Newlywed couple has problems when husband sets out to get revenge on his garbage men.
|I recently moved into a middle-class neighborhood of mostly newlyweds like my wife and me. One-way, dead-end street with little traffic. Overhanging oak limbs. Small, neat lawns. To anyone who didn’t live there, it would seem like a street without worries.
The last piece of advice I received from the previous owners as they drove away was to always leave a tip for the garbage men. At first, I didn’t process this comment and nodded and waved after their car. However, when I had time to think about it a few moments later, I said “what?” Who ever heard of tipping a garbage man, I thought? I already feel that the tipping system has been abused. As I understand it, the tip was originally intended as a reward for a job well done. A tip is something that should never be expected and never given until after the job is completed and completed beyond the call of duty. And then, there are certain jobs where tipping is simply not necessary and expectations of a tip disgust me. The garbage man for God’s sake!
Some say that our garbage industry is controlled by the “Mob.” I’ve never been sure what the Mob is. I can picture it and have some idea of the activities that mobsters are involved in. It’s another one of those terms that people use daily but can probably not define. I place it on the list with “the Internet,” and an “electrical short.”
Certainly part of the mob is the expectation of easy money with little or no competition. My garbage men expected easy money in the form of a few dollars left in the handle of the trashcan. I was soon to discover that not only did they expect a tip from me, but from everyone else on our street. They had a little racketeering operation on Cambelle Avenue.
I also learned from the previous owner that the routine is to pull the trashcans out to the street on Mondays and Thursdays in order to have the truck empty the containers on its rounds. This is what I did the first time I participated in the pick-up, although there is an aspect involving the quality of our trash that I must point out in order to give a fair recount of the following events.
There are three routine chores that I despise: making up the bed, lawn maintenance, and taking out the trash. Fortunately, my wife likes making the bed and I can afford a lawn service. As for taking out the garbage, all I can do is procrastinate.
I often think back on that first load of garbage I hauled to the street at our new house. It was extreme. I had been over-packing the plastic container for so long that it had lost its four-sided form and was stretched into a round shape. The lid usually sealed over the top, but at that time, was balanced like a hat upon the mound of coffee grounds and grease-oozing waste.
I was at work when they came to make the pick-up. When I returned that evening, I observed my new trashcan lying 50 feet down the street, side kicked in and left with one wheel where there were once two. I was outraged. I immediately called the City Sanitation Department to complain but got an answering machine and hung up. I walked back outside and looked up and down the street. No one else seemed to have experienced trashcan abuse and their cans had been returned neatly to the edge of the sidewalk. I remembered the piece of advice about tipping the garbage men and that made me even more upset. I realized I was being blackmailed.
I walked down the street and retrieved my trashcan, feeling embarrassed and humiliated. I found my other wheel lying sadly against the curb several feet away. I returned my container to the back of the house and set to pushing the dent out with gloved hands as it was still coated with greasy waste.
My wife, Cathy, was inside the house, oblivious to my troubles. She taught school and was always home before me. I marched into the kitchen and threw my gloves into the sink.
“You know the garbage men threw our trashcan three houses down the street? They ripped off one of the wheels too!”
“That’s strange. Maybe it was some kids that came by?”
“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s because I didn’t leave them a tip. That’s what it is.”
“A tip?” she said.
“You don’t remember what the old owners said about tipping the garbage man?”
“Surely it’s not expected of us?”
I looked down and shook my head. “If those motherfuckers throw my trashcan around again, I’ll give them something they don’t expect!”
My wife smiled at me. “It’s not that big of a deal, Walter.”
I looked up at her. I started to say something but it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps she was right. Perhaps I was acting a little childish. I smiled and shrugged. “I guess you’re right. Probably just some kids.”
Two weeks later, I found myself cursing another precarious load of waste that I drug up the driveway in my wheelless trashcan. I set it against the curb and got into my car to head for work. I hadn’t yet closed my car door when I heard it fall over. Without the wheels, it wouldn’t support itself unless it was leaning against something.
“Damnit!” I yelled, images of kicking garbageman ass flicking in my head..
After using a piece of newspaper to shove the greasy trash back into its container, I found a stick and propped the trashcan back up. “There,” I said to the can. “They can deal with you like that.”
Returning from work, I saw it as soon as I turned onto our street. It lay in the middle of the sidewalk, two houses down, mashed flat like a Frisbee. I felt my hands tighten on the steering wheel. My face grew hot.
I drug the trashcan into our back yard and pounded it back into shape. Hearing the commotion, my wife appeared in the back door.
“Honey, what are you doing?”
“Did they abuse your trashcan again?”
“Those sons-of-bitches. They’ve had it now.”
“Don’t you want some gloves?”
At this point, I sat on the ground with my feet inside the can, kicking wildly like someone that has fallen in a sack race. I didn’t answer her.
“Maybe you should call and complain?” she suggested.
I stopped and looked at her. “I have called. All you get is a fucking answering machine!”
She stepped out into the yard and walked over to stand above me. “Don’t you think you’re getting a little upset about it?”
“Fuck! I shouldn’t have to tip a garbage man to get my trash removed. This is crazy! They think there’s nothing I can do about it. We’ll see about that. Get me that hose over there.”
She looked over at the hose and back at me. She made a screwed-up smile and cocked her head sideways. “I don’t think I want to be involved with you and your temper tantrum.”
Cathy went back into the house while I sprayed myself and the can clean. Afterwards, I set it against the house and stood dripping and looking at it. “We’ll see about that,” I said again.
The following Thursday, my can was only a quarter full. However, I drug it out to the street and propped it with the stick. I walked back to the house and returned dragging the garden hose. In five minutes I had the can completely full of water with bits of ravioli and tampons and broccoli casserole floating and swirling on the top. My own little trashcan soup. I dropped the hose and stood back and did a little dance. “See if you like emptying this,” I said.
Rick is my oldest neighbor, in his mid-fifties, single with no children. He’s a custodian for a high school up the road. He’s mostly greasy undershirt and beer gut with a constant smudge of face stubble. He also has a habit of coughing up a lot of flem. He’s not much to be seen with, but he’s got just about every tool you can think of.
Rick offered to let me borrow his ladder that evening to retrieve my trashcan from a fork in an oak tree. To my disappointment, he also wanted to help. He held the ladder with one hand and picked his teeth with a pocket knife as I climbed up towards my trashcan.
“You say a garbage man throwed it up there?” I heard him ask.
“Yeah, they keep fucking with me. I think it’s because I won’t tip them?”
“They pretty funny about that.”
I stopped halfway up the ladder and looked at him. “So, you do have to tip them to make them quit this shit?”
He looked up. Closed his pocketknife. “Hell, them motherfuckers know better than to expect a tip from me.”
I continued up the ladder, grabbed the can and jerked it loose. I started back down. “So you don’t tip either?”
“Boy, let me tell you somethin.” He always called me boy as if he was that much older than me. “I started teachin them sons-of-bitches a lesson about ten years ago and you’d think they were decorators the way they leave my cans now.”
I reached the ground and turned to face him. I smelled something a little sour and backed away a step. “How’d you manage that?”
He nodded up the street. “You see that rack that holds them cans out front of my house?”
I looked. “Yeah.”
“You notice I got metal cans in that thing?”
“Sum bitch’s got a steel base they sit on that’s wired straight to a wall outlet. When those motherfuckers get funny on me, I just plug it in before I go to work. It’ll make em jump clean out they pants. Juice em.”
I smiled in amazement at the contraption on his lawn. “No shit?”
He spat a wad of flem to the ground. Looked back at me. “If anybody asks, I just say it’s to keep out the dogs. I tell ye, you just got to set em straight or you’ll be like every other motherfucker on this street. They be in your pockets for good.”
I thanked Rick and watched him walk back to his house with the ladder.
“Rick said he shocks the shit out of them every time they fuck with his cans.”
“You know, the dirty fat guy in that red house. Drives the old truck with duct tape all over it?”
“Well, honey, I think you should just give them a couple of dollars and let it be. We only need to take out the trash every other week.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “That’s exactly the attitude that allows them to get away with this. Everybody on this damn street except for Rick gives in. Our whole street’s just a bunch of pussies!”
“They are! I’ll be damned if I’m going to join them.”
I lay in bed that night and tried to create a mental picture of how I would rig an electric trashcan. First of all, I’ll get rid of my plastic one and replace it with some like Rick’s. It’s almost destroyed anyway. Then, I’ll rig up a steel-plated housing unit -- that’s the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever heard of! I can’t believe that fat, greasy son-of-a-bitch isn’t in jail!
“I can’t believe he shocks those guys. You’d think they’d put him in jail for that.”
“Go to sleep, Walter.”
“Shit. I’ve got to come up with something else. What if I put the trashcans on a chain? Yeah. Shit yeah! What if I had a chain that was only long enough for them to reach the garbage truck? That would piss them off.”
“Ummm. Sounds good.”
Saturday I went to the home improvement store and bought a metal trashcan, a padlock, and fifteen feet of chain. On the way back, I stopped at a convenience store and picked up a case of Budweiser.
By late afternoon, I had my trashcan padlocked to a nearby telephone pole and a beer buzz. I stood back and looked at my new arrangement. “Try to take you now, son-of-a-bitch,” I said to the can.
“Ain’t gone work.”
I turned and saw Rick standing up the street. He began walking towards me.
“I’ll bet they don’t take this more than ten feet,” I said.
Rick stood over the trashcan and studied it for a moment. He leaned over and pulled a beer from my cooler and popped it open. Turned it up and let it down. Beer dribbled down the side of his mouth. “Shit.”
He lifted his undershirt and scratched his stomach. “Boy, you gotta think like a garbage man to whip a garbage man.”
I squinted my eyes at him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you take most garbage men, they some pretty rough people. They been in some pretty rough places. They ain’t all civilized an cultured like us.” He pulled his shirt back down and finished the beer. “I’ve already done the thinkin on this one, so if you bear with me, I’ll save you the trouble.” He leaned over and grabbed another beer. “Garbage men, they used to chains. They all been in jail. They all know how to deal with a chain. They can probly snip that sum bitch apart with they teeth. But you take electricity, now that’s somethin they don’t like. Makes em think about electric chairs. That’s what you need.”
“Man, I already thought about that. You could kill somebody that way. I’m surprised they didn’t turn you in over that.”
Rick took another gulp. “An mess up they little money operation they got goin on. Shit.”
“Well, I’m not going to shock anybody. We’ll just see if this works.”
Rick shrugged. “Suit yourself. You mind if I take one of those cold ones back with me?”
The following Monday afternoon, I picked my new trashcan off the pavement. It resembled a runover Coke can.
I couldn’t face my wife. I knew she’d seen it. I knew she’d seen my manhood pressed into the asphalt. At the time, I wasn’t mad. I was humiliated. I got back into my car and drove to the convenience store for beer. By the time I’d downed four, I was clear out of town, driving down the river road. Then I started thinking. That’s when I got mad.
I pulled over and got out near the riverbank. I swayed with a beer can tilted in my hand and yelled out over the river. “FUUUCK!”
I sat down in the grass and turned up the last of beer five. Think like a garbage man. They always said that. Think like a such and such. Fat, greasy old fuck. Stinking fuck. Mooch. Stinking janitor fuck. What does a garbage man think like? They don’t fucking think. I threw my can up the road and heard it clatter and roll. I looked after it and watched it off into the weeds. My eyes blurred and focused down the long straight of highway. The sky was growing dark and I thought about having to explain my absence to my wife. Sometime during that thinking, my eyes rested on a large black object in the road about two hundred yards away. “What the fuck is that?” I spat out as if everything in the world was offensive.
When I drove up next to the thing, I saw that it was a large, dead alligator. The stench was so overpowering that I held my hand over my mouth and turned my head inside the car for each breath. “Jesus!” I rolled up the window, drove past the alligator, and turned around in the ditch to head back. When I had the car pointing towards home again and the alligator was in my headlights, the idea hit me.
I took off my shirt and used it to grab the alligator under the armpits. Looking away and holding my breath, I managed to drag it to the trunk. I let it flop down by the bumper and dashed around the car. I stopped in the headlights and bent over, gulping large catch-up breaths. After resting a moment, I sucked in my breath and went back to get the alligator the rest of the way in the trunk. I heaved him up and over and slammed it shut and ran back around to the headlights. “Phewww. Fucking fuck!”
I stopped at the home improvement store and purchased another trashcan. Crammed it into the back seat and made for the house. I thought briefly about my wife home alone with no idea of my whereabouts. However, my new plans soon overshadowed that worry.
Back in my driveway, I got the new trashcan off the back seat and took it around to the trunk. Using my shirt again, I hefted the dead alligator out and dropped it tail-first into the can. After a quick dash to catch some fresh air, I returned and drug the can out to the street. I stood back and admired my new surprise. The alligator head smiled up at me. I smiled back. Empty this, motherfuckers!
Before I put the lid on, I decided to add some native habitat/roux. I drug the garden hose out and began to fill the rest of the can. As I stood there, I heard the door to the house open behind me. I turned around holding the hose to see my wife watching me from the porch.
“Where have you been?”
“Just had to go for a drive. What’s up?”
“Where’s your shirt?”
I looked down at my naked chest. Back up at her. “I had some car trouble and had to use it for a rag.”
She looked at me sideways. Squinted her eyes. “Why are you filling that trashcan with water?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Walter, we need to talk.”
“You’re taking this too far. You’re obsessed. What’s gotten into you?”
The trashcan overflowed. I put the lid on and walked the hose back to the faucet and turned it off. “Honey, this is between me and the trash men. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll handle this.”
There was no reply. When I looked up she had gone back inside.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. I really don’t have a clue. All I know is my husband has lost his mind over the trash pickup. I can’t take it anymore.”
“Shit. Put that down. Where are you going?”
“To my mother’s.”
“I don’t want to discuss it anymore. You think about it.”
“Cathy, you can’t just spend your life letting people run over you all the time.”
“Nor can I spend it with someone who cares more about punishing garbage pickup that about his wife.”
“Shit, you can’t just leave. Hey. HEY! Damnit!
“Gimme another one, Rick old buddy. What else you got in that icebox?”
“All I got’s Shaefer.”
“Well, shit. Gimme another one of them. Damned Shaefer’s a goodun ain’t it?”
Rick burped and stuck his hands down his pants. Raked at some itch down there. Pulled it out and grabbed a beer for me out of the refrigerator. “You did like I tole ye, boy. I’m proud of ye. Usin ye head. If there’s one thing a garbage man don’t like, it’s somethin jumpin out the can at him. I think you might get their attention.”
I tried to let out a long burp at the floor, but felt the beer lurch up from my stomach. I caught it in my cheeks. Paused. Swallowed it back down.
“Shit, boy. Don’t be throwin up on my carpet.”
“I’m fucked, Rick.”
“Hell, you about drunk all my beer.”
I waved a hand across the air. “Naw, my life’s fucked.”
“She gonna come back. You might as well get ye business taken care of while she gone. Time to get down to it.”
“I feel like I’m in a Chevy Chase movie.”
“You gone feel a lot worse than that in the mornin.”
“I mean, my wife running out on me because I’m after some garbage man.”
“Hell, boy, don’t pay no attention to the wife. They ain’t good fer nothin but houndin and -- you listenin to me!”
I looked up. “Yeah! Damn.”
“Don’t you be goin to sleep on me.”
“Shit, it’s almost three o’clock. I’ve got to go to work in a few hours.”
“Get you another, boy. When you gonna learn?”
Rick stood up and hung over me, beer held out in one hand, his face twisting in concentration for a momentous speech. “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
I looked down. Nodded my head.
“Look at me, boy! I’m tryin to tell you an impooortant fact o’ life.”
“Rick, I’ve got to go. I know a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do and I’ve got to go to bed.”
Rick fell back into his chair. He waved his hand to dismiss me. “Well, shit. Get on outa here. You let me know if that gator don’t work and we’ll wire you up the old blista rig like I got out there.”
“I don’t want the blister rig.”
“Honey, when are you coming home?”
“Whenever you’re ready.”
“I’m ready. Everything sucks right now.”
“I was hungover at work all day. The house is empty. I feel like shit.”
A pause. “Are you ready to stop the foolishness about the trash pickup?”
“Look, I don’t see why -- Honey? Hello… FUCK!”
“Why’d you hang up on me last night?”
“You know why.”
“Seriously, when are you coming home?”
“Have you solved your problem with the trash pickup?”
“… I think so.”
“I really do. You remember two nights ago when I was filling the trashcan with water?”
“I put an alligator in there. It’s been in there soaking for two days now. Honey? Hello?”
Lying in bed that night, I realized that the next morning was crucial. The garbage men would come for Thursday pickup and my plan would either work or not. I was still reasonably sure that I could drag out the situation with my wife a little longer without it making any long-lasting scars on our relationship. Just one more day was all I needed. If the alligator didn’t work, then I’d give in. It’s lonely here in the dark. I guess a couple of dollars a week isn’t too much to save a marriage.
I called in sick the next morning so that I could stay home and witness the event. I walked out to the trashcan, still sitting by the sidewalk, and lifted the lid. The smell wafted over me like steam from a covered pot. I had to turn away momentarily. Ohhh! Damn. I peered down into the can. The alligator smiled up at me from an orange and yellow soup, his face swollen and white from the soaking and decomposition. I slammed the lid shut. Perfect!
Back inside, I pulled a chair up to the window and started my watch. It was close to ten o’clock that morning when I heard the groaning sound of the vehicle coming down my street. I leaned forward and saw the garbage truck with a man hanging off each side. I continued to watch as they stopped at each house and took their small tips from the tops of the trashcans, stuffing them quickly and unappreciatively into their pockets, and then hefting the cans and emptying them into the compactor.
I imagined the man that was on my side of the truck was the one I was after. Short, skinny, long-haired specimen that looked to be in his mid-twenties. Reminded me of a possum. I started to get a little nervous, like someone who is about to see something they’re not supposed to see.
The truck came to a complete stop in front of my house. Possum jumped off and walked over to my trashcan. He seemed to be taking his time all of a sudden. As I watched, the man from the other side appeared and walked over next to him. Then, the truck window rolled down and a passenger in the driver’s side was looking out. Possum pointed up into the tree where they had once thrown one of my trashcans and started laughing. The passenger pointed up the street as if he was suggesting placement for this new trashcan. I felt my face getting hot. Go ahead and laugh you son-of-a-bitch. Open that motherfucker!
Possum grabbed the lid and threw it into the truck. When he turned back and looked into the can, I thought I saw his face go white. He tried to run backwards, made it a few steps, and then tripped over his feet and went sliding across the asphalt. The other observers wore a blank expression.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Possum yelled. I began to slap my legs and rock back and forth in my chair. I laughed so hard I almost choked. The man from the other side of the truck looked down at Possum and then started to walk slowly towards the trashcan, craning his neck out ahead of him. When he saw the alligator soup, he yelled up at the passenger. “It’s a fuckin dead alligator!” They both began to laugh.
Possum wasn’t so amused. He staggered up and shoved the other man aside. He looked up at the house. I froze. What? Can you see me? Fuck, you can’t --
While staring straight at me, Possum pointed at the can with both arms, like someone trying to wrap their arms around a tree. After he emphasized the fact that he was pointing at the can, he waved to the others to move on.
No fucking way! Your not going to just leave it there and take my lid?
I leapt up and ran for the front door. I bolted onto the porch, down the steps and ran out into the street after the truck. “Hey!”
They stopped at the next house and Possum jumped off. I stopped in the street and faced him.
“Hey, what the hell?” I said.
Possum looked over at his co-worker who had walked over next to him. Suddenly, I started feeling nervous.
I managed a less-confrontational tone. “Are you just going to leave my trashcan there and take my lid? Leave it full?”
“We don’t empty no smart-ass cans,” Possum said.
I looked at his co-worker. He put his hands on his hips. I held up my hands as if surrendering. “I was just having a little fun. You know you guys haven’t been so easy on my trash. I’ve had to buy three new trashcans since I moved here.”
Possum started walking towards me. “Listen, we ain’t got to take no shit from you. You take your rotten alligator stew an figure out what to do with it your own self.” He stopped a few feet away from me. “And you might wanna ask your neighbors how to go about respectin your hard workin city employees. And then maybe we’ll think about pickin up your --“
Someone spit to the right of me. I turned and saw Rick standing in my yard. “How do, boys?”
Possum raised his eyebrows and seemed to suddenly loosen up. “How you doin, Mr. Rick?”
“I’m jess fine. How bout you?”
“We’re just fine.”
Rick walked up beside me. “I want you to meet my friend Walter. He just moved in.”
Possum looked at me. Back at Rick. Nodded.
“Walter here, he says he’s been havin some problems with his garbage pickup, but I’m sure you boys can fix that can’t you?”
Possum nodded. “If he’s a friend of yours Mr. Rick, then we can take care of him.”
Rick put his arm around me and pointed at Possum. “You see, that’s why we pay taxes, so’s we can have poor white trash like him to give us good garbage service. Ain’t that right, boy?”
Rick pointed at my trashcan. “I think you mighta missed one there.”
Possum looked at the ground and began walking towards the alligator stew. “No problem, Mr. Rick.”
Rick turned and watched him pass. “How’s that hand of yours healin, boy?”
“Just fine, Mr. Rick. Healin just fine.”