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Except for underwear and shoes (size 13 double Es, hard to come by), Jack Drumke can’t remember the last time he purchased clothing and can’t imagine why he would. Drumke is nattily attired in a pair of black Pierre Cardin corduroy slacks and an Italian-knit cashmere sweater from the men’s shop at Bonwit Teller. That store bit the dust here in 1990, but that’s no problem for Drumke, who would be loath to set foot in the place anyway. His entire wardrobe has been assembled from Dumpsters.

Drumke’s friend Craig Connolly is wearing a navy Eddie Bauer turtleneck with Levi’s loose cut jeans. He looks like he stepped out of a Gap ad, but he never buys clothes either. “Even if Gap straightened up and never had used sweatshop labor, I wouldn’t want them to have my money,” he says, summing up the Dumpstering manifesto. In this radical inversion of status shopping, no store is good enough.

Dumpster divers are circumspect about the best hunting grounds, but if you paid for that shirt, jacket, pants, and pair of Nikes you’re wearing–well, it wasn’t necessary. There’s too much stuff in America already–too many worldly goods overflowing from too many marble-floored shopping palaces, on their way to clogging too many landfills. No one can buy, wear, clean, store, move, and keep track of it all. We’re throwing it out of our cars, leaving it behind when we move, and stacking it on top of our bulging Dumpsters.

That’s where Drumke comes in. The world is his personal shopper. He selects from what it presents, saves what he can, bathes it, repairs it, nurses it back from garbage hell. What he can’t use himself he shepherds to the next person who needs a down jacket, a toy stuffed moose in a Santa Claus costume, or a copy of the Mushroom Hunter Field Guide. His finds have filled the closet of the room he shares with another resident of Uptown’s Saint Francis Catholic Worker house, spilling out into the room itself. A motley assortment of pants and jackets dangles from a ceiling rod over his bed and shelves are chockablock with battery chargers, packing tape, amber reflective warning lights, barely chipped coffee mugs, and perfectly usable, nearly full bottles of everything they sell in the cleaning supply aisle of the hardware store–a little bit of nearly everything anybody could ever need.

Drumke and Connolly are gearing up for the bonanza that accompanies May 1, the day when thousands of the city’s apartment leases expire. On the following weekend, they’ll be cruising the alleys on bike or on foot, plucking and plunging. It can be a messy business: an apartment building Dumpster is a rich stew of decay and possibility. But in their Uptown neighborhood, they say, people are conscientious about do-it-yourself recycling: they put the usable goods out–boxed, bagged, or stacked–away from the slimy stuff.

In anticipation of the big weekend, there will be a fashion show of Dumpster clothing at the weekly roundtable this Sunday at the Catholic Worker, 4652 N. Kenmore. Drumke and Connolly will be among the models. It starts at 7:30, it’s free, and it could be the end of the mall. Call 773-561-5073 for more information.

–Deanna Isaacs

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Jack Drumke and Craig Connolly by Randy Tunnell.