(Reprinted from The Understatement).

Simply stated, the underground art of Trashcanning is the act of hiding in public trashcans, and then leaping into the air, shrieking, with the intention of scaring unsuspecting passers-by out of their wits. On the surface, it may appear to be little more than mindless hijinks, but beneath the grimy exterior lies a subculture and craft that takes years of dedication to perfect. Fascinated by the allure of such a gross sport, I talked to dozens of Trashcanning veterans, to find out more.

“The highest goal of a Trashcanner,” Marty Etherington, a nursing assistant at St. James’ hospital tells me, “is to make your target dropwhatever they’re holding, like coffee or a newspaper or a bagel. And this is harder than it sounds. To make the perfect leap takes a combination of disciplines, such as stealth, location-choice, the shriek – which has to be not only terrifying, but delivered at the perfect moment. And perhaps most important is the leap itself, which we call Jibbing.” To those on the outside, Jibbing is a term derivative of the acronym J.I.B, or Jack-in-the-Box-ing. “If you perfect your Jib to the extent that you can cause people to drop their possessions,” Hetherington says, “you’ve mastered it.”

Hetherington was fortunate enough to have learned his craft from an international legend among Trashcanners, the late Susan Montclair. Montclair was so skilled she caused no less than four cardiac  arrests during her fifteen-year reign. “Susan was an innovator, and she was fearless,” Marty recounts.  “She was the only one brave enough to hide in private dustbins scaring twenty or thirty people a day, even when the garbage trucks were out.” In a dustbin on Providence’s Hope Street one fateful morning in 2004, 47-year-old Susan tragically met her demise at the hands of said collection truck. Her death was seen as poetic by her devotees.

“Susan definitely lived and died by the sword,” Marty laments, gazing off into the distance.

Regarding the disciplines, June Lawson is a voice coach specializing in the vocal challenges Trashcanning presents. “Anybody can bellow,” she says, “but if you make thirty leaps in a day – the recommended limit – and every one of these has to deliver a bark like a scalded banshee, this takes practice. Gargling with whisky and mint, singing lessons, an hour of vocal practice each day – these are the things that separate the droppers from the mere shaker-uppers.”

Eager to learn more, I talked to James Walsh about the components of a perfect Jib. Walsh is a Boston Firefighter who’s been Trashcanning for almost fourteen years, and has no intention of stopping.

“It’s mostly in the legs and the back,” he explains. “Your aim is to explode, from an invisible, silent crouch into a shrieking demon six feet in the air, flailing your arms appearing to fly above the crowd. And sometimes you’ve got, like, a bag of empty bottles on your head, or a weighted lid. This takes some pretty dynamic energy.”

“It’s good to start early,” Walsh cautions, “while it’s dark, before most people leave the house. Location is everything, but if you don’t know how to Jib right, then even the best location in the world isn’t gonna help you.”

The world of Trashcanning attracts a surprisingly diverse crowd, from investment bankers through to cops, engineers and stay-home parents in search of stimulation. But the flip side of the thrill lies in some of the nasty things that get dumped on you while you crouch and wait. Wearing hoods is always a good idea, and waterproofs if possible, although their tendency to cause sweat makes some people dislike them.

Some of the more interesting deposits Trashcanners have reported include a murder weapon, a prosthetic arm, a $200,000 necklace and even a live baby.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Helen Merrill, an insurance claims investigator from Grand Rapids says. “I was out late, trying to master a new leap-shriek combo called Leviathan, and was having a good day. I’d made three people in succession drop things. And then suddenly there were two deposits in under a minute – the first was a half-eaten yogurt, and then something much heavier and warmer. I looked round, and a nine month old little boy was draped over my shoulder, grinning and poking at the yogurt on my face.”  The little boy was subsequently adopted by Merrill, and is now six, and the light of all their lives.

But it isn’t always a happy ending, as Professor Karl Hesson from the University of Seattle recollects. “It was seven years ago, and I was in New Jersey at the time –a rookie who thought he knew everything,” Hesson smiles sadly. “I’d been working on a new caterwaul, and wasn’t paying enough attention to the other aspects of the Jib. I heard someone close behind the can and made my leap without due caution. I was oblivious to a homeless man reaching into my trashcan foraging for food. We collided, my head
breaking his nose and neck, and he…” Hesson pauses, his voice cracking. “He didn’t make it. After that, I was run out of Hoboken, and I ended up in Seattle. I haven’t been in a trashcan since.”

***

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