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?


chris h. said...

As kids, my brothers made an art of acquiring people's cast-offs on "junk day," which was an occasional thing separate from the weekly "garbage day." They acquired and we played endlessly with perfectly wonderful toys, such as one of those hockey games where the players slide up and down on levers and spin around to shoot, a vibrating football game, and, just for me, a BATON! I think the fine art still exists, as I often see people leave furniture or bikes or something out on the curb and they're gone before the truck comes.

Mel said...

oh, the lovely art does still exist, but not so much in the neighborhoods that have the best garbage (people are too proud and self-aware to be seen picking thru stuff) unless the garbage-pickers come from out of the area. thankfully, sometimes they do. and I won't deny that I've picked a few things in my lifetime. I'd have been a fool not to! I guess it bothers me b/c so many times, I don't see the great stuff out until just before or after dark the night before, and I know it's unlikely it'll find a home before being picked up by the trucks the next day. and it's the whole idea of how our society discourages it, wants to push new stuff, makes household tools and machines cheaper and worse quality to force people to replace often, how technology constantly updates things so a year or two is an eternity in the life span of a gadget, how we push the concept of "throw it away" by the very vastness and voraciousness of our consumptions. the same capitalism that made things good and cheap also continues to push us in the general direction of the necessity of frequent replacement to feed the production (therefore, profit) machine. I'm rambling now, but I bet you get what I'm saying. I want things to mean more, to be precious, to be worth preserving. I want preservation to be more than a quaint, small-town idea or a huge charity somewhere. I fear it's a lost cause, now at least.

Athelas63 said...

Don't worry too much. Once the economy completely collapses and the Chinese call in their loans, and we're suddenly a very big Third World country, with 25% + unemployment and riots in the streets, you'll see people saving more. course, by then it will be too late...