU at 5:43 AM on November 4, 2010


Living in southern CT is pretty good for this, although I've become more cautious about it due to living between the east coast bedbug meccas. Between the suburbs with their yearly/6 month bulk trash and Yale cast-offs, I'd say about 1/3 of my apartment is in late modern sidewalk. (The rest is mostly IKEA and estate sale.) You have to be quick to get the college stuff, though, at least around the central campus.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:06 AM on November 4, 2010


Despite being in a lightly traveled street in a relatively small urban area, I am able to dispose of stuff in this manner with alarming regularity.

I call it the magical Curb of Disappearance, because it simply DOES NOT MATTER what we put out there, it will disappear within 4 hours.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:13 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My Aunt had a very distinctive couch, a blocky 80s mess covered in vaguely Native American inspired pastel weave something, a behemoth that was nonetheless comfortable and durable as all hell. Made out of railway sleepers or somesuch. Her cat Bagera loved it -he spent many a day curled up on it with me watching old Jerry Lewis movies, and had scratched one corner of it to hell. He loved it that much that one day he sprayed a few bladders of Tomcat Stank all over it while she was at work. It went on the curb and was sucked into the underbelly of Brisbane.

Something like a decade or so later I woke up after a hard night out on a very familiar stinky couch on totally the other side of town, under a sharehouse done in mongo. It had the same cat claw rakes all down one side and damn if it didn't smell of Bags. And I'd slept like a baby on it, apparently the only person in the history of that sharehouse who managed not to find the catstank distressing.

Damn straight. Smelled like Saturdays with my Aunt.
posted by Jilder at 6:38 AM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


In re bedbugs: freezing will kill them dead, just like roaches. If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line and have garage space and mongo some nice upholstery, just toss it in the garage until February and you should be fine. Or wait to do your furniture shopping until February, I guess.
posted by Michael Roberts at 6:41 AM on November 4, 2010


Our trash guys are so sweet that when they saw me parked on the side of the road trying to figure out how in the hell I might be able to fit this GINORMOUS wood dresser into my Toyota Corolla, they asked my address, put it on the back of the trash truck and delivered it a few streets over to my driveway. I love those guys!

My mom furnished much if not all of our house this way growing up. She's an antiques fiend with an eye for good finds -- most of the things she found and re-upholstered or refinished are now worth big bucks. I despair every time Martha Stewart features something we like to collect in her magazine, suddenly every garage sale-liker on earth is out hunting it down. (So much for vintage jadeite Fire-King).

Someday I swear I'm going to complete my Danish Modern collection and find the end tables I had to get rid of for lack of space when I moved to Boston...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:49 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


This guy knows how to mongo.
posted by vrakatar


i was totally expecting something more like this
posted by fuzzypantalones at 6:57 AM on November 4, 2010


A friend of mine mongoed a '70s-era receiver off the curb in Toronto a few years back. When he took it into the shop to see if it was salvageable (it was) the owner pointed to a shelf, where said receiver was on sale for $500. Me, the best I've found was a cool '50s-style armchair, but this was back in the day before bedbugs.

To this day, anything my wife and I put out on the curb is usually gone in less than an hour unless it's total junk.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:59 AM on November 4, 2010


I'm a NYCer and have never heard the word mongo used in this context. Interesting.
I always heard of it as freecycling, curb sales.

And since the bedbug infestation, it's a deeply suspicious undertaking.
I'm scared even to go to a thrift store anymore. Which is a shame, because I know I'm missing out on neat vintage clothes. But... bugs! eeek
posted by SaharaRose at 7:00 AM on November 4, 2010


One of my proudest moments was when I was driving 30 mph down a suburban street, and I spotted a curbside Millennium Falcon from 100 feet away.
posted by ericbop at 7:25 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


My entire apt is furnished from side of the road shit. Here in Rochester we don't really get bedbugs, and everybody tosses their shit out on the sidewalk. I'm pretty sure whatever doesn't get picked through gets picked up once a week. Even big stuff.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:28 AM on November 4, 2010


I check craigslist free quite often and nary a mongo, but it's catchy. CURB ALERT is more popular. I have been a 'trash picka' forever. Couldn't have kept a stickball season going or furnished a clubhouse without it. Now that I'm grown it's Nordic Tracks, working DVD players, and childrens yard toys.

My biggest regret was not being in the position to commandeer tallback wooden rolling spring-seated chairs and their huge wooden conference tables taken from a school on E96th St and tossed in a dumpster during renovation. I only had about 10 square feet to spare in the apt. and no vehicle. I would have rented a storage unit somewhere just to keep those. It still hurts a little.

Very glad to hear that the City's Strongest have an Anthropologist in-house.
posted by drowsy at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2010


Freezing does not kill bedbugs or their eggs. Only extreme heat, powerful insecticide properly deployed or food deprivation(18 months minimum) will do the job.
posted by Gin and Comics at 7:43 AM on November 4, 2010


Lexi & I just freecycled our couch. Waited for rainless weather, then left it on the corner. Was gone within a day. Hell, we picked it up off the streetcorner a year or two ago, so we're just returning it to the wild.

Leaving a perfectly clean, useful couch on the street = freecycling/mongo. Leaving a jankety piece of shit that no one but a crackhead is going to bring into their home = dumping.

Oh and BTW, freecycle is a trademarked term.
Do not say "I'm a freecycler." Do say "I'm a Freecycle member."
Do not say "Keep on freecyclin!" Do say "Keep on recyclin', my Freecycle friends!"
Do not say "Freecycling group." Do say "Freecycle group"
Do not say "Please Freecycle." Do say "Please join a Freecycle group."
Do not say "There are 10 freecycles in this state." Do say "There are 10 Freecycle groups in this state."
Do not say "freecycle's membership." Do say "The Freecycle Network's membership."
Yeah, no. Fuck that douchebaggery. I got no membership, no network. I got the street corner and the table in the laundry room where I do my freecycling.

And please, do freecycle, wherever, whenever, and with whomever you can. Go rollerblading too.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:44 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Future Trash" is, with tiresome inevitability, the name of my new band.

I guess Tiresome Inevitability is the opening act?


Dibs: "Raised on Trash" was the name of my old band.
posted by Herodios at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am loving this thread, y'all! I got interested in Robin Nagle's work the other day when I heard her say on the radio that "garbage man" is as outdated and offensive a term as "Oriental" or "Negro." I thought that was incredibly provocative--and I don't agree with her--but it did lead me to look at her fascinating stuff.
posted by liketitanic at 8:24 AM on November 4, 2010


I suspected that this word was created in Williamsburg, in some vain hipster attempt to rebrand the noble act of scrounging, but according to WordSpy, the earliest mention is 1984. No connection is made with the 1974 Blazing Saddles character.
posted by mecran01 at 8:28 AM on November 4, 2010


I see a pickup and trailer loaded with junk going through our neighborhood every Monday. I think if you knew what to do with all the stuff, you could make a living. Recently I started biking more and I found a paint gun over the weekend and I just picked up a 55 gallon fishtank, filter and cabinet this morning. It is interesting what people throw out.
posted by iscavenger at 8:37 AM on November 4, 2010


Bed bugs changed everything.
posted by caddis at 8:39 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my old neighborhood this was called "Penn Christmas", as it coincided with the end of the academic year at Penn. (And to a lesser extent the end of the fall semester -- so Christmas came twice a year!)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:48 AM on November 4, 2010


One of the categories of trash has its own name because I made some shit up.
posted by borges at 9:49 AM on November 4, 2010


Never heard the term mongo used, we just call it trash picking. And it is why I have backyard furniture.
posted by desuetude at 9:53 AM on November 4, 2010


The most comfortable couch that I ever slept on was salvaged from behind the U of O dorms before being brought to Portland. I sometimes wonder who has it now and if I could buy it from them.

I got a TV (small, crt) this way once. Never actually used the thing, set it free a year later.
posted by Hactar at 9:55 AM on November 4, 2010


One of my proudest moments was when I was driving 30 mph down a suburban street, and I spotted a curbside Millennium Falcon from 100 feet away.

Well to be fair, a YT-1300 light freighter is pretty big.
posted by Widepath at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah, used to do this all the time in NYC - but I've never heard it called Mongo. Now that I live in Portland it's even more ubiquitous, but people just put the stuff they don't want on the curb. I just got some taxidermy molds this way.

The best 'mongoing' in NYC I ever did was to transport a striped couch from alphabet city to morningside heights. We just picked the thing up, carried it to the east village, and crammed it onto a subway car - and then just sat there and chilled all the way up to 116. A couch on the subway - that's the way to travel.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:07 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You gonna use that, mang?
posted by sourwookie at 10:12 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I see a pickup and trailer loaded with junk going through our neighborhood every Monday. I think if you knew what to do with all the stuff, you could make a living.

There's a guy on my street whose junk trucks take up four or five parking spots. One has large home appliances loaded into the back, one is the jumble truck (stacked ridiculously high with one of anything you could want from bicycles to VCRs to the kitchen sink, all of it tenuously tied down with some fraying nylon rope), one is usually empty (presumably for transporting stuff from the other two trucks), one is a bodega with some coolers of Jarritos and potato chips, and the last one is for hauling his large family around. He's out there all day every day re-arranging his junk from one truck to another and presumably does alright by it all.
posted by carsonb at 10:47 AM on November 4, 2010


Protip: mongo at a private college, university dorm complex, or apartments serving students the day after finals. Return every day for the following week.

In college I dated a Residence Assistant, and all the R.A.s and their S.O.s always got first pick of the stuff the savages students swept out into the hallway so that they could say "their room was clear". This was the "extra virgin" swag.

Then came the custodial crew who cleaned up debris. The dumpster-divers who came by this particular dorm were getting far from the first pick @ the harvest.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:04 AM on November 4, 2010


Between leaving stuff on the curb and calling up the Canadian Diabetes Association we have gotten rid of a lot of stuff. But there is always more to get rid of.

We tried a garage sale this year, and while we "made" $120, the unpleasantness of dealing with cheapskates/lowball hagglers made the whole thing decidedly not worth it.

It really is fun leaving stuff on the curb though. We keep checking back every 15 minutes or so, "is it gone yet?", "nope.", go out to get some groceries and when we come back it's gone. Like elves.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2010


Here in Oakville (a suburb about 35 km from downtown Toronto) I managed to have somebody mongo my old bbq... It was rusted all to hell, no gas lines, no grills, just a rusted out shell. It was gone in the time it took me to go from my curb, to my back yard to pick something else up, and back out to the curb.

My neighbours, on the other hand, put an old CRT TV (maybe 30 years old, 21" or so) and it sat on their curb for at LEAST a month. Goes to show what has value for people nowadays... If I didn't already have a 27" CRT in my basement, I would've considered picking up their old one. And then if it didn't work, sneaking out to put it back on *their* curb in the middle of the night :P
posted by antifuse at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2010


About 25 years ago, I had acquired somehow, one of those cheapo brand X stereo combo things that had a turntable, FM receiver and 8-track tape player built into one faux-wood panel box. When it utterly quit working, I tried to fit it in the garbage can, but it wouldn't fit, so I stuck it in the back seat of my car & left it unlocked. It took a couple of weeks, but someone finally stole if from me when I was working nightshift at a restaurant downtown.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:27 PM on November 4, 2010


This is widely popular in Milwaukee, although there's some competition with the junkers* so it's rare anything sits for longer than a few days. I've never heard 'mongo' before, and though we have 'freecycling' and 'picking', I'm most familiar with "curbing"/"curb shopping", which can be used in a number of ways. I personally refer to trawling alleys looking for junk as 'alley surfing', but I'm not sure if that's widely used.

Searching: "I'm going to [see if I can curb/go curb shopping for] a new end table."
Disposal: "Now that I have a new table, I'm going to curb the old one."
Acquisition: "Where did you get that end table?" "I curbed it."

*We actually have licensed "Junk Collectors". They are usually low-income people who drive around looking for things to bring to the scrapyards, which can be rather lucrative. The licensing was a result of people calling the police; licensed junk collectors are supposed to display a sign on their vehicle.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:37 PM on November 4, 2010


Bed bugs changed everything.

Ah, the underrated second album from Future Trash.


The drift of this into talk of free stuff of craigslist reminded me of the (now-defunct, alas) Item Not As Described.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:12 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: Lars Eighner, On Dumpster Diving.
posted by Graygorey


I haven't read that PDF yet, but in Travels With Lizbeth he describes how sororities would do birthday parties with some kind of follow-the-yarn-to-the-treasure game. He tracked these, waiting for the giant tangled mess of yarn to be thrown out. Using discarded TV aerials, he knit extra-long sweaters so that his butt wouldn't be exposed as he bent over the edge of dumpsters.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apple doesn't like mongo
posted by bruzie at 5:20 PM on November 4, 2010


This is the trouble with living in my town. We have free, unlimited bulk pickup - you call 311 and they seriously show up in about 2 days. There are special crews and collection sites for move-in/move-out at the university, too.

Between awesome service and bedbugs, I doubt if anyone here has a word for this practice these days.

(We called it curb shopping, I think, in LA.)
posted by SMPA at 7:40 PM on November 4, 2010


Also: Lars Eighner, On Dumpster Diving.

Travels With Lizbeth is such a fine book


Stieg Larsson's Travels With Lisbeth.
posted by zippy at 7:51 PM on November 4, 2010


I lived in a student coop and was helping somebody move in. He had this weird hotel-style art print that wasn't very good art but seemed to classy to adorn the wall of a twenty-something that didn't have a bed frame. He said he picked it out of the trash.

Then, a week later, we are sitting in his room, and another co-opper comes in and stares at the painting dumbfounded. She was the one who had thrown the painting away (when she was living in a different abode) months ago. First off, that's a neat coincidence. Secondly, as far as I could tell, she was a little bit jealous of him after that. Every time she saw it, she commented about how ugly it was and how glad she was to get rid of it, all while gazing longingly before snapping back to the present. It was as if she was trying to convince herself that she had made the right decision in throwing it out, which must have been hard because it looked pretty nice hanging there.

It's kind of amazing how easy it is to make one's room look like a real adult lives there. Basically all you need are matching blankets and sheets, a houseplant, and a trashpicked painting. Oh, and paint over all the sharpie graffiti of pot leaves and Dr. Seuss quotes.
posted by LiteOpera at 4:40 AM on November 5, 2010


Stieg Larsson's Travels With Lisbeth.

I'm an ignoramus. Help me out, here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:33 AM on November 5, 2010


I suspected that this word was created in Williamsburg.

Back in the 80s, dad used the term "mongo," but in a different context. For him it was a noun, not a verb, and it referred to surplus and...uh..."non-surplus" items that workers would take home from construction sites.

My brother and I had some slightly-dented, no longer OSHA compliant hardhats that we'd play with. Those would count as mongo. Copper pipes nicked from a work site? Also mongo.

In contrast, we always referred to the process of taking stuff from the curb as "street shopping."
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2010


I wonder if, maybe, the confusion comes from the fact that for sanitation workers, trash IS work surplus. So, if you hear a sanitation word define mongo, that seems to be the end all and be all of the term: "shit picked up from the curb."

Whereas when my dad, an electrician, used the term, it referred more to planks of wood, or a copper plate from a bus duct, or a sign from a courthouse saying "justice," or the blue marbles he used to bust out of Krylon cans. And had nothing to do with street shopping, since the curb wasn't, to him, a work site.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:06 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er, a sanitation worker. Not a sanitation word.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:06 AM on November 5, 2010


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