Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Garbage Eaters

A man was in the dumpster. He scared me when I went to take the trash out before I locked up the studio for the evening. It wasn't Clyde, the drunk who regularly shit himself in the alley between where I worked and the bakery next door and it wasn't Darius, the schizophrenic whose hair was one huge, spoon shaped dreadlock. I was used to seeing them shuffling around behind my work looking for something the restaurants all up and down the street had tossed out. I went back inside and told my coworkers.

"One of the homeless guys?"

"No," I said, "He was like our age and clean cut. He had a long beard and a nice haircut. He was wearing shorts and a button up shirt."

We looked outside and the guy was gone.

"Hmm," my coworker said, shrugging, "Probably a hippie from Little Five Points looking for something to sell."

"Maybe he was an artist looking for found objects to make a collage," someone else suggested.

Living in the middle of Atlanta during the mid-90s I saw all types. I worked in a paint your own pottery studio which sat on the corner of what was then the most chic, hippest intersection in the city. The corner, with its boutiques, galleries, cafes and art studios along with the many bars in the neighborhood, attracted constant large and diverse crowds. You just never knew who you might see and what they might be doing. Because of this, we quickly forgot the guy in the dumpster.

A couple days later, running errands around Midtown, I saw the guy with the nice haircut and the long beard again and this time he was riding a bike with a large wooden box strapped to the back of it. Again he wore cargo shorts with a buttoned shirt. His hiking boots were new and really the only thing unusual about him was his beard, which was so long and bushy that it blew over one shoulder as he pedaled. Pretty soon I started seeing young, good looking young men with nice haircuts and long beards riding bikes all over Atlanta. Something was going on, I thought.

One slow afternoon, one of the young guys with the nice haircuts and long beard came into my work. He was incredibly good looking with big, blue eyes and light brown hair.

"Excuse me," he said, "Would it be ok with you if I could please use your bathroom?"

"Well, normally it's just for customers, but since it's slow today I don't really mind as long as you don't make a mess."

"Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much."

The cute guy with the long beard was in the bathroom forever. Great, I thought. He came in here to take a big dump which is going to stink the place up and probably clog the toilet for the seventh time this month. Fantastic. Better yet, he was probably shooting heroin or something in there.

Some time later he came out, thanked me again and left. He'd locked his bike up on the rack on the sidewalk outside our front door.

When I went in the bathroom, hesitantly because I was scared of what I might find in there, I discovered that the cute guy with the nice haircut and the long beard had completely cleaned and scrubbed the toilet, sink and mirror with the sponge and cleaning products we kept in the cabinet beneath the sink. This was miraculous because it spared me from having to do it. I hated cleaning the bathroom at work. Our studio was small, but it got insanely busy and with one, unisex toilet it often got pretty gross in there. People would practically have ticker tape parades with wet toilet paper and it seemed that everyone who peed had some sort of issue which prevented them from actually peeing in the toilet and instead made them pee on and around the toilet. I don't even want to talk about some of the poop related incidents we had in that bathroom. But now, out of nowhere, a good looking young man had come, as if from Heaven, and had cleaned the bathroom for me. I hoped he came back!

I was in luck. He returned every day for a couple weeks. We sold sodas and juices out of a small refrigerator and no one ever took inventory, so every time he'd come in, I'd give him a free drink for cleaning the bathroom. He spoke to me as little as possible and every day he asked me permission to use the bathroom, even though it had quickly become obvious that of course he could use the bathroom. Several nights thereafter, my coworkers or I would catch him in the dumpster out back. Every time someone would see him digging through the trash, he'd apologize shyly and jump onto his bike and speed away. It was the weirdest thing. But I didn't care because he was cleaning the nasty work bathroom. I'd pretty much excuse anything for someone to clean a toilet for me.

I wasn't the only person noticing these strange young men with long beards riding their bikes all over town.

"Have you see the clean cut young men with the long beards?" everyone was asking.

"Yeah, they all look the same and they ride bikes all over town!"

"They dig in dumpsters!"

"For what?"

No one knew.

Everyone wondered what they were doing. They certainly didn't look dirty or homeless. The guy who cleaned my work bathroom was exceptionally polite, demure even, if a young man can be demure. Although he seemed extremely unusual and mysterious, he didn't seem crazy.

Then they disappeared.

Suddenly, all the handsome young men with their nice haircuts and long beards rode their bikes out of town and never returned. As I drove through Atlanta I'd look for them. I almost kind of had a crush on the guy who had cleaned my work bathroom and when he stopped coming I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed. I didn't want to go back to Windexing pee off the sides of the bowl. More than that though, I wanted to know who these guys were and what was going on with them.

As with most things that appear briefly and then disappear from my life, I soon forgot the young men with nice haircuts and long beards. About a year or so later I finally found out who they were and what they were doing when 20/20 (I think, it may have been Dateline or 48 Hours) ran a story about a cult they called "The Garbage Eaters."

"I know them!!" I shouted when the story came on, "That's them! That's the guys with nice haircuts and long beards!"

They were a cult, also called The Roberts Group or The Brethren. Apparently they didn't call themselves anything. These names were given to them by outsiders who saw them or families who had lost their relatives to the cult. The show went on to interview distraught relatives of cult members who had disappeared suddenly and had run off with the nomadic group, cutting all ties with their families as the cult's leader required. Many parents had lost their sons and daughters. There were girls too, but they either lived and traveled separately from the men or they just stayed inside and avoided contact with the outside world.

The young men with the nice haircuts and long beards were brainwashed religious fanatics who believed they were living the simplest, godliest life possible. Meanwhile their families hearts were broken. Most of their parents searched futilely for their sons and daughters and refused to give up. The group was fairly small and moved so often that no one could find them. They camped in wooded areas, squatted in abandoned buildings or made deals with people who'd rent out temporary spaces for them. Believing aceticism to be the closest path to Jesus, the Garbage Eaters foraged for food and usable goods in dumpsters. This part seemed odd to me because it was obvious that their clothes and boots were new and good quality. It looked like they bought them somewhere to me.

Then it got stranger.

The family of Don Busweiler told their story. He owned a store and a clothing line called "Pervert" in South Beach. A few years earlier, before I'd moved to Atlanta, my then boyfriend had known him. I remembered him telling me about his friend with the "Pervert" clothes all the time. He was only a couple years older than me and had been really successful, starting his own business in his early 20s. He'd been a big deal on South Beach. And he'd run off and joined a cult where he dug through trash? Really? And his parents had no idea where he was? What makes a person do something so radically strange and extreme like that? I wondered if the guy who cleaned my work bathroom had been Don Busweiler.

Even if it hadn't been him, the young man with the nice haircut and long beard had been someone's missing son. Somewhere his family wondered where he was and for a short time I had the answer. For a little while, I could have told his family exactly where to find their lost child.

Sometimes this haunts me.


Jeannie said...

I only get junkies asking to use my bathroom. I had to start declining when one left a used hypodermic in there.

Anonymous said...

Americans throw away countless useful (and often safely edible) things each day. While there's no particular need to start a cult around it, I see no reason why salvaging said discarded goods should be so out of the ordinary, even (or especially) for well-off, socially conscious, intelligent people.

Wide Lawns said...

Anonymous, while you may have a valid point there, you missed the real point of this post by about a hundred miles my friend.

Anonymous said...

I apologize- it wasn't meant to be a commentary on your theme, just a note on the general prejudice against dumpster diving that folks tend to exhibit. While it wasn't the main point of your post, I'd wager that you have a bit of discomfort with it as well, based on your phrasing.

Again, not an attack, just food for thought.

Joy said...

wow. just wow. I wonder sometimes too what makes a person join a cult. I don't understand.

crazy_one said...

I googled 'garbage eaters' because I wanted to research more on the topic you were talking about and before I pressed enter google suggested "gargage eaters cult" as their only suggestion, Google can be scary sometimes, and this is the first link that came up http://www.religioustolerance.org/body_chr.htm. Although cults are scary (and they are), he did seem harmless and he did make his own desicion in life. Yeah, his parent may miss him and are probably worried about what happened to him. But you can't be responsible for that. From reading a short part of this website he feels that he is doing what's best for him, which is wanting to be 'pure'. And isn't that what we all want to do, to do what we think is best for us?

Anonymous said...

I work at a Trader Joe's, and we have people trying to root through the dumpster all the time... I don't understand why. It can be very dangerous. All the non-sellable but still edible food does NOT go in the dumpster, it gets picked up by the local food bank.

I don't think you should kick yourself about not telling anyone about your resident cultist... you didn't know that's what the situation was. Also, brainwashed or not, that man chose to leave his family. Maybe there were other, non-religious reasons that led him to it.

Missicat said...

Wow. A guy cleaning a bathroom? that is odd..

What a strange cult! I know there is a movement I have heard of that encourages people to not buy anything new for a year (except for personal type products) and some of them dumpster dive for food. But I don't think it's a cult.

Nora said...

Many years ago, when I was a sophomore in college, I almost lost my boyfriend to them. They were recruiting all over the city college campus we lived on and he seriously considered joining them. It was frightening. They were odd fellas, and their women recruited actively, yet separately from the men.

Strange, strange deal.

jmm said...

I am very fascinated by cults like that. There is a mysterious cult in my town. Very mysterious cult. All the members are very beautiful, like movie star beautiful. They hang out at a very popular swimming hole in town, a natural spring-fed pool. They show up in a group and seem to follow this one dude. They all put on snorkel masks and snorkel the length of the pool and they also sit in lawn chairs. They are pretty quiet but are friendly.

Once when I was there on a boiling hot day, the water fountain was too hot and one of them offered me a drink of water from a bottle, but he told me not to let the bottle touch my lips, to just pour the water into my mouth. I'm fascinated and have tried to find info on line about it, but no such luck. (I'm not the only one to notice this group.)

Anonymous said...

The story was on Primetime :

Gotta love Wikipedia.

Wide Lawns said...

Yes! And it was 1998, but I didn't remember it being Diane Sawyer. Im sure that was it though.

E said...

Not a cult, but something related:

Amanda said...

I read this entry yesterday, went home and got this month's issue of Marie Claire in my mailbox- with an article on Freecyclers. How bizarre is that?

However the article I read was not as intense as your post. The article did not make it sound like the people distanced themselves from their relatives. I can't imagine that, their poor families.

I can understand it haunting you, I would feel the same way, but there was nothing you could do. You were kind enough to give them food which is more then some people would have done.

Anonymous said...

What generally draws people to any religion is the same thing that draws them to an extreamest religion. If not more so because the devotion found in a cult smacks of less hipocracy than many current "Choose your own belief" religions are touting now.
People who join cults are not stupid, are not ignorant, just people like the rest of us searching for some answers. And they may have just found those answers in that cult

Anonymous said...

I knew don . i lived in miami beach in those times. he was a cool cat and pervert clothing line was blowing up hard in miami in the 90s. celeberties,rappers,well known people in the music industry at the time was rocking oervert. he knew alot of important people in the music ,clothing and art industry. wowo man by know who knows how big he would of been.

Anonymous said...

i was close with him. i knew his girlfriend and all the old school southbeach heads.

tom said...

I have a friend that is an ex-garbage eater. When I met her she believed that there never have been dinosaurs, because they were never mentioned in the King James Bible...

Josh R said...

One of my college roommates never returned from Spring break. He has been with the group for 18 years now..

It is an odd thing. In many ways they are admirable. Unlike most cults, nobody is getting rich here. Most of them walk away from their worldly possessions entirely. I think they take it a bit too far by cutting off contact with their families entirely.. If they where to write a letter now and then, Nobody would have anything against them, but they are violating one of the 10 commandments when they fail to honor their mother and their father.

Anonymous said...

Pretty funny Don, you're still running? If you ever stop and use the internet, please contact me: Ongadesign@yahoo.com. I am sure if you are still with the Brethren you feel as if you are doing the right thing and I am cool with that. I would like to say hi to you and see how things are in your life. Don't worry I am not going to judge you, I don't care. I remember the last time I saw you at my Mom's house to give me the pervert shirt that had the Quote " Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail" Fuck I wore that shirt until it fell off my body, it practically disintegrated. Nonetheless I hope you are well, and bless you where ever you are. Jerry O

Anonymous said...

I actually went to high school with Don... I saw the Primetime special years ago, I was floored .he cones from a good family and it's really heartbreaking. We recently had our 20 th reunion, of course Don was not there. Very sad and tragic

rkhufu said...

I saw them in Austin in the mid-90s. They are Christians that are following a bishop, Jim Roberts/Brother Evangelist. He guides a group that wants to put salvation and God first. No one complains about folks becoming a nun or a priest and being told by the pope, what to do. No one should bother these men and women, they are not drugged or beaten, they just choose to live lives like Paul the apostle. they do not associate with relatives much, because unlike the catholics, their families would kidnap them and try to have them deprogrammed and forced back into society or sin as they see it. They are not molesting kids or breaking the law, nor do they beg or pan handle, so other than these families being distraught for loss or shame because their kid dropped a Harvard or Stanford education for salvation, they are doing no wrong.

Anonymous said...

the brothers are a BLESSING, so is br.don...reduce reuse recycle, isnt that the way we all should be going?

Anonymous said...

I knew Don when he was living up on Long Island before starting Pervert( I actually remember the first Pervert shirt he screen printed) He had brown eyes, so that wasn't him that came into your work. Miami is what messed him up..it messed up his friend Martin that was with him from the beginning as well, Martin later committed suicide. I hope that Don one day finds the peace he is searching for... but maybe living how he is now is his peace.

Anonymous said...

I know some of the ones that are no longer in the group and they are the most humble and pleasant christains that I have ever met. I feel truly blessed to know a few of these folks.

Anonymous said...

Donny is my older brother and was always my hero. He always kinda did things his way, even when we were kids. The last thing he said to me was that he had to go and figure things out for a while, but he would be back. My son was about 18 months old at the time so that had to be about 16 or 17 years ago. I'm still waiting.

Luz said...

We were talking about cults in my psych class a few years ago. The teacher wanted to start a discussion on them or whatnot. He read an article about a cult called "the garbage eaters".

This article was about a girl who came from a good home, was about to graduate college, and had a good future ahead of her. Then out of nowhere, she disappeared the week of finals and was never heard from again. Her family looked everywhere for her but she had simply vanished. (she joined the cult.) I guess the FBI got involved, and they finally found her. The cult had pretty much brainwashed her so they had to "steal" her away from them. They took her home and to her family's surprise she wanted nothing to do with them. She said she already had "brothers and sisters" and wanted to leave. She showed no emotion and had no reaction when she was shown pictures and when friends and loved ones visited. She ended up escaping and fell of the face of the earth. Her family is still looking for her.

This isnt the only story like this. Many families literally loose family members to this.

The scary thing is I guess the cult's weird (obviously)... what they've found is they treat the women poorly, they're seen as inferior, are often beaten and sexually abused, but since they're brainwashed they do nothing about it. They're also malnourished (obviously).

I can't imagine what would make anyone join a cult. It's scary how some people can be brainwashed like that. Like, what does someone say to you that would convince you to become a garbage eater?? If I were you I wouldn't feel bad about what happen, but i can definitely see why it haunts you.

Anonymous said...

i saw don about a couple weeks ago cruising around on a bike (spring break 2011). he told me how he lived on the beach in hawaii for some time. lived in a million dollar place in new york city. people would just let them stay there if they took careof the property. he just cruises around and speaks with people. if they want to listen cool, if not than he doesnt bother them anymore. he is as sharp as can be. i didnt know the history before i met him but as soon as i got home i researched it. its a pretty crazy story. i had no clue he straight disappeared off the face of the earth. he seemed in a really peaceful place and was extremely content and happy in life. he didnt look down on us for having material things nor did he try to "brainwash" us. it was actually really cool talking to him. when our conversation ended he just said we was guna go lay on the beach and hangout. although i think leaving everybody that cares about you is about the most selfish thing you can do i the world it still sounds pretty good to me, just laying on the beach and letting the sound of the waves put you to sleep without a care in the world. what a crazy world to live in...

Anonymous said...

The brethren picked me up hitchhiking in the summer of 1995. I was hiking the AT at the time and was at a real lonely point. The elder recognized this and put the hard recruit on me during the 10 mile ride to town. It was pretty interesting really. The elder talked non stop but when I looked at the rest of the brothers in the van they were all motionless and vacant. The had the classic short hair/long beards with long button down shirts. Having grown up in a religious family I could talk the talk with the elder and even threw in some beware false prophets quotes since I could sense this was a cult of some type. The elder ranted about "bablyon" even though the town had maybe 2 fast food joints and a gas station. The brothers actually tried twice more to recruit me as I was in that town for several days before moving on. The second recruit attempts were by younger brothers who I rapped with at length about Noah, the flood, second coming, etc.

Always wondered about this group and greatly enjoyed from "deans list to dumpsters" when it was published. All in all a fairly harmless group that b/c of their family break policy I still consider a cult.

cobucult.wordpress.com said...

Yes, there are good things about the people in this group and yes, they are a cult. I was in something very similar for many years.

Ryan B said...

I am a co-founder of the pervert clothing line. This was back in the early 90's. Don and I used to go around south beach sticking stickers on mail boxes, city buses and whatever. This was way before we even came out with tshirts. I have allot more to say. If you want to get more info on me, email me at ryanbnjmn@yahoo.com. Don, I miss you bro, email me if you can.

Ryan B

Anonymous said...

wow so cool to find this. I hung out with these guys in Asheville. wonderful, generous, caring, loving people never pushy with religion or joing the "cult" I miss them so much. In a crazy f-ed up world, they were a beacon of hope for me. I knew Don as Micai, but the men keep to themselves and the women to themselves. My best friend was Nehemiah and her daughter Kabbaiah. Beautiful girls-inside and out. Absolutely stunning, sharing God's love. Don't feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for the lost souls they tried to help everywhere they went. Last I heard they left Asheville and some went to Knoxville. So miss them. Great to hear some info on them and that others were touched by them

Anonymous said...

don was seen on s. beach in the summer of 2012. an old friend spoke w/ him for a couple of hours. the two have not seen each other in 17yrs. my friend tried to make some logical sense out of their conversation and this is what he came up with: imagine if humanity (especially here in the US) were to live a pure and simple life. carry no money, not get brainwashed by the media or government, have no attachment to material or monetary gain, no debt, no home mortgage no stress. Imagine if people stopped consuming more than they need, stop throwing away tons of food everyday ( this is where they have been labeled garbage eaters) he said this is the way don has chosen to live his life. not to be judged. still don't get the no family contact part, thats a tuff one to understand.

Tracy W said...

I remember riding around with Donny in his red jeep putting up stickers. He was (and I assume still is) handsome with a great smile. Seemed a bit disconnected at times. He had an enlightenment at a younger age than many & the same principles of thought ring very true to me now. Though it seems that one could certainly live that way & still maintain a relationship with their family. My father lived in much the same way & I find myself veering that way also. But Donny's mom must feel so much emptiness without his presence.

Tracy W said...

I think about Donny once in a while and try to find out if somehow your family has at least made contact with him. I have a child and often think about how your mom must feel and my heart goes out to her too. It's possible to eschew worldly trappings while still being familial. I hope someday brings that realization to him.

Anonymous said...

I knew Don since he was a teenager on Long Island I used to sneak him and Martin into punk clubs. I moved into Manhattan in '89 and lost touch with him and then later moved to Miami and had no idea he had move down there and was doing well when he first started out 1991 with Pervert. he was always a bit of a withdrawn cynic and definitely had a hater attitude towards the people that I was working with at that time which were the models and musicians and actors. He got involved with a shady cat who was only all about making money and really didn't give a shit about the brand he then split up with his girlfriend and the rest is history I decided to get the hell out of South Beach which I told him to do years earlier because we used to call it the Devils waiting room nothing but a bunch of evil greedy types down there good thing for Don he got the hell out of there no matter what he's doing a lot better than being involved with the blood suckers in South Beach!

Anonymous said...

I knew Don on LI in the late 80's. Don could be cynical, but He is also extremely bright. His insight and ideas at such a young age blew my mind. As his hairdresser (and an impartial ally) he opened up about a lot of things. He was a bit lost at times. Sometimes he would come visit or call just to talk.He would talk for hours about his thoughts on God and the world around us. He discussed his disdain for corporate greed and pretentiousness. The fact that he joined this group does not surprise me. As the mother of a son, who close to the Don was when he joined the group, I just wish he would reach out to his family.

Anonymous said...

I knew Don on LI in the late 80's. Don could be cynical, but He is also extremely bright. His insight and ideas at such a young age blew my mind. As his hairdresser (and an impartial ally) he opened up about a lot of things. He was a bit lost at times. Sometimes he would come visit or call just to talk.He would talk for hours about his thoughts on God and the world around us. He discussed his disdain for corporate greed and pretentiousness. The fact that he joined this group does not surprise me. As the mother of a son, who close to the Don was when he joined the group, I just wish he would reach out to his family.

Anonymous said...


I have a feeling you have read this thread. Nonetheless, it's good to see the trail of people and the fractured time sequence when they knew you. It seems some knew you for a short time and some others a little longer. I didn't understand as much before leaving my first comment, but now I think I can get a better idea that you are content in your life. It seems as though you are happy? Wow if so then keep doing what you are doing. Insert Joke: The Brethren will be the longest dedication of anything in your life that I can remember. I think that was part of your uneasiness was that you were always searching. Well if you found it and it makes you feel good then GREAT! I can keep going with multiple stories and yes there are plenty of funny ones, but I will wait for the day that I see you again so we can have a few more laughs. Be good and at least call your little sis!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah forgot to mention. I am still up in the attic of the barn at my mom's in the summers if you ever want to drop by :) Not joking!

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