In carefully-researched digs at old brownstone privies, amateur archeologists find a porcelain doll, antique me...moreMONGO: Adventures in Trash by Ted Botha
In carefully-researched digs at old brownstone privies, amateur archeologists find a porcelain doll, antique medicine bottles and ivory buttons; going down an alley on the upper east side, hunters in minivans pick up a matched set of old chairs and some paintings; another ambitious hunter brings a crane and “rescues” stone columns and architectural features from buildings that are being razed. The hunters are out for New York mongo, and New York is the mongo capital of the world. Mongo is the term applied to items—from food to priceless first editions—found, or some might say, rescued, by intrepid people brave or foolish enough to sort thorough other people’s garbage, trash, and discards. When Ted Botha, a young South African emigrant, recently settled in New York City, he found the cost of furnishing his living quarters amazingly steep, so he set out in the tradition of generations of brave opportunists to find furniture and other household goods in the trash piles of the city. He furnished his apartment easily, and along the way, he became fascinated by the resourcefulness and ingenuity of a breed of people he didn’t expect to encounter: the mongo collector. This book is a compelling look at the real work the collectors do; it presents a brief but intriguing picture of some of the collectors themselves.
The author talks about the “anarchists,” a mixed group of students, drop-outs, street-circus performers, musicians and others who somehow live in a fairly expensive flat (at no charge, of course). They have a daily set routine for gleaning food from bakeries, pizzerias, restaurants, pricey little sushi shops, patisseries, and candy stores. They are very careful not to tear into bags so that shopkeepers (not to mention sanitation workers) will not get angry and sabotage their efforts. They have, in fact, converted some of the shopkeepers to their philosophy of “why waste?” so that when the uneaten, discarded food is set out at night, it is put in clear plastic, not mixed with wet garbage, and made available for those who glean what the elegant eschew. The anarchists and the survivalists—who load themselves down with vast heaps of recyclable cans—have a great deal in common: they do not seek items for collection value, they go after their particular mongo to stay alive.
The “dealer” makes a fairly good income—and certainly keeps his mind sharp--by visiting the trash bins of wealthy apartments, sometimes finding wonderful first editions, rare playbills, and old contracts signed by glitterati of the past. Dave, the “treasure hunter,” finds incredible old bottles, rare gold coins, and even items like a remarkably intact tricorn hat from the American Revolution—later seen on Antiques Roadshow. He found a 1939 Superman ring that sold on eBay for over $9,000. But Dave does not have the most ideal working conditions: he must triple-glove and wear a protective suit when he visits his hunting grounds—the landfill and sewer sludge removed from the buried detritus of 300 years of city life. The dealer and the treasure hunter have benefited enormously from the introduction of internet auction sites such as eBay. No longer is the provenance of their finds questioned as if their found treasures were stolen.
In the late 19th century, a young English idealist and romanticist, Simon Guant, pursues his notion of seeing a truly natural land. His destination is...moreIn the late 19th century, a young English idealist and romanticist, Simon Guant, pursues his notion of seeing a truly natural land. His destination is the Indian territories in unsettled regions of the United States and Canada. When he disappears, his despotic father dispatches Simon’s twin, Charles, and his strange and cruel older brother, Addington, to find their lost sibling. Charles and Addington arrive at the fort where Simon was last seen. There they encounter the rest of this adventure’s major characters—each of whom narrates a portion of the story in wonderfully individual voices.
In a story told in these brilliant, believable, first-person passages, Vanderhaeghe brings fullness to each of his alienated seekers: jaded Civil War veteran Custis Straw, brave Lucy Stovall looking for the men who killed her sister, loyal tavernkeeper Aloysius Dooley, and remarkable half-breed Jerry Potts who guides the group into the dangerous Indian territories. Vanderhaeghe’s frontier is peopled by every caliber of adventurer, idealist, seeker, and scoundrel. A thin veneer of law and social organization barely contain eruptions of savage behavior. The potential for brutality—and for amazing acts of kindness—keeps the reader fully engaged.
Vanderhaeghe manages the complexities of multiple voices, chronological switches, and vivid panoramic descriptions with a skill akin to Thomas Berger’s (Little Big Man). Beautifully crafted, deftly told, this is not an ordinary western. A great adventure. Highly recommended. (less)