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One of my humiliating sex stories (moved to an antonymous blog, all 57! of them) tells of my time working on the garbage trucks for my home town, summer 1957. There are a few work-related comments there, but the following belongs here. The Parks Department where I’ve been positioned the previous summer was chock-a-block with college kids: the grass needed a lot more cutting in the summer so personnel had a steep seasonal tide. Garbage on the other hand was far more constant. Sanitation had its regular payroll year round. I was the only college kid riding the garbage trucks that summer. OK by me: I was a weakling: at least in my upper body: the legs were amazing but the shoulders and arms were embarrassing. Lifting the garbage cans did me a world of good and trotting after the truck did no harm to my already considerable endurance.
I may have mentioned in the sex story how I preferred the year-round dummies to the college kids: the regulars had no pretensions; the college kids were all wise-asses.
How’s this for no pretensions? It’s the hottest day of the year-mid-July. The truck pulls up to a row of cans in front of a house. A dozen eggs in their paper-pulp carton sit on a lid in the direct sun. “Ooo,” says my partner who picked up the cans on the other side of the street. And he puts the free groceries up in the truck to take home later!
On another occasion he exclaims as he removes the lid from a can and sees, floating amid the refuse, a Snickers bar. He wipes it clear of the grease and the wet coffee grounds with his garbage collectors hands and pops it in his mouth.
The guys in the sanitation department were good, hard workers. There was no eight hour day. You picked up your route: then you went home. For the one time when the collecting took ten hours there were thirty when it only took six. My mother had sold the house after this second of two kids went off to college and moved into an apartment in a well-maintained private home on the brackish Freeport River. The landlord also rented dock space saving one slip for his own boat. He didn’t use it any more so the boat was “mine” whenever I was in residence. Home by one, I was fishing for flounder or eels every afternoon that summer, sometimes got mackerel right from the dock, roses an inch from your ankles.
I swung from one truck-route to another depending on which truck seemed the shortest-handed. Most often I rode the truck that picked up my own old neighborhood. On one single night I was asked to take the one single night-ride: a truck whose driver usually worked alone: collecting from bars and restaurants: an easy gig until you got to the seafood restaurant: and then you paid for your prior ease big time. There’s nothing more foul (or heavier) than a jumbo size can of wet lobster and crab shells bulked out my fish guts. The driver, veteran that he was (Smiley, a famous personality in the ghetto), knew first to hit the bar that tipped him a couple of cigars. Smiley was gentleman enough to share his fortune with me and he advised me to inhale deeply on the stogie before we pulled into the restaurant’s back lot. (It was never my habit to inhale cigars, though I did smoke those evil cigarettes in those days. I’d have been eighteen that summer. I was twenty-one before I had the sense to give up smoking. The cigars and pipes I indulged in in my middle age I never inhaled.)
Two of the trucks carried drinkers, though only one had hard drinkers. Those guys took a lunch as well as coffee breaks of boiler-makers in a bar. I was also a drinker in my foolish youth, but I had no ambition to keep up with those elders. I was sick before lunch time arrived. The other truck was addicted just to beer. But the first stop of the day would be at deli. The driver went in: and came out with three half-quart cans of Rheingold. Half-hour later, we’d circled back to the same deli: and the other runner came out with three half-quart cans of Rheingold. It was still early early morning when we pulled up a third time and I was expected to buy a round. No one had told me to carry cash. I bought, but then asked to be counted out for the rest of the day. I think I was with that same team the day we were summoned into a home by a group of grinning Italians. “Drink up, drink up,” they urged us with the dregs of their home-made red. Vinegar! It was awful. Later I realized: they probably needed the old bottles for their new batch. Instead of pouring it down the toilet, they saved themselves having to pay a Christmas tip by forcing it on us.
One last garbage man booze story: Hot, hot day: on the outer reaches of the route that included my old neighborhood. We come to a particular house. Pause. Out comes an old woman, bearing three opened bottles of ale on a tray. She serves the driver, she serves the runner, she serves me. “Thank you, Ma’am.” “Thank you, Ma’am. Very much.” I take mine. Uncertainly. The bottle is hot! The woman retreats to her shade trees and stands there with her tray. I watch my fellows lounge uncomfortably on the street side of the truck, the truck body screening them from their hostess. They pour their ale into the garbage truck. Wait what they hope is a decent moment: and return their empties to her. I guzzle mine down, retching from the hot ale. (I’m a Calvinist: I don’t waste: not if it kills me.)
As soon as we’re out of ear-shot of the old woman, I demand to know why guys accepted the beer if they didn’t want it. I was told that the woman was recently widowed. Her husband had had a case of ale. She moved it from the basement to the back step, anxious to be rid of it. She wanted to return the empties, collect the deposit. For her the beer was worth nothing, the bottle was worth two cents!
Why does she keep it on the back porch? “She’s not a beer drinker. She doesn’t know.” Garbage men with hearts of gold. Endure inconvenience rather than introduce an old lady to reality.
OK: now we arrive at the title story. The guys, even the drinkers, were all hard workers: except for Joe. Joe was the only garbage man with an Attitude. The Sanitation Department employed only two blacks. Smiley was wonderful. I loved Smiley. I did not love Joe. Joe was lazy. Joe was surly. Joe was the only driver in the department who only drove and did no lifting. If a stop was loaded up, was going to take time, Joe would descend from the truck, and with lordly snail-pace, participate in the lifting and dumping. Otherwise, Joe sat in the truck, glowering at us through the rearview mirror.
I experienced one single exception to the above. It was the second hour of my first day on Joe’s truck. Summer was well advanced: I just hadn’t been assigned to Joe till that day. I’m at the back of the truck, dumping the cans and trotting them, clattering, back to the people’s curb. Joe comes to the rear hopper. No, he shakes his head. “Like this,” he says out loud. Joe picks up the can, upends it over the hopper, twists it with a little flourish as the last bit of crap dumps from the lip. Puts the can down on the street, assents abruptly with his head. “Like that.”
Dumb college kid. Has to be taught by the pro how to empty a garbage can.
2017 01 15 I love to reminisce on memories of working class people being chivalrous, at their own expense, to ignorant old women.
A couple’a related reflections:
Thelonius Monk brought Mrs. Monk with him when he toured Europe. German customs went through their luggage. One suitcase was full to bursting with empty Coke bottles. The customs people asked why. Because Mrs. Monk wanted to return the bottles: she’d paid a deposit on them!
My friend had three boats on her lake when I met her: a canoe, a kayak, and a sunfish sailboat. The sail was old and dry-rotted the first time I saw it. The center board and tiller were dried and chipped. I sailed the boat several times with pleasure until the sail started to rip if I so much as looked at it. Thereafter I stopped sailing it but let the hull swing at anchor: a backyard water-mobile sculpture. Its one remaining function was beauty: until the mildew took over.
After additional years I left the hull sprouting mildew in a bay out of reach of main force of the hurricanes. When I went to demildew it in autumn but hull was heavy, loggy. I realized that it had absorbed lots of dirty water, was then more submersed than buoyant. Her son excused himself from further interest in it. I told her I didn’t think it was worth fixing, wasn’t even sure it would float.
So my friend gets on the phone to ask a boat sales and repair company to haul it and sell it for her. No, they don’t even want to see it. So she uses the phone to invite church camps, boyscouts … to accept it as her gift: just come an haul it.
I told her not to give things she doesn’t even know will float. But I’ll bet the camps have dealt with impractical falsely generous widows before: more ale in the sun on the back porch: make the garbage men drink it.
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