In the five years I’ve been collecting your junk and throwing it in the back of my big loud truck, I’ve learned a lot about you. Outside of my secret life in my bright orange superhero coveralls, I encounter many of you on your good days and bad, while shopping, drinking coffee, riding the subway and in the other standard places where people congregate. I thought I knew some of you well enough, even through our limited contact, that I could assess our city’s varied demographics with some accuracy. I was, however, wrong (or at least incomplete in my judgements).
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I’ve been on three routes in three very different neighbourhoods during my garbage tenure. Most frighteningly, I now collect the trash in the area I live, so I’m discovering the dirty little secrets of people I bump into on the sidewalk daily. While this voyeurism was intriguing at first, I now sometimes feel like the Malcolm McDowell character in A Clockwork Orange, tortured by being forced to witness the local horror show.
First off, let’s start with some simple rules. When it is garbage week, put out your trash bags, not your recycling. Even the dimmest of you must be able to look down the block and see that no-one else has unilaterally decided to but out the blue or grey bins amid the heaps of heavy black bags. Your newspapers, cans and bottles are, therefore, going to sit in place for up to 24 hours (and that’s giving some of you too much credit) unless a roving gang of teenage troublemakers wanders by and decides to take you up on your offer of handy missiles. Note, too, that I don’t sweep your street and sidewalk, and my truck has tires which broken bottles don’t penetrate. I also wear steel-soled and –shanked boots and am gone long before you could ask to borrow my gloves to clean up the mess. Those heavy bags you throw out? Rarely are they too heavy for me, but when you decide to conceal three thousand old shingles in one and it weighs two hundred pounds, I’ll leave it in place. If it was intended to be a marker at the end of your driveway to lead guests in, you’ve succeeded, because I’m not picking it up. That goes for those of you who leave out fluorescent bulbs which get shattered when moths fart, too, and the cretins who think I’ll be scraping up rotted chicken carcasses after the dogs/skunks/raccoons have spread them all over Hell’s half-acre. Here’s a tip: put those bulbs in boxes or bags, and double-bag the stinky garbage, and throw it out in the morning, not at 10:00 pm for the creatures of the night to feast on.
I’d also suggest you check your handy civic calendar, which I know gets delivered to every household. It outlines when your trash day occurs, what items can be disposed of at what time, and even offers you options (most of them free) to rid yourselves of toxic waste and huge hunks of Granny’s furniture. How people can afford a home in Rosedale or Cabbagetown and not have the ability to read a calendar is beyond me, but a good many of you have opened my eyes to the terrors of functional illiteracy. You’ve also taught me that owning an expensive home is no sign of good breeding. Nouveau-riche or just the inbred, dull-witted spawn of the upper crust? I have no idea, but people who live in $750,000.00+ homes and throw out 2-4-1 pizza boxes and cases from Kraft Dinner with alarming regularity (not to mention cheap, crappy beer I wouldn’t even wash my boots with) are freaks. I’m not expecting to pick up trash bags delicately scented with truffle oil, but please, please, stop using giant Value Village bags to rid yourselves of your month-old Toronto Sun papers (it’s not a newspaper, it’s asswipe for the braindead) and broken down, cheap-ass electronics made by ‘Sonyo’ or ‘Olympux’. Good grief.
Last on my rant list, do me and your neighbours a favour and don’t use transparent bags if you must throw away very personal items, such as, say, a dildo the size of a pontoon or five hundred photographs of you and your ex which have been ripped in half. While amusing for a moment, you are revealing more than you’d probably like. Yes, it’s garbage, but it’s also a window into your world through which some of us involuntarily peer.
Finally, a thank-you to the good and sensible people who follow the sensible rules of trash disposal and even go beyond the call of duty. I love that you label very heavy bags, and write in huge letters ‘WARNING: BROKEN GLASS’ on boxes of broken glass. I love that you wind up the cord to your broken vacuum cleaner before tossing it, and tend to keep your trash bags somewhat orderly and in a spot that doesn’t block the sidewalk for pedestrians. Most of all, I love that many of you will mark items as still useful but no longer useful to you, and even put out boxes of books, records and kitchenware with huge signs saying ‘FREE STUFF!’ for passerby to rummage through. That sort of recycling shows you care (and makes up for the weird stuff you throw out in those transparent bags).
Best of the lovely fall season to you all, and don’t forget to shovel your walks when the snow comes.