May 28, 2011

The one item of trash you can't dispose of


---- — As I've already modestly reported, I've decided to devote my recent retirement from the newspaper business to helping mankind.

While I don't have enough money to put much of a dent in my fellow citizens' travails, I do have this time-tested brain, which I'm happy to share with anyone who can find a use for it.

Fresh off the triumph of solving the conundrum of how to transfuse the contents of one tube of toothpaste into another, I'm sneaking up on another breakthrough. Unfortunately, in the meantime, a puzzler of some dimension has arisen unsolicited to becloud my own prospects. Here's how it unfolded:

I've been in the habit the past couple of years of going to my neighbor's house to lug her trash can out to the curb on garbage day, once a week. Oh, don't rush to the phone to put me in for some humanitarian award. The trash can has wheels on it, and the distance is all of about 20 feet. It's simply easier for me to consummate this assignment from over at my house than it is for her, particularly in inclement weather, in which we've specialized lately.

One positive outcome of my voluntary carriage service is that I noticed her trash can is way better than mine. In fact, my two trash cans are smaller than hers and are plagued with holes. (I suspect an industrious skunk, but I can't prove it.) My neighbor's one trash can is far better suited for the job than two of my own.

The truth is that she went away for a couple of months this winter, and (I'd prefer you not mention this next part to her, if you don't mind) I took her trash can for a series of test runs in my own driveway. I fell in love with it.

When she returned from her sojourn, I was forced to relinquish her trash can, but I wasted no time in running out and buying one just like it for my own.

Now here is the conundrum: How do I get rid of the two old-timers (by that I mean the trash cans) that had been making life miserable for the skunk and me?

The obvious answer would be to leave them out for the Department of Public Works refuse crew. But how do you get the crew to take away something they've developed a firm habit of merely emptying? What DPW employee would toss a serviceable trash can into the compactor?

A reasonable trash collector would think I had been too stupid to notice the cans were empty and left them there out of habit, rather than by any intellectual process — a wholly plausible conclusion, particularly if he knows me.

If I went on an errand and left them at the curb, I'm sure I'd find them there when I returned home — probably tipped over and with the tops off.

I could leave a note on them asking the DPW to please rid me of the containers, but I've seen these dedicated civil servants racing from one house to the next to make sure their appointed rounds were completed on schedule. I couldn't oblige them to — and wouldn't expect that they would — take time out to read a personal request.

Besides, a container that size might be too big for a compactor to swallow. There are probably rules about such things. (I doubt, for example, they'd take an old Volkswagen.)

I could drive the two trash cans to the landfill myself, but, with a minimum fee of $20, I'd hardly be getting my money's worth in two plastic containers, filled with holes, at that.

I could stand curbside all morning on collection day and plead my case personally, but I've always enjoyed my sort of spiritual relationship with the DPW. My trash is there one minute, and when next I look, it's magically gone, as if carried off by phantoms. You see how face-to-face contact might play havoc with the mystical image I've so enjoyed.

This battle of wits will continue to exclusively occupy my attention until I divine a solution.

Retirement is no easy job.

Bob Grady worked at the Press-Republican for about 40 years, as a reporter and then editor. He retired in February 2011.