One Man's Trash

By: Mike June 18, 2016

There are many joys to living in the country. There are also a few drawbacks. For instance, there is no weekly curbside trash collection. Trash collection, indoor plumbing, and complaining about taxes are the foundational pillars of modern civilization, so this is a loss not to be taken lightly.

Actually, there is a rather costly trash collection service that we could emply. However, they would only allow a single bin of trash to be collected from a location about a half-mile from our home. In place of their services, we have pressed an aging horse trailer into use as a garbage scow. So, a battered yellow trailer sits, day after day, some distance from the front of our home, slowly filling with a ripening amalgamation of householdtrash and various bits of detritus and debris from the farm. At some point, either the trailer is completely full, or the air becomes sufficiently suffused with the redolent boquet of waste that corrective action is required.

The Richland dump, er, Sanitary Landfill is about fourteen miles away. So I hitch up the stinky trailer, put on my gloves, and make the odoriferous journey. At the entrance to the dump, one is required to park on a scale, and make arrangements to dispose of your cargo. Household trash is one price, landscape waste another, and there are various surcharges for tires, paint, household chemicals, and several other things. Naturally, things like appliances and metals are handled in distinct locations of the facility, so I may need to make several stops to get everything properly sorted. Oh, and of course, payment must be made before proceeding.

Generally speaking, I back the trailer into the transfer station, makes a hasty job of emptying the trailer while trying to breathe through my mouth and think thoughts of faraway places, and depart driving like the lead in an 80's action movie until my eyes quit watering and my nose begins to function normally. The very definition of a "Quick and Dirty" job.

Yesterday was garbage day. I hitched the trailer, and trundled my way to the dump. I chatted briefly with the nice lady in the receiving office, and paid my fees. I was just backing the trailer into an unoccupied slot in the transfer station when a little three-wheeled cart zipped up to my window and a stern-looking woman with a clipboard (a universal symbol of authority) hopped out of it and motioned for me to roll down the window.

She looked my, admittedly-disreputable, trailer up and down, and apparently found nothing to her liking, then turned her gaze upon me and repeated the procedure. From her expression, I was also found wanting. "Where are you from?", she spoke without preamble, and with all the warmth of liquid helium.

In case I haven't mentioned it, I have authority issues. It's yet another widely-recognized flaw in my character. I am, sadly, also very keenly aware that authority figures can bring all manner of unpleasant consequences down upon the heads of those who fail to bow and scrape properly. So, when confrontedwith an authority figure, any authority figure, my brain immediately fabricates acerbic and derisive responses to their inquiries. Another bit of my brain begins formulating obsequious responses replete with honorifics. My id and ego gang up to endorse the sarcastic commentary, and the superego begins banging his gavel and screaming for prudence and moderation. The space between my ears is suddenly very busy and very chaotic, and sounds something like this:

Where am I from? Well, that's a theological question if ever I've heard one. And, like most questions of theology, the answer is complex. Even in the Christian religions I am either the result of an original sin, and thus a tainted entity desperately in need of redemption or a heavenly offspring trailing celestial glories behind me, or virtually anything between those extremes. Of course, each of the major world religious traditions has their own explanation of where we come from. Dropping the metaphysics, I suppose parts of me, at least the heavy elements, are the remnants of dead stars,although their location is a little hard to pin down. The lighter elements, presumably, were present with our sun and solar system formed, though alternate explanations are certainly possible . . . And, anthropologically speaking, I believe "somewhere in Africa" is still the current answer.

The other part of my brain is saying, "Good afternoon officer, it is truly a pleasure to be called upon to assist in the enforcement of our beloved municipal codes, and might I say how gracefully you dismounted from your conveyance? Surely you are either a gymnast or a dancer, though I suppose that grace could also come from extensive martial arts training. As for me, I hail most recently from the quiet hamlet of Benton City, where we are all staunch supporters of the laws and policies of our state, county and local leaders."

After a furious internal debate, my beleaguered brain tries to combine the best of both responses, and after a two-second pause I mumble, " Benton City". And that's all that comes out. I sit there like a simpleton, unable to elaborate further because my id, ego, and superego are throwing things at each other and fighting to get to get control of the microphone. I want to bang my head on the horn, and a quick glance confirms that clipboard lady is not impressed with my rapier wit. Her frown deepens a bit, and she asks, "Do you have your receipt?"

Of course I have my receipt, they just gave it to me ten seconds ago. Heck, she probably watched them hand it to me. Now were did I put it? I look around the cab frantically. I didn't set in on the seat, or on the dash. I usually throw trash on the floor of the back seat, and the floor is awash with crumpled papers and wrappers. It definitely time to head to the dump, which is exactly what I'm trying to do! Where is that blasted . . . and then I find it in my pocket, crumpled into a tiny, wrinkled ball. I hand it to the nice officer, who takes it dubiously and tries to read it.

While she's squinting at the crumpled receipt, I'm looking around in disbelief. I mean, I'm at the landfill, right? What does she think I'm going to do, sneak in and steal the garbage? Do they have a problem with that around here? Maybe she's worried that I somehow snuck past the big gate and the chain-link fence. I picture a crazed lunatic driving a truck and trailer like my own, revving his engine and fishtailing wildly down the drive then swerving violently to crash though the chain link fence in a cloud of dust like Bo Duke. And then what? Drive nonchalantly up to the transfer station and hurridly unload the garbage while bits of broken fence rain to earth and the dust slowly settles behind? I mean, the gate is only like a hundred feet away, and that's the only way in. And so I watch her study the little piece of paper that I hope proves I'm an upstanding citizen and not a nefarious garbage thief trying to steal a full trailer of sun-baked and rotting trash.

If she manages it read it, her eyes are sharper than mine, but she's ready with her next question. This is like some demented quest game where the hero has to answer the riddles of the fairy queen.

She jerks a thumb back at the trailer, and asks, "You got any chemicals back there?"

And we're off the the mental races again. I've got a long-unused degree in chemistry, but suddenly it's in overdrive. "Let's see, we've got lots and lots of cellulose. That's a polysaccharide, of course. And the trash bags are doubtless polyethylene, but they'll also contain plasticizers, primarily esters and pthalates, and possibly colorants as well. And the fast-food wrappers are polystyrene, and there's waxed paper, which means we've got carboxylic acids and some long-chain hydrocarbons. Waxes are just a garbage-heap of big organics, so we probably have alkanes, ketones, aldehydes, fatty acids and more right there. And then there's the rotting food — it's a veritable library of organic compounds. Obviously, my trailer is just loaded with chemicals!

I don't even let the obsequious half of my brain get started, and just mutter "No Ma'am".

I'd never survive a real interrorgation, it's obvious even to this woman that I'm thinking way too hard to come up with such simple responses, and she's gotten suspicious. Her eyes narrow and she jerks her thumb back behind me again, and says "What about tires? You got any tires back there?"

And my id and ego are off doing their Dumb and Dumber act. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror shows that, indeed, the back axel of my truck is still attached, and the tires are firmly in place. The trailer, likewise, has four tires clearly visible to anyone who cares to look. A closer inspection would reveal that both truck and trailer also carry spare tires. That's eight tires right there, and I should obviously inform her that I've got eight tires "back there" right? Id and ego are chanting in unison, "C'mon do it! She handed you the perfect straight line, and you'd only be telling the truth!" Someday, they're going to get me shot.

The officer clears her throat, and I realize I've got a stupid grin on my face. She's pretty sure she's being mocked somehow, and she doesn't like it a bit. I sober up quickly and say, "No Ma'am. No tires." I smile at her lamely, and she's doubtless wondering how on earth I ever got a driver's license and what sort of drugs I'm on. Smooth. That's what I am.

And so it went for a half dozen questions, until I was finally allowed to go offload my cargo of trash. It's a brave new world out there folks, and even the dump is employing loss-prevention officers. Stay safe, stay indoors, and read a good book!