Every day little old Ah Ming spends even more time in the dumpster than the trash collector does. She goes through it after dark, she goes through it the morning. The trash collector starts work before the sun comes up, but she’s already gone through everything. Anything that can be sold has been nabbed, and everything else is left strewn across the ground. It’s hard to pick up, so he hates Ah Ming. Sometimes the old woman isn’t quick enough, and the two of them cross paths. The trash collector curses at her and chases her off with a broom. When he’s feeling extra assertive, he’d go as far as to shove her to the ground.
Beat it, grandma! His voice rings out clearly, as though he wants everyone to know he’s caught her in the act. After a few times, even the little dog turns against Ah Ming. It starts barking furiously when she’s near, and as soon as it spots her, it charges after her until she turns and runs in fright.
Her neighbors hate her most. She reeks. At noon, when it’s 38 degrees and there’s no one on the street, but one of the trash bins in the row is tilted slightly forward, you know Ah Ming is on an after-lunch treasure hunt. Back doubled over, head hidden, only the lower half of her body is visible. Both hands sift through the contents and toss things into a burlap rice sack. When she gets to the bottom of the bin, she’s practically folded herself inside. After a while, a sour stench clings to her body, and people on the street hold their nose and turn away. When people come to take out the trash and Ah Ming is digging around inside, some of the crueler neighbors will just roll their eyes, give a shrug, and toss their garbage bags on top.
Tattered rags, broken toys, aluminum cans, styrofoam slabs: there’s nothing she won’t take. No one knows what she wants all that stuff for, they just see her, well over seventy, carrying her burlap sack upstairs, dumping it out, carrying it back down, making several trips a day, with a stench trailing behind her that reeks to high heaven. She’s still holed up in the ground floor garage. Her neighbors knock on the door to tell her clean up, and she begrudgingly throws a few things out, but the putrid smell just can’t be gotten rid of.
People can’t figure it out: an old woman with a good pension, who knows everyone in her building, who could behave respectably and ought to know better, wants to spend her time rooting around in a stinking dumpster. They can’t make sense of it, they can only talk: she’s lost it, she’s really lost it.