Essay By Denise Chiappetta @denisechips with comic art by Joe Chiappetta
Woman Talks Trash
Once upon a time, I arrived home to find a crumpled note wedged in my front door. Being that every landscaping service or 12 year old with access to a lawn mower often advertises their services in a similar manner, I was tempted to wholly ignore the communication. However, upon further examination, I recognized the letterhead of the Village where I lived, and the notable signature of our beloved Mayor.
I was pleased to discover, that though the economy may be in a recession, foreclosures abounding, and the price of gas earth-shattering to us Americans; WE, the cared-for citizens of North Riverside (village slogan: "the small village with a big heart) were all getting new garbage cans! The letter promised a new big, efficient can, able to hold twice the "normal" amount of garbage, thereby saving us citizens precious dollars in the long run by enabling the pickup to be cut to once a week. I had seen cans like the one described in the surrounding towns. Often a darkish green or brown, bringing a certain order and "neatness" to the chaos and dust that can so often mark an alley. Each can was registered with it's own number and letter code and had a special handle that hooked into the garbage truck and made it possible for the truck itself to pick up the can and deposit the contents into the compactor. The garbage man no longer had to get dirty! Those guys at Allied Waste really had it down to a science.
According to the letter, my can would arrive somewhere within a 48 hour window, and I should expect it early the next week. Come that Monday, I must admit that I felt a little more excited than I would like to admit when opening my shades in the morning, thinking silently to myself, "I wonder if it's out there?!" No. Not yet. However, true to his word, come Tuesday morning, I opened my shades to find that the Mayor had indeed sent the "garbage can fairy" to grace our block. Up and down the parkways, in front of every house, stood new, big, blue, shiny, cans sparkling in the morning sun. By golly, ours were better than Berwyn's, better than Brookfield's... ours were blue. Pretty blue.
I told the kids to go eat their breakfast and that I would be right back. Skipping barefoot out my door, I retrieved my new can from it's vulnerable spot next to the street. Slowly dragging it onto the sidewalk, (yes, it was heavy... I guess that part of the science hasn't been worked out yet) I paused. Where to put it? Now, of course, intellectually, I know where to put it. In the alley. Where garbage cans go. So the garbage man can find it. Duh.
But, here is the point at which I turn from being a rational, college educated, tax paying, real estate owner, into a suburban housewife, body void of coffee, vulnerable to her emotions and moments of paranoia. My young children are unattended in the house. Cereal is probably being scattered in mass quantities across the floor. I picture the milk cascading across the table. Yet, here I stand... paralyzed in the middle of my sidewalk... a victim of my own thought process. I stare down the rows of houses on my side of the street. Cans stand at attention in front of every house.
However, the houses across the street have not yet been visited by the garbage can fairy. Now, I have nice neighbors. They have never done anything to make me doubt their integrity in the least. However, I find this urge come over me that I can only imagine is a residual effect from my bygone American pioneer ancestors who had to hunt and gather and defend their property from the Native Americans from which they stole it.
I had something new and shiny. The guy across the street didn't. It must be hidden, lest he take it. I drag my can down the walkway to the back yard. I place it next to the garage, in the middle of the yard. It cannot be seen by anyone from the front of the house, or anyone from the alley. It really can only be seen by me, from my back window.
Okay. Good. It is safe. I like that spot. It's the safest in the yard. That's why months earlier, I decided to put the kids' sandbox there. Hmmm. Not good. Curious Kids. Sand. Garbage. Onward I go, trying to regain intelligent thought. Paranoia now really becoming plain. I imagine my next door neighbor watching me stupidly dragging my can around my yard. In circles. Looking confused.
I glance at their window from my peripheral vision. The shades are still drawn. Thankful to be saved the embarrassment, my can and I arrive at the back gate, next to the alley. I bring in my old can from the alley and place it on "our" side of the fence. I know that the Mayor and Allied Waste's plan is that I will now put my new blue baby in its place. But I'm scared. What if the people driving down the busy street near my house see it and take it? I can't risk that.
So, I place it next to my old can, on the "safe" side of the fence. "Our side." I pause and give thought to the situation. The can is safe and I can reach it just fine. However, the garbage man cannot. This arrangement means that I will now have to wake up at the crack of dawn every Tuesday and beat the garbage man to my alley and bring the can out where he can reach it. At least if I want my garbage dumped.
Keep thinking, Denise. Presently, the "herd" mentality starts to take over. I exit my gate and gaze down the alley. "Did anyone else put their cans in the alley?" "How many people?" I take a quick census. Well, not a lot, but enough to rattle my mind back in to common sense. Out go the can and I, into the alley, living dangerously. I place it in it's station and close the gate. Time to head back in the house and see what damage the kids have caused during this thoughtful interlude.
Three months since that morning of my confusion, perspective sets in. My new can still stands tall and indestructible in the alley outside my gate. No attempts at theft have been made. It still shines and glistens in all its blueness in the morning sun.
However, it now reeks of diapers and rotted cantaloupe. Like, really bad. I know that I should probably get the hose and rinse it out. But the can is heavy. And the alley is so far from the hose. And who really cares anyway... I mean, the garbage man hardly has to touch it. He just hooks it on the truck, flips the switch, and watches it flail around, waving its registration number wildly, inverted in the wind.
Sometimes, early on a Tuesday morning, the kids and I hear the truck lumbering down the alley. My two year old yells, "The gabbage truck! The gabbage truck is here!!"
So, I open the shades and we all stare admiringly and a little awestruck at the technical wonder of our trash wafting through the air, down into the compactor, ready for the next phase of it's long journey. It's the little things, right? And sometimes... just sometimes... upon taking leisurely walks through the neighborhood, I can't help but think how nice they all look... all these pretty blue cans lining the alleys. Like uniformed soldiers guarding the gates to suburbia. Hiding our secrets. Camouflaging our stink. Bringing order to chaos, no less.
No wonder why I love them.
Cartoon drawing at top is in ink pens on two pieces of 5.5" x 4" paper by Joe Chiappetta, shaded by Denise Chiappetta. It also appears in print an Silly Daddy Forever