Tossing the (Psychological) Trash
By David Hartley Mark
When my parents, sister and I moved into the East River Co-op Apartment Houses on the Lower East Side of New York City, back in 1956, I was four years old. The NYC Dept. of Sanitation had an enormous vehicle depot then, at the foot of Lewis Street, I believe, nearly under the dark, ominous-looking Williamsburg Bridge, where the huge, smelly, diesel-powered garbage trucks roared in-and-out all day long, discharging their burdens.
As a small boy in love with trucks—boys instinctively gravitate to machines that make noise, cars and trucks in particular—I was enchanted. The smells, stink, purpose, and appearance of the steel Goliaths fascinated me. Even better: all of them were painted a bright, incongruous, daisy-yellow, albeit accented by plenty of grease-stains on their chassis, along with indescribable streaks of city dirt and grime. It was a paradise of noise and smells, and a visual rapture for me. We always awoke to the sounds of garbage cans crashing and crunching, every morning. It was our wake-up call, our daily bugle-sounding. How wonderful! How New York!
Alas, the next year, some City Hall bureaucrat decreed that the trucks should all be painted an antiseptic white, as if a fleet of massive garbage-ambulances were better fitted to bear the debris and offal of our mighty City. Missing the yellow colors, I lost my love for the stinking Behemoths: I moved on to fire engines, reliably and dependably shiny-red.
I fell in love particularly with the NYC-brand of hook-and-ladder truck, built specially long to reach as far up as possible to the top of our City skyscrapers. The Scarlet Anaconda protruded nearly the length of a city block, and required a second driver for the rear wheels, perched precariously on a cab mounted on the back of the ‘ladder-truck, where he clung desperately to the massive steering wheel, a plaything of the winds, centrifugal forces, and momentum of the Herculean engine pulling him from the front. To my childish judgment, that firefighter was the Bravest of the Brave.
Nonetheless, I retained a lively interest in Garbage Disposal: taking out the night’s garbage was my daily chore. We had no recycling in those days; no. Instead, there, just outside our apartment door, was a door and hopper handle that led to the Incinerator, a hungry, heated monster that led to a hellish, gas-fed fire, deep in the bowels of the building. I would toss down our paper grocery bag of scraps and leavings, but reserved a particular fate for any glass bottles my mother wished to dispose of.
Holding the hopper open with my left hand (I’m a lefty) and carefully placing the glass bottle into its angle with my right, I would deftly put some “English,” or spin onto the bottle, causing it to leap forward, hit the brick-lined chimney that was the descent into our fiery hell—and, with any luck, cause the bottle to shatter against the brickwork. If the bottle survived my initial breakage attempt, I still had the great and deep pleasure of listening to it ring and tinkle its longish way down the chute, to smash to pieces at the bottom. Then, I would slap my hands together, and, grinning with satisfaction, return to the apartment, to resume my homework—usually a bout of devilish Algebra or an Earth Science textbook chapter to outline. Horrid work….
Since those days, I have retained a particular satisfaction regarding Garbage Night—that is, the evening before Garbage Pickup, the next day. Of course, we sort our cardboard, newspaper, and the various forms of plastic which our county chooses to recycle. Still, I get that particular feeling of fulfillment, a pleasant frisson, or chill up the spine, when wheeling the garbage to the curb—as if I am ridding myself of most of the worries and troubles I have accumulated during the preceding days of the week. I am aware that most of our offal will, unfortunately, wind up beneath the well-fertilized sod of Mount Trashmore, the huge, man-made mountain of cast-off human and material waste that graces the lower portion of our neighborhood. Still, tossing the trash remains an agreeable memory from my childhood.
One could do worse than imagine their troubles, setbacks, and obstacles left out at the curb, and a helpful, cooperative team of men carrying them away, in a big, noisy truck—driven, this time, not by diesel, but natural gas, and colored an agreeable, environmentally-friendly, green.
I commend the practice to you. Try it, sometime.