The Dump Swap Shop

Embracing a New Hampshire institution

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

I love living in a small New Hampshire town. I love that it takes me no more than three minutes to register my car at the town hall. I love that I can buy everything from a tub of crawlers to an organic smoked turkey sandwich on a fresh-baked multi-grain brioche at the general store. I love that I can get fresh eggs from the police chief, fresh-cut hay from the fire chief and an oil change from the justice of the peace. When all is said and done, though, what most endears the small towns of the Granite State to me is the weekly dump run.

The dump run, for the uninitiated and the city dwellers, is much more than a simple trip to the local landfill, as it was in our parents’ day. It is an ages-old tradition that’s evolved over the generations — an open forum to exchange thoughts on politics and religion while smashing glass bottles into a giant hopper, a chance to discuss the Red Sox’s latest pitching prospects while sorting paper and cardboard, an opportunity to find someone to watch your dog for the week or to get a really good strawberry shortcake recipe. For those of us who live in a small town, the dump run is like a trip to the mall, town hall, church and community center wrapped up in one.

The Swap Shop — where residents are welcome to bring home a plethora of gently- and not-so-gently-used tools, workout equipment and holiday decorations in exchange for their gently- or not-so-gently-used sporting equipment, fishing gear and 33 rpm record albums — is the highlight of the dump run for many townsfolk, myself and my kids included. Last week I dropped off my wife’s stationary bike because it took up too much space in the basement and came home with a three-legged ping-pong table. My kids thrill at doing their Christmas shopping at the Swap Shop. Last year they gave me a black velvet painting of Kenny Rogers. My wife got an ’80s-era sweater that she had discarded the week before.

"My kids thrill at doing their Christmas shopping at the Swap Shop."

Orchestrating all of this are the dump attendants, or sanitation concierges as some prefer to be called. In my town it’s Big Bill and Little Bill who oversee the Saturday festivities at the dump. Equal parts law enforcement, stand-up comedians and social workers, Big Bill and Little Bill not only make sure that glass and plastic do not co-mingle — many a poor soul have been banished for such an infraction — but they also make sure that every canine companion gets a free biscuit and every child gets a tour of the latest toys in the Swap Shop. Together with Juanita, a red-haired clothing mannequin that they rescued from the incinerator last year and whom they dress in a new outfit every week, often an outfit recently culled from my wife’s wardrobe,  they make sure that every dump run is a smooth dump run.

With its focus on resourcefulness, conservation and self-reliance, the small town dump is very much a traditional institution that embodies the New Hampshire way of life. So as I prepare for my weekly dump run, with a recently acquired pair of duct-tape-bound boots on my feet, a recycling bin in my arms and a three-legged ping-pong table in the back of my truck, I well up inside with the feeling of being the Granite State’s most ardent citizen. Resourceful, conservative, self-reliant.

Now, if I can just find a way to sneak out that black velvet painting of Kenny Rogers without my kids seeing. 

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