DeComposition: the Language Butchers Hall of Fame

Still life with truck and pile: daybreak on the garbage job, 2012, photo: Paul Gordon

(The following is part of an ongoing attempt to wrestle a journal of my years as a garbage man into a readable book. While still finding a good throughline for the whole shebang, I’ve decided to offer you a few choice gems here on Medium. All the stories are parts of my garbage symphony — written, not composed. I got the permission from each contributor to put their tale into writing. Thanks, Paul)

The background:

I’d been amassing some stories of the language butchery readily available to me on my garbage job. I’d bring a note pad in the truck each day and record things, thoughts, adventures large and small… jotting them down during breaks or rides in the truck to and from the dump, breaks, cross town assignments, etc…

While my nickname as the professor stemmed from my higher education, my art background and the use of “twenty five cent words”, many of my peers provided me with inadvertent entertainment just by opening their mouths in their own ways with unique flair. Below are a few lexicon-related items from my G-journal, the document of my 7 years on this fascinating job.

Glossary of terms:

Light duty — as opposed to full duty on one’s truck… when hurt, but not hurt bad enough to get disability for awhile, you qualify for light duty, which means odd jobs around the various headquarters.

Loosen the Buckles — the back end of the truck attaches to the truck body by heavy-duty hinges on top and one turnbuckle on each side. If your truck is fully packed out, but you want to squeeze on just a bit more, you could opt to loosen the buckles a few turns and gain just enough packable space to finish your run and not have to go back for that last bit.

Pick — to pick garbage, as in picking it up, picking a bag off a curb, etc…


The Stories:

- clock in -

Number One: Today I had the Pollack, as he’s often called around the yard. He’s done some very hard time and his seriousness belies his intentions at times. P has an extremely high pitched voice, which runs counter to his tattooed, aggressive appearance. He sounds the way I imagine Owen Meany to sound, yet he’s a barrel-chested hardened criminal with a flair for the cruel and threatening, prone to casual pronouncements like “Don’t make me angry or I’ll follow you home, drag you to your basement and fuck you up the ass FOREVER.” Up the ass is one thing. It’s the FOREVER that really does it.

I asked him about some of the other guys, with whom I’ve only picked once or not at all. P’s a good driver… very fast and uses his truck with authority to keep traffic off us. I only picked with Sam once and that was on O.T. for flood, so we were not doing stuff too fast.

“So, P, how’s Sam in regular day’s work?”

“Sam’s really good at watching Ford pick.” Ford was Sam’s regular partner at the time.

“And how’s Ford. I’ve never worked with him.”

“Ford’s good when he’s not crapping his pants.”

“?”

“Once in winter he had to go and didn’t tell me, so he shit his Carhardts and then got in and I drove him home to change. What a stink. He coulda told me before but I guess he just likes it that way or something. Weird guy.”


Number Two: Jeff is our driver for a few days and we have an old dinosaur of a truck, but he prefers it on account of the memories he has of the fleet of these exact trucks. He paints a nice picture of Back In The Day: “Those new trucks look good but this old girl had balls. Now she’s over 30 years old but when I came up she could cut an engine block in half. ‘Course that was when we took everything laid out. Now they look good, but you can pack out and have a hard time squeezing an extra baby carriage on board. You loosen the buckles and cringe, hoping she’ll take it all.”


Number Three: Light duty is not so bad for a while. City Hall is a large five-story building with only four staff to keep it clean. As with garbage, we’re understaffed here. Police, Fire, Clerk, Court, Mayor, Public Works and all Records and Administration as well as Police Shooting Range, temporary jail cells and processing a mail room and us (maintenance). Lots of traffic and paper shredding as well as bathrooms and the regular vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and repairing stuff. There’s a lot to do but the supervisors here do not whip us. There’s enough that gets done and the rest of the time we are encouraged to “hide” or “look busy.” Naps are fine and understood as a norm. You can’t vacuum in a room where meetings or lunch are happening, so some rooms can’t get done some days.

I took a nap and J came in, waking me up. We went to vacuum a meeting room but some workers were eating lunch in there so J sent me back to “do that stuff you were working on before.” It’s fine with all of us. No one cares as long as the building slowly continues to be cleaned all week.

We’re understaffed, so what’re they gonna do? Complain? We don’t care. They can’t fire us. We’d have to kill or commit some grevious error in judgment to get fired.


Number Four: Still downtown on light duty from my injury: Ace came in to my nap room and sat. He’s short, round and dense. He’s generally quiet and will talk when he wants and if people interrupt he doesn’t care. He’ll talk till he’s done.

“Cold,” he says.

“You been outside this whole time?!”

“No, I got my office.”

“What office?”

“There’s a hut out there I got. TV, heat, hot plate. My office.” He laughs.

“What do you do here?” I haven’t seen him inside. The other guys each handle the

various floors of the building.

“Clean up outside. Downtown.”

“Snow?”

“Hell, no. Shit. That’s for streets.” He means the streets dept of DPW.

“What, then?”

“You know. Walk around downtown, loose stuff from wind, and whatnot.”

“A lot o’ that?”

“Not now. School’s off. Sometimes, though.”

He shifts his arms and I see his badge. Don K. I’ve seen his name on some rosters. Or was it his envelope of his paycheck? I know a Don K. Party guy who helped with building and construction for my ex-landlord. Smoked and drank with him back in the days.

“I know a Don K.”

“My son.”

“Thin.”

“Tall.”

“My age.”

“My son.”

“Haven’t seen him in years.”

“I saw him at Michael’s funeral.

I look at him questioningly.

“Other son.”

“I’m sorry. When?”
 ”Oh, I don’t know.” Pause. “Few months ago.”

“How’d he die?”

“Don’t know. My wife didn’t tell me. Found out from her he died. Read about the

funeral in the paper, so I went. She wasn’t telling. I went and saw. Don was there.”

“How old was he, Michael?”

“Don’t know. 24, 23.”

“That’s too young. I’m sorry. He was much younger than Don.”

“Only by a year or two.”

“But Don’s my age or older. 42.”

“Then 42 I guess.”

I didn’t know whether I should comment on that so I nodded. He doesn’t seem phased by anything, but also just doesn’t seem to care.

(Addendum to the tale: He just saw me writing and said “What are you doing, a book-works?”

“Yeah.”

“Am I in there?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Put a bad word in for me.”

“OK. What d’ya want me to write?”

“Non-worker.” He laughs, then says, “Fuck the garbage. And the recycling.” And he laughs some more.)


Number Five: Had The Reverend as a driver. The following conversation was hard to remember in its entirety, but it revolved around his mentioning the dance arts to me, and talking about one of his favorite companies from NYC, where he grew up.

“I like Dance Theater of Harlem. You know I’m from there.”

“Yeah? I lived there too. 110th on Central Park North.”

“You’re kidding. You? White guy in my hood?!”

“The people were great. Very friendly and willing to help out. I lived there when I was training in ballet.”

“You know who I also like? The other famous black man… had his own company.”

“Alvin Ailey?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Dance Theater of Harlem and Alex Haley.”

“Ailey.”

“Alex Ailey.”

“Alvin.”

“Alex Alvin?”

“No. Ailey.”

“Not Haley?”

“I’m pretty sure that’s roots.”

“What’s roots?”

“The guy who wrote Roots. Alex Haley.”

“And that’s his brother?”

“No.”

“No relation?”

“What?”

“Alex and Alvin Haley?”

“Huh? No. Ailey.”

“Alex Ailey wrote Roots?”

“No, Alvin Ailey had a dance company.”

“So who wrote Roots?”

“Alex Haley.”

“And Alex Ailey had a dance company?”

“Alvin.”

“Ailey?”

“Yes.”

“Haley?”

“Alex.”

“Did what?”

“Roots.”

It went on a little while longer, but we laughed and I said something like, “I’m glad your daughter took dancing and we both agree Harlem is cool.” At the end I sighed, chuckled, looked him in the eye and said, “Man!” He slapped my knee and laughed.


Number Six: Hes joins us on light duty downtown today and this morning he’s brought up a Reverend story: When he showed up at work one morning wearing a baseball cap with an insignia on it, Rev walked up to him with a big smile. “Nice, I like that hat. Genius.” Rev is, if nothing else, an optimist.

Hes corrected him, explaining to me: “[Rev] it’s Irish. It’s says ‘Guinness’. See the pint in the center and the Guinness logo and how it says ‘Guinness’. It’s a Guinness hat.”

He lights a cigarette, pauses and adds, “but he reads it as genius. True Reverend! There you go in a nutshell.” Another puff n pause, followed by a grin as he adds “I guess third grade was very hard.” And he laughs.

“If he ever reads that, I’m in trouble.” and he laughs more.

I remind him I’m gonna change the names and Hes casually adds “Anyway, no biggie, he can’t read.”


Number Seven: The Reverend points to “Twin” and tells me, “He invited me to his genticles.” I didn’t get it, thinking it was a religious thing seeing as how Rev is a bonafide evangelical preacher and the twins are both church-goers.

But then I included Sizzle sitting at the next table over. G-men don’t stray too far from the topics of man-on-man behavioral preferences, but it didn’t quite compute so I repeated it with a “please explain this to me” cock of the head.

“He invited me to his genticles?”

Sizzle chuckled, “That’s an improvement ’cause when he said it to me, he called them his technicals.”


Number Eight: Twin is one of two twin brothers. One never curses and I jokingly refer to him as Good Twin. The other does curse so he’s Evil Twin.

When Jimmy “Good Twin” first showed up, to us he wasn’t a twin, he was just “Jimmy,” but Jerry arrived and Rev confuses them, so Rev’s found his method: Jimmy is “Mustache” and Jerry is “Twin.”


Number Nine: One for the Hall of Fame: 20 years back, one of the language butchers from work called in a stop, “We’re in front of Warwick’s Bridal Saloon.”

(He may have pronounced that wrong, ya think?)

- clock out -

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