April 1, 2007

The Beverly Hillbillies of Scrap Iron

One trash day a year, our city has a free-for-all day, where citizens of an otherwise modest community group together to throw away their trash: busted television sets, broken refrigerators, rusted bicycles, stained mattresses and outdated computers – absolutely free of charge. No one garbage can maximum, no expensive yard stickers to buy, it’s a pure unadulterated garbage fest and people come out sliding, pushing, and carrying anything and everything to the curb that is both attached and unattached to their house for the next morning’s pick-up.

But here’s the clincher: before any city worker, recycle center or garbage truck can pick the stuff up the next morning it’s gone, all gone, or if you want to be exact, mostly gone.

I had heard of these zen masters of the recycle world. These phantom garbage men who slowly venture into the night when everyone is asleep, to scour the streets for trash items which can be recycled for profit, reused, or are being kept for some world’s greatest garage sale that nobody knows about. And I was bound and determined that day to see what all the commotion was about. Why did they come out when nobody was around?

Today, I knew they would be at their best because it was the one day they would be able to collect to their heart's content. They were sure to be on a regular rotation schedule, wanting to get all of the unwanted goods before the next day. I thought for sure I would be able to hear them coming, the truck shifting into high gear or at least jerking to a halt to deal with the excess junk in their trunk. But these were the Gods of garbage hunting. They knew how to swiftly drive by and collect without anyone ever noticing.

The morning started out well. My husband and I decided to first clear out the excess from the attic and upstairs. Out went an old shower door, a painting of a woodland scene on particle board that the previous owners so graciously left us, tubes from a make-shift outdoor cat cage and one bag of trash. After two hours, we decided to go down to the corner restaurant to eat breakfast and when we arrived home, the shower door was gone, snatched up in broad day light without me ever getting the chance to see who were these wanderlust collectors of well, crap.

Although I was dismayed, I was also undaunted. I told Stephane we had to put out more collectible and recyclable trash. I went to look around the house for products of value for which Stephane reminded me it's supposed to be stuff we don't want, not something we actually still use.

We decided to head out to the garage. There was an old stationary exercise bicycle, a rusty Schwinn bicycle, a garbage bag of plastic flower containers, and a bird house that leaked. And of course, plenty of those someday items which everyone stores in the garage, you know the ones that are kept there just in case someday you are in a situation where you might need them: renegade screws, plant food for the garden you never planted, lose boards, a left-handed work glove in case the mate is ever found. Yes, we got rid of it all. I had a monolithic mountain by the curb, bigger than any of garbage heaps on on the block, and I knew the truck had to be coming by soon, figuring that by some unknown ESP or hunting sense, the truck would know some irresistible treasure would be lurking in the vicinity and they would use their radar to find it.

Alas, this second round of trash Olympics was not going to be mine to win. Somewhere between walking twenty feet from the curb back to the garage, the exercise bicycle had been snatched. I went back again to the garage to tell Stephane and when we went back to the curb, the rusted Schwinn bicycle had been snatched too. That truck must have been on some super mega rotation schedule.

These people were playing hard ball and now and I had another plan in mind. I yelled back to my husband who was in the driveway, “Stephane, we need some major aluminum bait!”
We looked through the garage and there it was in the corner, almost as if it had a shining aura of godliness cast upon it, the piece de resistance - the bent aluminum tire rim from my car.

I first must admit, that with every item we hauled out, I asked the typical question that at least one person in every couple asks, “Can we use that for anything? Can it be fixed? What if we need it one day?” For which the sane person of the couple immediately replies, "no, no and no” and runs to the curb with it before the other person can think of some reason to save it. But with my bent aluminum tire rim, I was sacrificing it for an important purpose, to catch the Garbage collectors.

As I put my found treasure on the curb, I thought of how quickly the truck knew when I had put something out. There surely had to be some resident spy staged on every street, somehow being paid to look out of their window. I could just see the elderly woman down the street, the one who didn't like that we had our Christmas lights out after the snow melted, using a walkie talkie to inform Pedro or Bud, "The goods are out, the goods are out! Run and get the wheel rim from the white house!"

So I immediately looked at peoples' windows (especially hers) and glanced down both sides to see if some truck was posted at the end of the street, conveniently concealed by the trees, ready to make a quick drive by. But there was nothing.

I ran back into our house, went inside and concealed myself behind the window curtain. I was going to see what or who it was that came by and I had my camera just in case it was some ghostly garbage ghoul which plunged out of trash hell just to grab the goods.

I took a moment to stop and reflect, “What the hell was I doing? This had to be the lamest way to seek entertainment.” But then I realized most of my amusement had to come from our toddler, so by rights, I had a reason for this insanity. And then it happened, from the beginning of the street, I heard it coming. I knew it was coming. The abominable truck. There was no mistaking it, for if you looked at the picture, there is never a truck like this one parked next to you at work. It was slowly inching itself towards my shiny aluminum tire rim.

I ran out the door to take a picture of the truck, maybe to prove to myself it really did exist. If the men wondered why the crazy woman on her front lawn was taking pictures of them picking up trash, they did not seem to care. They were on a mission. I would have loved to go on their adventure, interview them for some newspaper column, "What junk is valuable? Has their truck ever turned over from too much poundage? Have they ever ran into a homeowner running out the front door with a shot gun yelling, 'Get away from my yard.'" You know, the usual questions. Just as reporters like to go on beats with cops so too, would I like to see the peril and personage these people commit to once a year.

They ended up coming around about ten more times before I finally got bored and went to take a nap. I guess they were desperate to get the best goods from a day that was almost done. After I woke up, Stephane told me that he took out the broken dryer to the curb. The man stopped again and actually called for back up for our monolithic appliance that he could probably get top dollar for and didn’t want to leave behind. I went to drop off some library books and noticed everyone who had been hauling things outside had stopped for the day and most of the items had been taken except for the real trash. I guess you can’t get any money for banana peels, dirty diapers and old coffee grounds.

So in reflection, I take my hat off to you O Beverly Hillbillies of Scrap Iron: for being the purveyors of Al Gore’s initiative, for saving unwanted stuff from certain doom in the junk yard, and for taking the time to do the hard work so you can make the money to feed your families. And if you remember the long ago show, The Beverly Hillbillies, you will see that they ended up filling their truck with junk too, hoping for a better life. (Although the truck I saw contained junk and scrap iron and apparently, the Beverly Hillbillies truck contains junk and grocery bags of Kellogg's Cornflakes. A product placement if I ever saw one.)

And somewhere near or far, I believe my prized bent aluminum tire rim is being melted into something better and its life will again be of value. So when you go to a tire store or used car lot, be on the look out for a tire rim which has an aura of Godliness shining upon it, for it just may be my treasured bait, all shiny and new because someone valued it enough to save it.

So in honor of my day of free entertainment with the hillbillies of Scrap Iron, I say a fond farewell, with a verse from the Beverly Hillbillies song:

Well now its time to say good-bye to Jed and all his kin

And they would like to thank you folks fer kindly droppin in

You're all invited back again to this locality

To have a heapin helpin of their hospitality

Hillbilly that is. Set a spell. Take your shoes off.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

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