A Day at the Dump, Page 3

We had an appointment to do this yesterday, but Dave called to ask me to drop by the office, and honestly I did not want to spend the hour or two this work would require listening to John's viscous ramblings. Meeting an attractive woman was a pleasant prospect, but I also felt uncomfortable at his being such a busybody about my personal affairs (this is not the first time he's offerred to fix me up). I just hung out at the office yesterday with Dave and our friend Betty Jones, while I pretended to be working while I was typing a letter to Anne Hull, the other manager at Working Software. I had a nice time discussing my thoughts about how she and I develop intricate methods of working around Dave's peculiar notions of running a business.

When I returned there was a crudely scrawled note securely taped to my front door reminding me of our date for the dump. I saw John later - he was quite pleasant and understanding about my (actually contrived) excuse of working. We agreed to go to the dump today "if it was open". Though I knew it would be, he again insisted he should call first. Perhaps he would have felt more comforted if we drove out there to check before loading the truck!

This morning I abruptly remembered the garage door combination (after trying the actual combinations of other locks I have owned in the distant past), opened my garage, then knocked on his door and found no one home. I felt irritated, and went back inside, but decided that I really wanted what had become, without my notice, a mountain of trash to be gone from my yard.

As I loaded it into my truck I realized that a few bits of scrap wood had grown to a large pile, and had been fortified with several old window frames (complete with splintered glass), a box of rusty old spray paint cans, several hefty bags of wet trash, a three-foot square chunk of a stucco wall (probably from cutting out a hole for a new window in his house), two solid-core doors (the heavy kind as used on the outside of a house), and a small electric hot water heater, of the sort that one can install under a kitchen sink to provide instant hot water for tea or coffee.

I loaded it all in my truck, neatly tarped and tied it (one is charged double for driving untarped loads to the dump, and there is a heavy fine for dropping a load on the highway), and drove it to the dump.

Now, John had planned to load the front pile into my truck, and add wood from the cut-up tree in the back. I was astonished at his, and honestly, my own perception of how much crap there actually was piled in my yard - it completely filled my truck to the top of my cab, with the tailgate open as well! I could not have made it to the dump without tarping it - it all would have fallen off the moment I turned a corner.

As I loaded it, I reflected on the fact that, over the years, John and I had spent far more time discussing his garbage together than it was taking me to load it on my truck and dispose of it myself -- or than it would have taken him to haul it himself, as he has two enormous station wagons. The cargo bay of each car is actually quite a bit larger than the bed of my little Toyota pickup.

Further, John has offerred me money (in the vieled form of presenting his offer to pay for the disposal of his own trash as a favor to me), he has offerred me the social currency of innumerable small favors (that I generally did not ask for and usually did not even want), and he has even offerred to procure me sex (by offerring to introduce me to his french maid... perhaps this is an underlying reason he hired her!) if I would just accept his gift of garbage.

There is a rather odd reason why the dump is actually an interesting place to be. Tremendous numbers of birds gather there to pick through the piles of refuse for tasty morsels. It may well be the most productive place one could hope to go to observe certain kinds of birds (particularly seagulls) and to observe the social interaction of these birds.

There is an incongruous aesthetic to the dump -- it has one of the loveliest views to be found in Santa Cruz, as it is in a small valley in the hills overlooking the coastal artichoke fields and the ocean beyond. The mountains above Monterey were visible above the low-lying mist over the bay. One can find great beauty and serenity there if one can look beyond the chaos and ever-present danger of the dump itself.

As I unloaded Mt. John from my truck, I noticed that the gulls were swarming over a particularly rich vein of precious ore: a dumpster from a restaurant had been emptied nearby. The occasional gust of wind enveloped me in the fragrant aroma of old rotten but fast food.

I noticed that, though the pile of trash was abundant with appetizing bits of seagull chow, surely plenty to feed every one of the hundreds of diners present, the gulls still fought over every piece. If one gull managed to pick a scrap of an old hot-dog bun from the pile, another just as soon snatched it from his beak. Vigorous squawking ensued as the gourmands fought over the bit of food, completely ignoring the tasty repast they trampled beneath their feet.

If I could speak to the birds, to point out to them their errant ways, I am sure they would reply that, though I would be right in claiming it is more efficient not to fight but to each take the food that is readily available, it is the seagull who is quick to snatch the fish from the beak of another who lives to lay another egg. Even had she the opportunity to dine at leisure, such a seagull who becomes complacent would lose an essential skill, in fact such a central part of the seagull nature that it could no longer live upon the open sea, and so could no longer proudly claim the name of "gull".

Thus I no longer felt angry with John. I simply wished to be done with his garbage and to spruce up the disheveled appearance of our yard. I am sure that the begonias and dahlias that Efren and I planted in the front a couple of weeks ago would have attained scant notice beside the enormous pile of trash that John had bequeathed upon me. I am sure that John will continue to give me such gifts, but perhaps I can encourage him to give me small and precious gifts, rather than the enormous abundance I have already partaken of, gifts that are small enough to fit easily into my trash can for immediate disposal.

I'm sure my landlady would agree. Her own faint attempt at improving the appearance of what was her first home after her marriage was to give us a lawnmower, and stipulate in the lease that we mow the lawn regularly. She promised to have the house repainted promptly when we moved in three years ago - I have asked her for a new front door as well, which she assented to, and she reimburses me for any repairs or improvements I make, but I believe that she prefers just not to think about the house at all.

When I returned home, I penned this note on some nice stationery:

John,

I made the dump run. It was just $5 - much cheaper, considering the volume, than getting charged for extra pickup by the city.

I did not take the paint as it is illegal to dispose of toxic waste in a landfill.

While I don't mind making an occasional dump run for you, I ask that you not put trash in my yard.

Thanks,

Mike

I put the note in a matching envelope, wrote John's name on the front, then left it on his front porch next to the box of rusty paint cans, under a bottle of motor oil that I found there.

I enclosed the receipt from the dump, for $5, stamped with the Great Seal of the City of Santa Cruz, with a detailed accounting of the various fees and taxes that serendipitously totaled to a perfect five-spot, as evidence of my crime, and, I hoped, a tool to shock him into the reality of actually believing that the dump exists, and is accessible even to people such as he.

As I started to write this note to you, John approached my front door. I saw a look of anger or distress on his face through the window, and honestly feared that I had greatly offended him. It is important to me to have good relations with my neighbors, and I did not want to hurt him. I imagine he felt angry that I had written such a blunt note after he had done so many (unwanted) favors for me, and I am sure he felt disappointed that I had taken from him the opportunity for us all to share in the experience of hauling the trash together.

Thus I felt uneasy when I answered the door, but when I answered he was smiling broadly and spoke to me in an effusively friendly manner:

"I see you took the trash already. Suzanne and I wanted to help you."

"Oh...," I said, "I knocked, and no one answered."

"We were working in the back."

"Well, that's OK."

"I wanted you to meet Suzanne."

"Well, bring her by."

"I will sometime, but right now she's up to her elbows in dirt."

"OK."

"Here's the money for the dump fee," he said, abruptly shoving a ten dollar bill into my hand.

I pulled out my wallet and started to give him change, but he insisted I keep it - perhaps for my trouble, or for the money I had already been charged for his contribution to my weekly trash pickup. Or peraps he didn't wan't my dirty money.

He went on to say that he would remove the pile of pipes from my side yard.

I thanked him for this, and pointed out that my landlady was giving me a hard time about the appearance of the house. (secret code for "Thank you for the gift, my friend, but mom won't let me keep it.") I said that I would till the yard again soon, and replant the lawn. He insisted that I just mow it, so that the broadleaf weeds would be subdued and the hardy grasses would reestablish themselves.

I imagine that this is indeed a reason to mow a lawn, that the aesthetic of a neatly trimmed lawn has an underlying logical structure - that the natural broadleaf flora of our land can be trained to yield to the comforting grasslands of our ancestry by regular mowing. In such mowing, the suburban housekeeper not only creates an attractive home, but maintains a vital connection with the earth, and with all life - but not with the life we find naturally around us, but with the life we knew when we came down from the trees.

He went on to point out that the plum tree at the far corner of the yard, furthest from his house and next to the extremely neatly trimmed yard of the woman next door to me, was a tree that he had planted many years ago.

I half expected him to then go and pee on it. He did not though - we have strayed too far from our roots.

Continued...