Garbage: A Metaphor
Garbage: A Metaphor
By Sarah Paulin
I look forward to a day of Trash
Though I may not be Able
To hold my vomit while riding in the Truck
Because of the putrid Smell
That saturates until the bin has had its Fill
And must be released and made Light
Again in the early morning Light
The glow of the Trash
Gods can be seen at Miramar LandFill
My riding companion Jorge is Able
To discharge the encapsulated Smell
In a synchronous dance at the Garbage Truck
Altar where the procession of Trucks
Sacrifices as the reaching Light
Hangs high in the sky, circulating the Smell
Made by the feeble givers of Trash
Who have reached a level once thought unatainAble
Until soon the Gods will have their Fill
And onto another reservation we must Fill
The messenger, the garbage Truck
Dispensing waste unsustainAble
When will the Light
Turn on to turn off Trash
And waste to be free of the Smell
How rancid the Smell
That we give to the Gods of Miramar LandFill
Residents forget their Trash
At the curb, awaiting the Truck
To be buried from Light
It is a sight uncomparAble
The idea that we are Able
To release our homes of the Smell
Though still present in the Light
We must use knowledge Fill
Our heads as easy as we do the garbage Truck
Because someday, there will be no God to swallow Trash
Only the Trash that litters is memorAble
But consider the Truck, and follow the smell
Toward Miramar LandFill, and be immersed in the Light.
Antonio has worked for the Collections Division for just over twenty-one years. As he puts it, “Being a trash man gets lonely sometimes.” From the passenger seat, located on the left side of truck number 815-262, I can see him looking out the giant square windshield with kind eyes, which are tired from the 5 a.m. wake up call.
He and his twin brother work together as garbage collectors and even started on the same day. Antonio tells me how when he first began here, they did not have automated trucks. Instead the collectors had to manually lift each trash can into the truck and dump its contents. After twelve years of manual labor, Antonio worked his way up to the automated trucks; he explains, “It goes by seniority.”
Pulling out of the yard – basically a giant parking lot to store the trucks while they are not being used – a line of about ten trucks caravan east toward their route. “We all go together to different areas each day.” He tells me how their routes used to be spread out all over the city, but it made it difficult when someone’s truck would break down. For each route there are two trucks; one for the garbage – black bins – and one for recycling – blue bins. I ask Antonio why he chose garbage over recycling, as there seemed to be far less recycling bins than garbage bins. He simply says, “I have always done garbage.” He also points out that even though this particular neighborhood has less recycling, the wealthier neighborhoods tend to have more blue bins than black ones.
From the passenger window, I can see that the water restriction is taking its toll on the late-60s ranch-style homes and lawns. Although, the dead grass could be a result of pure neglect, judging by the astonishing number Christmas lights still hanging from weathered roofs as the July morning sun reflects a sparkle of disjointed community.
For the first hour or so of this ride-along, Antonio is very mechanical, showing me all the gadgets in the cab. He seems most excited about the camera that can show the bins being dumped over the side of the truck and into the large holding area in the back. He tells me about a time when he had just overturned a container when a cat jumped out and began scrambling about the trash pile. Antonio saw it on his monitor and instantly stopped the compressor from squishing the cat. He was about to get out and help the poor animal, when it found a small hole and escaped. Antonio chuckles as he remembers and looks over to see the terror on my face.
Continuing the noisy and very shaky ride through the neighborhood, Antonio looks at me and says with a smile, “I bet I know what your next question will be.”
“What?” I reply, not even knowing myself.
“You’re going to ask me how I know when I’m full.”
“Oh,” honestly that question never even occurred to me. I thought they just went to the landfill when they were done with their route. “Yep, that was it!” I say.
“See this?” as he points to another monitor facing away from me. I lean over and see two rows of bright red numbers, like on an old alarm clock.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“This is the weight of the truck,” he says. The truck itself weighs about 35,000 pounds and it can hold roughly ten tons before needing to go to the landfill and empty.
“What happens if you go over?” I ask.
“That’s a good $600 to $800 ticket. You never want to go over,” he responds. “Sometimes you think, ‘I can just do this one last street,’ but if you’re over, it’s not worth it.”
“I have another question,” I say looking at my empty coffee mug, “What do you do when you have to go to the bathroom?”
I feel bad for interrupting his route for a pit-stop at McDonald’s but the repetitive shake of the truck has caused an emergency. I apologize while hoisting myself back into the cab. “It’s fine. You get used to it, but this is your first time so it’s okay.”
Pulling up to the landfill to make our first dump, I look around at all the shrubs and California native plants scattered across the barren landscape. Antonio explains that because the landfill has been open for so long, they had to keep pushing back the dump sites so it takes a few minutes or so to drive to the dump site.
“Does that mean that all of this used to be trash?” I ask looking out the window.
“Yep, buried under us is all trash,” he says waving his gloved hand to emphasize all.
First stop is the fee booths where the truck gets weighed to make sure it is not over the weight capacity. We follow a procession of other trash trucks driving into the landfill on a small dirt road. I am amazed at how clean the area seems to be. I expected to see trash and debris everywhere, but it is surprisingly well contained. Antonio tells me how at the end of each day, once all the trucks have been emptied, the bulldozers pile dirt on top of the trash and a record is kept where the trash was put for that day. Each day they move to a different location around the landfill to dump the garbage. He recalls a story about how one time the police discovered that a murderer was putting the bodies of his victims in the garbage. They looked up the location of the dump site for that day and proceeded to dig through the layers of garbage in search of the bodies. Apparently they never found anything, but Antonio says that during the time they were digging through the old and buried trash, the landfill never smelled worse. Stepping out of the truck at the landfill, I cannot imagine it smelling worse.
The dumping process is fairly simple; the drivers back up to the large pile of trash, open up the back part of the truck, and push out the contents using a sliding barrier. They then pull forward, get out of the truck and scrape out any remaining debris. While Anotnio does this, I am fixated on all the bulldozers. They are amazingly large machines with what appears to be giant rakes attached to the front. It is incredible to watch them maneuver over the twenty-five foot pile of plastic bags, bottles, cans, cardboard, and food, attempting to smooth and shape it for burying later, all in sync with the perpetual flow of the dumping trucks.
Looking at my feet to see what sticky substance has made its way onto the bottom of my shoes, I am dumbfounded by all the recyclables that have spilled out! I cannot believe that hidden inside the white and black plastic trash bags are literally tons of paper, aluminum and cardboard! I feel deeply saddened that it will soon be underground for who knows how many thousands of years and that new, virgin material will have to be processed to take its place.
After taking some pictures, Antonio and I make our way back onto the freeway. Right before exiting, Antonio points out a long pipe running parallel to the road. “The methane from the landfill is captured and transported through that pipe and is used to make electricity for the Bio Solid Waste Facility,” he tells me.
“So it runs under the freeway then?”
“Yeah, that is why it is so bumpy and uneven, the trash underneath is settling.”
“That sounds dangerous! But at least they are using the byproduct.”
“They used to just burn it, which was bad for the air.”
I agree silently with a nod. The drone of the engine is making me sleepy. Seeing my heavy eyelids, Antonio suggests that we stop and get a snack at 7-11 before getting back to the route. I happily agree.
Cookies, Cheetos, water and soda firmly in hand, we set off toward the neighborhood to pick up where we left off. I ask Antonio how he remembers where he has been already and where he needs to go next.
“Well, the empty bins are the houses we did this morning, and the full ones still need to be emptied!” he says with a smirk.
“Yes, I know that! I mean, do you have a mental map or do you just go by the empty and full bins?”
Chuckling, he responds, “No, I have a map in here,” gesturing toward his head.
After a few minutes of silence – except for my munching – I ask Antonio to tell me about the most interesting thing he has seen. He pauses; a somber look crosses his face, as if debating on whether or not to tell me. “Well, this is more sad than anything, but definitely memorable.” I stop eating to give him my full attention. “A few years back I was doing my normal route when a family had just come home and parked in their driveway. I didn’t really pay attention until the mother started screaming. I thought they were fighting, you see that a lot. But she was on the ground crying and there was blood everywhere. I ran out of the truck to see that their little girl, maybe six, had just been run over by the car sliding back because the emergency brake wasn’t on. She was dead of course, but I stayed until the ambulance came and took the family away.”
“Wow, that’s terrible.”
“Yeah, it shook me up, but I finished my route and came into work the next day. The hard part was going back to that house the following week and seeing all the little girl’s toys in the trash. Other than that, this job is pretty boring, but not as bad as people think.”
It is only now when I notice in the reflection on the windshield Antonio’s right hand is stroking keys at an incredible speed. “Wow, you’re really fast!” I say pointing to his hand.
“Yeah, it takes some practice. You don’t want to throw the entire bin into the back, then you have to take it out.” I am not only impressed with Antonio’s speed, but also his consideration for the residents whose trash he takes. Sometimes the bins are incorrectly placed, either too close together or not on the street all the way and he will get out and position them.
I ask, “Why don’t you just leave a violation notice and skip that house?”
He shrugs and replies, “It takes just as long and only pisses them off.” He also tells me about how some of the people on his route are handicapped in wheelchairs and have asked him to help take the garbage bins in and out of the garage. Though I am awed at his dedication and kindness, I do not like him getting in and out of the truck. With each slam of the driver’s door comes a whiff of rotting trash that makes my Cheetos taste sour.
Once the tiredness begins to wear off, the drivers seem to be much more talkative over the radio. Seeing my interest, Antonio lets me relay his responses to the others. They laugh at my child-like girl voice, but respond all the same. I even get to say, “10-4!” and, “Over!”
After a trash-filled morning, the supervisor comes to pick me up on route so that Antonio can quickly finish and make it back in time for the pizza party back at the yard.
Out the window, Antonio leans out and reminds me, “Don’t make me look bad!”
“Don’t worry; I will be sure to say what a dedicated and considerate trash man you are!” With that, I ended my first trash truck ride-along.
*The names of the people and places in this nonfiction account have been changed to protect the anonymity of the subjects.
I am thirteen, a freshman at Aliso Niguel High School, and I love being anorexic. I love getting dressed in the morning, fitting nicely into my double zero skirts and extra small shirts. I love my skinny friends and how everyone rolls their eyes when we save our lunch money and split a power bar. Most of all I love the bones that stick out of my little body. My hips, ribs, spine all look so good in these jeans. Ninety-six pounds and beautiful. But I am a slave, chained to the numbers on the scale. I can’t wait to get home, run upstairs and weigh myself on my stepmom’s scale. I am defined by these numbers.
Scales were first used to measure the worth of something. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb form of the word “scale” as “to weigh as in scales; hence, to compare, estimate.” It is the word “compare” that strikes me; a comparison that is made between two objects. The weight of gold, compared to iron or grain. The price of desired goods.
As the scale produces decreasing numbers, my value increases, I become more of a desired good. I am in control of what I eat, or often what I don’t. It is the only thing I have control over. As the scale begins to increase over the next year, I get more and more depressed. The numbers 134 hit me like a big-rig. I hate my body, I hate my life, I am ugly, disgusting, fat. Then I hear the most amazing words, “You need to have your tonsils removed” the doctor says. I have been suffering through severe sore throats for the past couple of weeks. I exaggerate and say that I have trouble breathing because my tonsils are so large. It was a wonderful excuse for me to stop eating. After my brief, out-patient surgery I stay home for a week recovering, eating only ice chips. When I return to school, I proudly wear my $120 Armani Exchange jeans that practically fall off of my now thin hips. Everyone tells me how good I look and I begin weighing myself again. 105, almost there!
Scales are often seen in relation to law. The noun form of “scale” in this regard became widely used in the mid to late 1600s. The actual definition from the Oxford English Dictionary being: “to judge impartially.” Essentially, scales are symbols of judgment. The term “scaling” is often used to describe the process of categorizing an object’s characteristics by quantitative values. Just like society classifies a woman’s beauty or worth by her weight, a quantitative value using numbers, like those found on a scale.
To my dismay, I never break 100. I settle into a comfortable size 5, 115 pounds. I am a pescetarian, which means that the only meat I eat is fish. This supports my beliefs that killing animals for food is wrong, but more importantly it allows me to have an excuse not to eat fast food. That is the trick you know; if you tell yourself you “can’t” eat something, you won’t crave it. Same thing if you tell yourself you’re not hungry. I know I am not fat, but after my father is hospitalized for a severe blood clot in his left leg, I am a little more insecure. Within the next few months, my grandpa dies, my grandma is hospitalized and has a pacemaker put in, and my younger brother Shaun suffers a severe neurological breakdown. He was in the hospital for a month almost exactly and endured one neurosurgery to “fix” his shunt. Cerebral fluid is flooding his brain and building pressure and he is suffering severe brain trauma. Meanwhile, I download applications on my iPod that allow me to track the calories I eat every day. After visiting Shaun for the first time since his neurosurgery, I go to Target and buy another scale. I keep it right next to my bed so that I can weight myself first thing when I wake up. The numbers upset me but it a nice distraction. It allows me to focus on my weight disorder instead of my life. Since I live with my boyfriend who is aware of my past weight struggles, I have to keep it a secret. He can’t know that I am eating less and less, trying to shrink my stomach so that I am never very hungry and become full quickly, so far it’s been working.
“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.”
“As a young writer, I have discovered the sheer vulnerability that is story telling. The confessions expressed from one’s soul create an illusion of standing naked on a stage just before the curtain lifts.
Will they applaud my body, my work? Or scoff at my flushed and trembling skin? This piece combines these two elements to become one of my proudest pieces of insecurity. Whatever your reaction, feel it with all your heart.”