Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Dumpster War

One of the most underrated things about living in the Great Republic is the trash collection system (at least in most habitable parts that I’ve lived in). Housing developments are built with alleys behind the houses where dumpsters are placed every 3 to 4 houses. Once or twice a week, the trucks come by and empty the dumpsters. You never have to remember to haul your trash to the curb once or twice a week. Conversely, your wife never thinks it’s too cold for you to haul your trash to the dumpster. Even if it’s dark. And snowing.

During my childhood, all six of us kids (but mostly me I’m pretty sure) were forced to carry three to four garbage cans up a long winding hill to the curb twice a week. During the summer, we often forgot, and when my mother heard the truck coming up the street, she would scream at us to get it out there before the truck made its u-turn. We would watch the truck go by, then cleverly carry the garbage out while they weren’t looking. As the truck came speeding back to head to another street, the driver would slam on the brakes, thinking the boys hanging on the back had missed a house. They eventually got smart, and instead of stopping, gave us the finger as they sped off.

So I probably treasure the alley dumpster system more than most born and bred Texans-- that is until I met the enemy.

Our last house stood in a neighborhood of large lots, and an alley separated our street from another row of houses behind us. Hence, both streets shared the dumpsters in the alley. The neighbor behind us actually owned two lots and had a very nice house. Let’s call him Mr. Firestone. He also had a full-sized tractor which he enjoyed mowing his expansive lawn with. It was also a very loud tractor. Every February, he would start it and let it run for about two hours just to get the engine going. This of course ruined our outdoor happy hours because between his tractor and our other neighbor’s air conditioner and wood chipper—which I’ll save for another blog--it was like having a cocktail on a runway at DFW airport.

But the bigger problem was that he would capture all two acres of freshly mowed grass and deposit it in the dumpster, completely filling it. Overflowing it. I would have to walk way down the alley to throw out our trash. Even worse would be when I had to carry a trash can full of our grass all the way to the alley only to find that dumpster already filled.

I did not have the convenience of an air conditioned combine that could drive right up to the dumpster and empty the grass. Time to get even.

I knew the garbage collection schedule and thereafter, I resolved to mow my lawn the very next day after the dumpster had been emptied.. This worked for about a week, as an obviously annoyed Mr. Firestone then started mowing his lawn in the morning when I could not do it. I began mowing the lawn the afternoon of garbage collection. Before long, Mr. Firestone had timed his mowing with the arrival of the garbage truck. War had been declared.

By this time, Mr. Firestone and I were not speaking. Well, we only spoke twice the whole seven years we lived there. Once while I emptied the trash, he was working on a fence post and said, “Sure is a nice day.”

“Yep,” I replied.

The other time he mentioned that he and his wife sure would like to invite us over for a glass of wine. He never did. And since he owned two lots, a fancy tractor, and a huge RV, I was pretty sure he had some good wine. I seethed nightly as we sipped our boxed wine knowing he was riding in that tractor while quaffing a fine Bordeaux which he refused to share.

But the dumpster war had an unspoken code: never let the enemy actually see you throw your grass in the dumpster. With no witnesses, you could always blame it on someone else. Many times I would wait on my side of the fence until the coast was clear before emptying my grass in the dumpster. Not that it mattered, because the dumpster was usually full by this point.

The part of the war that I failed at was the fact that I couldn’t completely fill the dumpster with my cut grass. My piddly amount didn’t even inconvenience Mr. Firestone. His race to beat me to the dumpster was pure spite. I finally decided I needed my own “shock and awe” plan. For two days, I trimmed hedges, bushes, and trees and raked old leaves piled behind the shed. I bagged them and stacked them next to the fence.

Then I got serious: I took a vacation day from work so I could mow in the morning before the garbage truck arrived.

I eagerly jumped from bed at dawn and sucked down a cup of joe and a mouthful of hard tack. As the sun rose above the trees, I started the mower and powered my way through the front yard. I kept up a furious pace, practically running, pausing only to empty the grass bag into a garbage can. By the time I got to the backyard, the sun had disappeared behind clouds. A fierce gale raced through the trees. With a strong westerly headwind in my face, I changed tactics and mowed a completely different path than usual. Great commanders adapt to the circumstances.

When the rain started, I grimaced but kept on. My pace slowed as slanting sheets of West Texas’ single annual rain pelted my face, restricting my vision. But I knew the yard; I could mow it blindfolded. The lightning made me nervous but my righteous mission pushed me forward. As I made the last turn, I heard the rumbling garbage truck approach. I sprinted down the last lane of grass as the truck emptied the dumpster. It was empty, and I was ready and armed. As the truck passed my gate, I ran out with the first garbage can of wet grass. I ran back and forth, dumping grass as the hail started to fall. I covered my head with a trash can lid while carrying the rest of the grass and trimmings to the dumpster. Within ten minutes, I had filled it; the lids propped open by my massive stack of trash. As I admired my work, the rain halted and a rainbow appeared above the dumpster. God was indeed on my side.

Later that afternoon, after the skies had cleared, I heard the roar of Mr. Firestone’s tractor as it criss-crossed his backyard. I laughed knowing he was too late. Early that evening, I walked to the alley wondering what dumpster he might have filled. My smile disappeared when I saw that he had just dumped his dead grass on the ground in front of the dumpster.

In the end, I guess it really wasn’t a war; he was just a jerk.

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