Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Monday, January 31, 2005

Dump man

I am having a quiet quarrel with the dump man.

At least I think I am. Our paths do not cross – I am at the office by the time he comes by the house – so the quarrel is still only a theory. I am not yet able to verify that we are having a disagreement. The conflict may be in my mind only – our clash of wills merely a wistful imagining, our fight, the sound of one hand clapping.

However, the circumstantial evidence points to a conflict . . . and that does not bode well. This, after all, is a man with whom I have basic dealings on a weekly basis – more frequently than with my accountant, my lawyer, and yes, mea culpa, my priest. Other than for my wife, only Roger, who brings the mail around every day, do I rely upon more than the dump man.

The source of concern is three bags of Christmas greens that have remained uncollected week after week for the past month or more. I have tried leaving the bags out by themselves, in combination with other bags of dump, and even with dollar bills pinned to the bags. Alas, to no avail. The bags have the requisite dump stickers, purchased for a dollar apiece, although the stickers are now looking a little weary. So far as I know the bags meet the other dumping requirements – less than 40 pounds per bag, etc. Each Thursday morning I drag them out to the curbside; each Thursday evening I drag them back.

By process of elimination, and deductive reasoning, the only conclusion I can reach is that the dump man imagines the greens to be yard waste, which, I believe, appears on the list of prohibited items that the dump will not accept. (Don’t ask me what one is supposed to do with such items – stack them in the back yard next to the old tires and other items the dump won’t accept, I guess.)

Is yard waste too risky to dispose of? By contaminating the land fill with decaying plant material might we risk turning some toxic waste sites into loam?

I recall this past winter watching truck after truck piling snow, removed from the roads, into huge mounds on Granite Pier in Rockport. I asked one of the drivers why they didn’t just dump the snow into the sea, rather than piling it up into mountainous mounds on the pier. I was told that it was prohibited to do so as the snow had road salt and sand mixed in with it. Apparently the state was concerned that dumping that melting snow, salt and sand into the sea might pollute the surrounding area. It is permitted to pump sewage and chemicals into the sea, but the state draws the line at polluting the local beaches with sand and salt water.

Pollution etiquette is an unfathomable mystery to me.

To return to my personal pollution . . . Now, even a cursory glance at my yard will reveal that there is no pine tree or conifer of any type on the premises, no hedge or bush or plant that could possibly produce the green Christmas pine items contained in the bags.

Moreover, it is unlikely that it would have escaped the dump man’s attention that for the entire Christmas season the house was festooned with Christmas greens, including pine roping along the entire length of the picket fence and around the front door, pine boughs spilling out of four window boxes in the front of the house, and four very large (home made) sprays hung from the front windows. I do not want to bore you with details; I merely wish to point out that it is very obvious where the greens came from, and that they were not yard waste.

At the time that we took the decorations down I called City Hall for disposal instructions, and was told that the Christmas tree should be brought to Poplar Street, but that the other Christmas greens would be picked up by the regular curbside service. My brother Mike was kind enough to take the tree to the designated location in his pick up truck; the other greens I put out at curbside, as instructed, but as you now know, to no effect.

Accordingly, I wrote a note to the Mayor requesting his advice and intercession. To his credit, he responded immediately by letter confirming that the Christmas greens should, indeed, be picked up at curbside. His letter said his staff had checked with the dump service and confirmed that such items were to be picked up – that there must have been some mistake. I was assured that there should be no further problem and that if I still had the bags (what did he think I would have done with them?), that I was to put them out, and they would be picked up. That was two weeks ago.

I am writing this column on a Thursday evening, having just finished dragging the bags back in from the curbside.

I don’t blame the dump man for my problem; rather, I have assumed a philosophical perspective. It is clear to me that the business of trash collection has not been immune to the increasing complexities of life that we experience all around us. It wasn’t that many years ago that trash collection was a decision-free, black and white matter – if there was dump left out, it was picked up (and, of course, the metal trash cans dented). Simple. Predictable.

It didn’t matter what you put out – leaves, old tires, or Jimmy Hoffa – if it was left at curbside, it was picked up and brought to the dump. The only exception I can think of was garbage; there was a garbage man for that. (I wonder why we refer to people by their occupations rather than by their names: dump man, garbage man, mailman, policeman, fireman . . . Nat Herreshoff, the yacht designer, is said to have addressed the numerous people working at his yacht yard by their particular specialty, due to his not being able to remember their names. We do, however, have the good taste to refrain from referring to the fellow who pumps the septic tank as the feces man (or worse).

Today the dump man is confronted with decisions and choices at every stop. Is this a prohibited material? Does the bag weigh too much? Are these those three bags of greens again? Next.

Now I understand why so many houses still have their hollyballs hanging – there is no way to get rid of them.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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