June 12, 2008
A couple of days ago I had to clean out the garbage can. And it was the outdoor one that I had to clean, which is weird. Cleaning the indoor garbage can, the one that sits in the kitchen, isn’t unusual. We all have to do that occasionally, usually after we’ve thrown away a couple of pounds of beef fat and even after we’ve taken the garbage out the garbage can still has that peculiar odor that most of us describe as "funky", or, perhaps, "like Uncle Wally". Cleaning the outdoor garbage can would seem to be contrary to the laws of nature. It’s supposed to smell. The problem is it smelled like Uncle Wally crawled in there and died. Actually I found something dead under the house and put it in there, and even though the garbage men took it away the smell had the audacity to stay behind so I had to put bleach in the can and spray it out with a hose. Excuse me, I forgot they’re no longer "garbage men" but "sanitation workers". And that’s okay. I think sanitation workers are among the unsung heroes of our time. They’re up there with firemen or doctors, who are also unsung because, even if you hear them described as heroes, they’re not usually sung about. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I heard a song about firemen or even sanitation workers. Mostly when I turn on the radio I hear some guy singing about the girl who left him, which is one of the reasons I hardly listen to the radio anymore. Now if he were to sing about how his girl left him and he moved in with a fireman, that would be something. In the seventies that sort of thing could be the basis for an entire album, and I’m pretty sure that’s how The Village People got started. Nowadays such a subject would be considered too tasteless for a song and would only be appropriate for a major blockbuster Hollywood comedy.
But I digress. As a kid I used to think it would be cool to be a sanitation worker. It looked like fun getting to ride around on the back of a big truck, lifting up those cans and dumping them in the back, and getting to discover a whole universe of new and interesting smells. Plus I’d finally get to see what happened to the stuff after they put it in the back of the truck, and I’d find out where, among other things, my Lincoln Logs disappeared to. Now of course being a sanitation worker isn’t nearly so romantic, at least in my neighborhood, where they don’t even get out of the truck anymore. The truck is equipped with a big mechanical arm that lifts the can up to the top and shakes it. It’s all part of the advance of technology. Someday, perhaps even someday soon, our garbage will be entirely digital, and when my computer starts to smell like Uncle Wally I’ll have to take it outside, put bleach in it, and spray it out with the hose.