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The word scavenger seems too dark to describe Mary Enmon.
Enmon, despite missing out on a golden opportunity to pick up a brass bed frame, was delighted Tuesday morning as she picked up some kitchen chairs and a table from the curb. The set had the look of something made in the 1970s, but it all was in good condition, just right for Enmon's apartment.
As she collected the items to put in the back of a borrowed pickup truck, she smiled and explained why she collects other people's trash.
"This is my treasure," she said. "I've already got some pretty cabinets. I just don't have the money to go out and buy this stuff. I got a TV this morning. And it works!"
Enmon is one of several scavengers in Cape Girardeau who shop the city's annual residential inventory clearance blowout, otherwise known as Spring Cleanup Week.
After all, you just can't beat the prices.
Many of the items on the curbs in the neighborhood surrounding Alma Schrader School compare to things often found at garage sales, only these are free for the taking.
Perched on curbs is everything from dog houses to old couches, washers and dryers to swimming pools. And yes, even kitchen sinks.
The city sanitation department started collecting the extra trash Monday. The cleanup efforts intensify during the week as extra workers are dispatched to handle the loads.
Pam Sander, solid waste coordinator for the city, said a total of 954 tons of trash was collected in last year's spring cleanup week, which is 821 tons more than an average week.
Mike Tripp, foreman of the city's trash pickup service, said 17 part-time workers have been hired for temporary service this week.
Fred Menz, a city employee, was driving a city pickup truck Tuesday. Hooked to his truck was a large trailer full of old, rusty appliances. There are a pair of two-man crews whose lone responsibility is hauling off appliances. Menz said he and his partner delivered eight trailer loads to the city's transfer station for disposal on Monday alone.
Menz said he sees scavengers quite often.
"We saw one lady parked in the middle of the street just a while ago, putting stuff in her car," Menz said. "And there was a lady behind her yelling 'Move that car!' It was funny."
Not far from where Menz had parked his truck to take a short break, David Kellum got out of his late-model SUV to look over an old end table.
"Maybe," he said as he approached it. But upon further inspection, he left the table behind.
"It's kinda warped."
Kellem poked fun at his choice of activity, given he was celebrating his birthday.
"I'm looking for some birthday presents," he said.
Kellem said many of the items discarded are better than ones he has in his home.
"We're looking for shelves, mirrors and stuff to put in the house," he said.
Margaret Shell, who lives on Masters Drive, collected some wooden blocks for her daughter at a neighbor's house. She said she doesn't go around looking for items, but she knew her neighbor enjoyed making crafts. She said her daughter wanted to turn the trashed wooden blocks into decorations of her own.
Shell said she has seen scavengers come and go quite often.
"It's gone about as quick as you put it out," Shell said.
There are enough scavengers that the first-come, first-served shopping even becomes competitive.
"You've got to get out there early to get them or you'll miss out," Enmon said.
She discovered that early Tuesday when she noticed a brass bed frame that she wanted. But by the time she went home and borrowed a truck, it was already gone.
Shell said she heard of one man who found three working television sets on curbs and has already sold one for $75.
"A lot of smart people make money out of this deal," she said. "I tell you what, people can find a lot of stuff."
But many people don't hunt for treasures to make money.
"I've probably saved over $1,000," Enmon said. "Because you know how expensive tables and chairs are, and televisions. I just work part-time and just moved to an apartment. And I don't have the money, with a car payment, to buy furniture."
Leaving a mess
For the most part, the practice of collecting curbside treasures is harmless. But some collectors are less than tidy.
"The problem is that they'll leave it in a mess before they leave," said Tripp, the city trash collection foreman. "That's our biggest complaint. They really make it harder on our guys."
According to police Cpl. Ike Hammonds, there is no city ordinance that prohibits scavenging, though scavengers must abide by the city's nuisance and trespassing laws that are already in place.
"When you sit something out on the curb, it's pretty much up for grabs," he said.
335-6611, extension 127