I’ve probably passed through neighborhoods just like yours… or if not then just like your friend’s. I might have even picked your garbage. That’s what we call it. Picking. It’s a g-truck waking you up too early in the morning and the noise you want so badly to go away — the noise we make — is because your heavy couch and the other discards you put in a pile gets lifted by us, thrown and then packed into our truck.
On behalf of my fellow g-men — that’s what we call ourselves, g-men, although others have names like “san men”, but who cares, right, it’s all garbage — so on behalf of g-men everywhere, I want to thank you for putting out good garbage. When you’re going that extra bit to make it easier on us. Even a smidge. But I’ll be honest here, and nothing personal intended, you throw out some seriously nasty stuff sometimes. Admit it. You know you do. And so do those folks next door. That pile. Remember? You took yours to the curb and looked over at that severe pile and just for a moment you saw it through our eyes.
Maybe it’s a bunch of bags, some split open at the bottom by a scrounging dog or raccoon. Let’s throw some old clothes all over a portion of it, just draped there around and under the rest of it all. An old mattress or two maybe? With the obligatory mystery stains? Is that just moldy mildew and bed bugs? Nah! Let your mind open to the possibilities of what might have caused that stain right there. Then again, it’s best not to think about it at all. Maybe it’s an old couch. And a desk. A broken dresser. And a stack of boxes of old 3-ring binders full of ancient class notes. Yeah, bet those are really light. And we’ll add some C & D (construction and demolition): boards from the basement, porch or shed with the nails sticking out every which way… all in a clump like pick up sticks. What’s more, it’s starting to rain. Only a light mist now while you put it out to the curb, but it’ll progress into a heavy downpour overnight, so you gotta get it out there before you’re out in the nasty weather with your garbage.
Then again that’s not your pile. It belongs to your neighbor. You just have one can, which you packed and can barely drag to the curb. Not wanting to have to drag more than one can in rain, you stomped it all down using your work boots now earmarked solely for yard work. You eyeball your neighbor’s pile over there and walk back inside, turning to your spouse or just to yourself and say, “Damn! Glad I don’t have to haul that away.”
On behalf of g-men everywhere, I want to take a moment and personally thank you… for thinking of us. At all. For seeing it through our eyes. For a second. Because we do have to pick that. It’s heavy. It’s pointy. It smells. And some of that stuff has diseases on it. You know it does. It’s been used for sneezes and… other things. And now it’s soaked. Which means we are too. We’ve been picking soaking wet bags all morning. Yup. We’re soaked and we’re face to face with your undesirables.
I’m not angry. Don’t assume that I am. This isn’t vitriol. It’s normal. An honest snapshot of any given house on any given day and it is by no stretch an extreme. No, I’ll deal with extreme later.
We choose to be here doing this. No one is forcing us, true. But that doesn’t mean we’re happy to accept the incendiary factors that make this job harder still.
This is a dangerous job. National statistics confirm that more accidents (not deaths, just injuries) occur on this job than on most others. There’s a TV show called world’s most dangerous jobs and I saw it once. It was about fishing in Alaska. I once worked on a salmon seiner there. Those jobs are very hard. But each catch has its season. It is all seasonal. If you own a salmon boat, you work during salmon seasons. Halibut? A different season. Those king crab boats work the short treacherous winter, while this job is year round. Because you throw out stuff every week. Every day. Both you and your neighbor never take a hiatus from consuming and casting off.
In fact that is what we humans do better than anything else. And that is why it is illegal to hold a garbage strike in the USA. The only cities that do this sometimes have a powerful enough union with enough contingency funds in their coffers to pay the high fines to prove their points and hopefully get their day at the negotiating table for the next pay raise or whatever.
This job needs a union that protects us. The union in my town is not powerful and therefore not a highly effective advocate for safety and change on our behalf. Rules and regulations are glanced over, bent, broken and ignored often. We are told to address piles that we shouldn’t for all sorts of reasons — reasons I’ll cover later. And as a result we feel the wear and tear.
Our backs, our joints, our health is compromised by this job. And while I will delve into this in detail later, for now I’ll ask you to permit me a generalization about our employers: they sometimes make us feel like we are expendable. They possibly care a great deal about us, but there is a difference between what I would like to assume they might feel for us and how they act.
In this early part of the 21st century, even in this country, we witness the cruelty of uncaring business people who subject their employees to less than satisfactory working conditions. We see disasters at the Sago mines and hear of even worse problems in other countries where the citizens have far less rights than do we Americans. Hopefully through bearing witness to disasters changes and improvements are made. But ought those improvements only be made when a newsworthy problem and the resulting public outcry make it impossible to ignore? Small persistent daily struggles are so easily overlooked and left to wreak their small havoc on the worker. It is when we are told by our supervisors to lift stuff that’s too heavy or throw away a pile of asbestos that we sometimes feel like our supervisors, commissioners, and even our Mayor finds us expendable.
From our perspective, of course we are not expendable. We are public servants working to pay for our lives. We are refuse magicians. You want that stuff gone so you bundle it up and put it out and we make it disappear, usually when you are not there. But the odd perspective one gets working in the underbelly of municipal infrastructure can infiltrate one’s self image. Can make one feel a bit out of sorts with others. A colleague tells people, when asked what he does for a living that he drives a truck. He omits the “garbage” from the “truck”. He finds that an easier way to keep the garbage off of his life when not at work.
Because when we’re working, the garbage is right there. And we employ many techniques which help keep G from getting on one’s self. But theory and practice being two different things, you don’t always succeed. And it gets on you. When it does, you might consider resigning yourself to it.
“Ah well, that’s reality.”
Every time it happens.
Think you can always slough it off? Two words for you: Good Luck. Ever step in dog shit? Choose one of the following reactions:
“Ah, lack a day.”
See? It’s hard to be a g-Buddha… a lean, serene picking machine. The issues employed in addressing frustration and anger at this job are perhaps similar to your own except that the tools and scenarios are different. Techniques for venting are as individual as the men, but in my own ideal, I see a tough skinned, kind-hearted strong-backed garbage man who lets nothing get to him and always just does his job courteously. That is my ideal. But getting there means taking a tortuous path through your own mind.
Because the truth about this job is that you are going to be forced to either ignore everything around you, or grow as a person. Because you’re gonna come face to face with yourself on the back of a truck. You’re gonna have to. You’re gonna get mad. You’re gonna be looking to blame someone or something. And all the while the real enemy is your own mind. If it gets going it’ll run away and take your rational self with it. You’ll end up a ranting, raging lunatic tossing cans and cursing and scowling, perhaps to the dismay of passers-by, some of whom might recognize you next time at a bar or in line at the bank.
And like I said, it can affect your self-image.
Everyone ought to try this. Make certain jobs mandatory. One month as a waiter, a secretary, a g-man. Talk about building character, and maybe some newfound respect for your fellow man. Ever see someone treat his/her waiter like crap in front of the whole restaurant? You think that person ever was a server?
So, I encourage you to enjoy the stories and the lessons I’ve been learning and consider that next time you have a choice of putting out your garbage one way or another, maybe there is some guy on the receiving end and that you will, without needing any thanks, do a nice thing for your neighborhood g-man… just because.
Table of Contents:
Prologue — this consists of a glossary and a few short chapters that set the time, place and circumstances in which our hero becomes a garbage man.
The Stories — journal entries, stories, characters and themed monologues on the nature of garbage, the garbage job and techniques used while on the garbage job.
Epilogue — where are they now, where am I now, what I have learned.
Glossary of terms:
Buckles — the back end of the truck attaches to the truck body by heavy-duty hinges on top and one turnbuckle on each side.
Blade — compacting mechanism on the back of the truck that swings/curls in and out and is connected to the hydraulics that lift the blade up and down to allow the truck to pack.
G — Garbage
G-man — a garbage man
g-juice — fluid collected in the hopper’s basin
Hopper — the rounded bottom of the back of the truck, into which the bags are thrown and cans are tipped. Supports contents and juice
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 —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…
Pack — to pack the truck
Packed out — a fully packed truck
Occ Health — the occupational health medical facility all city and state employees are required to use for medical insurance-related tests, injuries, sick leave, disability, etc…
The Spoils — rich folks in town who throw out countless items other less fortunate folks would be glad to use and/or repurpose.