“Trash is such an ugly word.”
So said the sub filling in at the library reference desk one day while I was trying to discard some battered children’s books. There was a box underneath her desk for just this purpose and I needed to navigate around her when I uttered the unfortunate term. While the library system sends most of its gently, or not so gently, used tomes to its own bookstore to help supplement operating expenses, some poor victims just need to be put out of their misery, and fast. It was my job that day to quietly dispatch them to the big dumpster in the sky.
Hearing the sub’s conscientious tone, I immediately felt some guilt. Although, best intentions aside, what was I to do with some ragged copies that had seen better days? Cut around the sticky juice stains and the (hopefully) chocolate smears for pictures to collage on a toilet-paper tube pencil holder? Should I rip off the covers to construct my own accordion? Or, as the ultimate sacrifice, grind up all the pages in a blender to fashion my own paper mache voodoo doll I could enjoy after a particularly bad day with the patrons?
No. Instead, I used the oldest bureaucratic tactic in the book. I simply turned to her, smiled sweetly, and said there were rules for trash, er, books loved a little too much. It was out of my hands, literally. That’s right: I blamed it on the man. Or was it the county?
Come trash day in my suburban neighborhood, similar rules apply for what is offered up on the curb. Every Sunday night or the wee hours of Monday morning (except on noted holidays) weary homeowners drag out their refuse in cans, bags and sometimes dollies, hoping for its acceptance by the huge trucks that rumble up and down our side streets. Garbage is carefully placed at the end of the driveway, not too close to the street to be used for target practice, but not too far away that the workers mistake it for yard decor.
You see, trash placement and disguise is a fine art. (Ever try to throw away a garbage can?) One can hide a lot of sins in the bin, either one’s own trespasses or the debris of passersby who like to use our front yard for a landing strip. Let me make it clear that I never, NEVER, throw away anything hazardous, and I recycle as much aluminum, glass and plastic the center will take.
It’s the awkward stuff like broken bricks, chewed two-by-fours (squirrels), food disasters (though it did look good in the picture), and craft projects gone terribly wrong, that require careful thought. We are not allowed to throw away obvious construction materials or massive amounts of cat litter (I meant to get to the kitty commodes sooner, really I did ). So, if I can chop up the evidence into microscopic pieces or at least redistribute into several harmless-looking bags, I will gradually restore order to my terribly anal life.
Bulk pickup is once a month per household, any week, and if the item is a busted appliance or a castoff piece of furniture, the trash guys are supposed to acknowledge its presence. But, for whatever reason, there are times when that sad couch, kid-ravaged trampoline or the “what were they thinking” bedroom set is left on the side of the road like misfit toys.
Never fear — the Junk Man will come to their rescue. Yes, he is as illusive as Santa Claus, but I swear I’ve seen him once with my own two eyes, driving his dilapidated pickup with a trailer hitched to the back, piled high with all sorts of goodies for the hoarders, both naughty and nice. He grins and waves to me while I stare in wonder at how on earth he manages to pack it all so that chair legs and dismembered lawnmowers don’t fall off into the street.
In the suburbs, it’s cause for celebration (we don’t need much) when one can set out stuff no longer useful, and have it disappear by next morning, off to start a new life with someone who has taken a liking to it. I’ve been working on reducing my garbage footprint for years, making compost, holding countless garage sales, dropping off at Goodwill, creating art sculpture out of cat food cans . . . well, some solutions have worked, some have not. I’m proud to say that most weeks we have one small bag, but could still do better. I’ll continue to figure out ways to deal with what’s left, the plastic especially.
Perhaps one day we will go back to the old ways of making do, using up and wearing out, when ancient landfills will be mined for their riches. But until then–
“Trash.” I secretly slip the word off my tongue as I listen for the garbage truck. It does have a decidedly sinister sound to it.