Sunday, October 25, 2009

A trashy melmoir

Writing about garbage in my last post—yet again (since I also wrote about it here)—reminded me of garbage at my old family home.

We lived in the country, or what most people (other than genuine hill people or mountain-dwellers) would call the country. Yes, there was a busy road running in front of the house, but the yard was large and rolling, with an extensive garden patch, surrounded by too many trees to number and lots of steep hills behind. Acres hovered around us on pretty much all sides, and when I was small, those acres were empty. The neighbors' homes were visible, but just barely; you never heard a conversation at regular volume from either of their places; they were just too far away.

Which meant we were not in a neighborhood. And therefore, no garbage truck rolled up to our place on a weekly basis. When there began to be a regular "garbage day," I was well into my childhood, and the makeshift garbage person was a private contractor of some sort. A rather dilapidated pick-up would arrive the same morning each week, I think... it's all fuzzy now. I believe that's still the current arrangement for my parents, who happily continue to dwell in that childhood home of mine.

The important part of this story, however, is that in those early, pre-contractor days, my family had a burn barrel.

Ever heard of those? Perhaps you're one of the other kids who had one at home? Or, it's possible that you still have one, out of the way, in the back corner of the yard. They're increasingly rare—unless you count the sudden popularity of chimineas: could they be a pretty, covert burn barrel for the modern age? Hmmmmm. The burn barrel wasn't pretty, but it wasn't about form: it was pure function, baby. At one time it had probably held fuel, oil, some toxic liquid; periodically it needed to be replaced because its sides became quite thin and flaky after lots of use. It sat on a level stone surface some distance from our back door.

I don't recall ever having the pleasure of starting a fire in the burn barrel. Being the youngest, I suppose it was out of vogue by the time I could be trusted with flammable materials and a rusty barrel full of combustibles. When I grew old enough to earn burn-worthiness (say that a few times quickly), the little contractor guy had started showing up and most of our garbage was taken away without incident.

We knew, as kids, that certain items were forbidden in the burn barrel. Occasionally, being irresponsible and goofy as youngsters are wont to be, we forgot. Some items were forbidden because they did not burn, others because they created hideous smells and/or smokes. But some were forbidden because they were explosive.

Like I said--we forgot sometimes.

I remember one such memorable occasion, when one of us—who knows which?— had thoughtlessly tossed an empty aerosol can into the trash. There it lay, a time bomb hidden among Sunday papers and junk mail and empty breakfast cereal boxes. The fire was lit by one of my older sisters, and we all watched the barrel begin to glow. (It was usually a fun-filled time, the burning of the barrel—I seem to recall that for this event, the weather was autumnal... again, it's all quite fuzzy now.) And we stood around the barrel, probably pushing each other or engaging in name-calling or just being silly because when you're a kid standing near an open fire you must be silly, and then


Yes, I am fully aware that it's grammatically incorrect to use that many exclamation points in a row, but I feel it necessary to express the shock of that moment, when a fiery hot, semi-destroyed aerosol can was suddenly airborne over our heads flying to God knows where and landing, thankfully, away from us in a harmless spot unoccupied by any human form.

My father was not happy. Of course the noise brought him with much speed, and I recall that he was wearing a grim face that was replaced by anger and frustration once he'd ascertained that we were all physically unscathed. No wonder. Poor man. All those girls in the house—even most of the pets were girls. And one restroom. And then, an exploding burn barrel.

I wish I could say that it never happened again. I feel certain that it did, at least once or twice more, but I do think that incident burned into our little brains why it was important to monitor what one placed in the garbage can. I am hoping so very much, but truly cannot recall, whether it was one of my hideous cans of AquaNet hair spray that caused the problem. I think not, since I did not begin to proudly sport that putrid, unnatural product until at least middle school; I pray that by then, incineration had been replaced by other means of disposal. But I'm just not sure. My family may read this and set me straight.

I apologize if that flying can happened to be my responsibility. But each time I remember, I shake my head and stifle a giggle at the same time. Now that I know we all survived, I wish I could travel back and see our faces when it happened; the expressions had to be priceless.

Ah, childhood.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I could never be a garbage man

I couldn't be a garbage man, because I'm not a man, of course. Yet, nor could I be a garbage woman. I could not collect other people's trash.

Why? Am I a snob? I doubt it. Would it be too smelly? Certainly, it would be malodorous. Summer days, flies buzzing 'round the piles, stink emanating from every open container... Would the garbage be too heavy for a delicate flower (like me) to lift and hoist? Most assuredly, there would be at least one or two items on every street that would faze my feeble strength. Would I be able to pass the CDL test in the first place? And would I ever, in my wildest dreams, be able to maneuver the oversized truck through tiny nooks and skinny alleys? Between double-parked cars and adventurous plastic cans and their straying, rolling lids? I truly don't know. I can drive my small car, can parallel park like a pro most days thanks to Dad, but a garbage truck? On a suburban street?

In truth, it is none of these reasons that deters me from the sparkling career path of garbage expert. It's the waste.

Not the waste itself, silly. It's OUR waste. It's the amount of perfectly good, even great, stuff that is thrown away weekly in this ridiculously spoiled, self-centered country. It breaks my heart. It makes me feel ill. It makes me ashamed, makes me ponder moving to another place—yea, to another time; I suspect that short of embracing poverty, starvation, extreme civil unrest, or all three, no matter where I move I'll soon encounter more examples of materialism. I'd have to travel to another era to escape it now.

Drive around an even remotely comfortable neighborhood near any city, indeed in most small towns, and be horrified and appalled by what you see on the curb on trash day. Fully functional toys, perfectly useful furniture, books, clothes, the like. Yes, there is some junk. But oh, my goodness, there is a lot of stuff that's just fine, except that it's been set out with the trash. And for those of you who remember Seinfeld, "Adjacent to garbage is garbage."

What an unfair stigma, in a place where many charities will come pick up the goods at no charge, in a day when most people drive vehicles big enough to transport multiple children plus all their friends, but just can't find room to haul the perfectly good stuff to a second life somewhere. Yes, it is inconvenient. But there is a price for convenience! We're seeing it now. A society where people feel no awkwardness meeting strangers online, exchanging photos and details, sometimes even sharing intimacies with them, yet balk at the idea of acquiring a used table or chair, a "worn" shirt. So wash it, so clean it. It's fine. And I realize I am talking to myself about this much of the time.

Funny, isn't it, how nothing is too personal to "share," but truly sharing the icky stuff, like easily removed sweat or oil or dirt, is far beyond many folks' comprehension. And here we are, in this greedy, grasping place, on garbage day. And I want to weep.

Perhaps I could work for the garbage company, but I'd be the horse-drawn cart in front of the truck, scouting for goods that are still good. I could hurry ahead, throwing the desirables in my cart, saving them for another go-around. Even if we gave them away, that would be better. Anything would be better than the disposable mindset that permeates this modern country steeped in success, sinking into its own mounds of unnecessary newness.

Can anyone give me directions to the 40s?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Satan's favorite playground

You probably know I'm not a fan of Facebook. You know I find many of today's techie, gimmicky communication tools to be annoying, low-quality methods of keeping in touch with people you may or may not give a rat's behind about. I don't think any of you would be surprised to hear me say these things (or read my online rants about them—of which there have been at least a couple, like here and here).

But Satan's playground? Come on, Mel. Facebook's not so bad. It's harmless fun. It's just a place to "talk" to people, and a nice way to find people you've lost contact with, and a funny platform for keeping everyone informed about your every last trip, event, conversation, zit, or intestinal illness.



There's a reason you didn't keep in touch with many of those people. Or, in the case of some folks' amassed online "friends," there's a reason you were never really friends with those people to begin with. Maybe the reason was that you grew apart; maybe you and that person were only acquaintances when you crossed paths, and now you remain acquaintances with a more friendly title but no more intimacy than before. Perhaps you never knew the person at all, and he/she is a psycho-freak who is stalking you. Or it's possible, just barely possible, that you and this person haven't seen or talked to each other for over a decade because there's no reason to do so and it's just too much trouble to search for a phone number or write a letter.

What's feeding my spew? Well, let me tell you: one of Todd's ex-girlfriends sent him a friendly little note via Facebook. First to strike up conversation, and then to try to dredge up the distant in, the time when they were dating. She happens to have befriended a family member of his, so she's fully aware that he's married, knows he has a child, and yet she sent these little messages along into cyberspace. To top it off? She is also married. To a service man, or so she says, who may or may not be serving his country overseas at this time. She is also a parent.

I ask you: what good can come of such a contact?

I have never been able to remain friends with any past boyfriends. It didn't seem kosher, or one of us started dating someone else and there were jealousy issues to consider, or one of us had been dumped and there were broken hearts added to the mix. I don't wish those boys and men any suffering (okay, maybe I do wish harm to one or two), but I also don't see the point in pretending to be friends with these people whom I once cared for but no longer think about. We're not in that place anymore, we've moved on, the feelings are no longer the same. No good can come of it.

But along comes modern technology, and suddenly you can keep tabs—semi-public tabs, no less—on everyone and anyone you ever wondered about in a passing moment. Everyone you ever had a sentimental thought about, especially after a fight with your spouse. Everyone you might still carry a torch for. And not only can you keep tabs: you can reach out and "poke" them! You can even communicate without your significant other knowing! You can send them private messages. You can, so easily, resurrect things that should have been left buried deep in the ground. It's like the Pet Sematary of the internet. And I have to think that Satan loves it. I'm not even touching on the insults and cheap shots that are exchanged there, nor the lascivious details that normally shy people share in that setting; I'm not mentioning the boldness of rude comments and inappropriate images, not venturing into the weird, predatory meetings that are often spawned there. I'm just hitting on the marriages that this subtly destructive tool has likely undermined.

I'm happy to report Todd is off Facebook. I stand by my statement: No good can come of it. Don't look for us there.

P.S. Am I a hypocrite, since I blog? I can keep this forum a bit more private, I think. And I'm not using it to reach any old boyfriends. Thoughts?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The little church that could

When we first moved to our current neighborhood, we couldn't help noticing a slightly dilapidated little church at the foot of our hill. Nor could we miss the scant and dwindling group of worshippers leaving there each Sunday morning. We would pass them as we headed to our own service, at our own church, and I was guilt-stricken thinking that here we went, driving away from a perfectly good little church building within a 2-minute stroll of our yard. We embarked to our own popular, booming, busy city church, and all the while this sad, small congregation in our own community grew weaker and weaker.

Eventually, it closed up shop. The little church gave in, locked the doors, and left a hopeful "Peace on Earth" message in its glass-covered sign board out front. But then some hoodlums broke the glass one night, and the letters fell bit by bit until the message was a meaningless "n Eart" and the whole thing just depressed me tremendously.

The empty building sat for a good year or two, and Marcus and I would talk about it as we drove past. "There's that little church," I'd say, and he'd pipe up, drawing on previous conversations, "That little church needs a family." I wondered many times if it would be torn down; it was obviously old, with an original flagstone foundation that was beginning to crumble into powder, and the siding grew increasingly gray with age and grime. The whole place was tucked into a tiny valley next to a creek, which didn't help matters at all, what with the creek's flooding tendencies—and it had no parking to speak of, and no sidewalks on the road where it sat, which pretty much made it inhospitable and dangerous... I waited, fearing its doom. Yet it stood.

And then. Oh, then. One day over the summer, cars were parked alongside the dirty building. Work vans joined them a few days later. The church's doors were open at times when we crept past, revealing things under construction inside. Friendly-looking, happy people trooped in and out, carrying things and looking determined and purposeful. Men hoisted heavy boards, bricks, and pipes; ladies sanded and painted railings and door frames. How would they do it, I wondered? Could they overcome the poor location? The ancient structure itself? The lack of parking?

Silly me: Of course they could! The last week of August, we watched a woman and young boy make their patient way down and up our fair street, carrying what appeared to be literature of some sort. Fearing they were of a certain sect that falls into the cult category at our home, we avoided the door and watched from the bedroom window (I'm not proud of this, folks). And the lady and youngster left a flyer in our door, which we surreptitiously grabbed and read as soon as they were out of sight. Lo and behold, we'd been way off base: the pair was from the little church! They were going to start holding services there in one week!

We had commitments at our own church on that momentous weekend, and our services started earlier than theirs, so the church was still quiet when we left that Sunday morning. But upon our return, my heart swelled to see the doors open, and a smiling, tie-sporting fellow greeting worshippers as they made their way inside. Even better, I noticed with glee that three separate businesses, all located within a few steps of the church's doors, had allowed church parking; all the lots were clearly marked with folding signs and were, even better, populated with a more-than-respectable number of cars. Best of all: the broken-down sign had been replaced with a new one that hung invitingly, beckoning visitors.

Why was I so happy about this? Have I even attended a service there? I'm not sure why, and no, I haven't yet trekked down to see what it's all about. I want to. In time, I will. I did check their website (it was listed on the flyer), and was pleased to see a similar mindset to my own—a simple, no-frills philosophy about faith in our powerful God and His son. I suppose I was, and continue to be, uplifted by the church members' hard work and success, by the way other locals have contributed with parking opportunities, by the much-needed reminder that God Makes a Way. You see, I forget sometimes about His authority. We're here in this world, it's all screwed up, people are sick and dying and pursuing evil and making horrible choices... but here comes a pint-sized army of faithful people and suddenly, there's hope again in a once-abandoned valley.

There's always hope in that valley. Isn't it wonderful?!