Garbage Wars

Though not suffering from a lengthy (and, I’m sure, in the hot’n’humid east coast summer) stinky strike like my friends in Toronto, there has been a certain level of garbage-related weirdness around here lately.

A bunch of kids play at the cul de sac end of my short street. Sometimes they play basketball – the hoop stays there all year round – sometimes it’s baseball, and often it’s skateboarding. It’s nice to see and hear the kids having so much fun, and I’ve gotten to know them enough that we greet each other as they run past. The day Michael Jackson* died, I saw one of these kids sitting on his basketball across the street with his head in his hands. I went over and asked if he was okay. He lifted his tear-stained young face to me and said, “Michael, man. Michael.” He bowed his head again and I respectfully left him to mourn his fallen idol.

A few days ago, a broken skateboard was left on the lawn of the people next door, the ones with the constantly barking dogs. I didn’t think anything of it until it appeared on my lawn, right next to the garbage can, which was sitting at the curb awaiting collection. I put it into the can and wondered what that was all about.

Last night, a woman was parked outside my house, casually dropping trash out of her windows. Fast food wrappers, bags, huge soda cups, a half-drunk Frappucino, and other detritus. There must have been a couple of pounds of it. I asked her what she thought she was doing, and she started yelling at me that she could do whatever she wanted and who did I think I was. I asked if she’d like it if someone threw garbage all over her street, and she got even angrier.

I gave up on the whole thing and walked back into the house, hearing her continued ranting behind me, including calling me a racist (she was African-American). She left soon after, but I actually worried for a couple of hours that she might come back with an irate boyfriend to continue the argument. Nothing happened, but it was pretty depressing. The truth is that I would have said the same thing to anyone who did that, regardless of race, but I guess you can never disregard race in America. I wonder if that day will ever come.

Not surprisingly, I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. I tossed and turned, finally giving in to the inevitable and reading Sag Harbor (in which race relations also play a role) into the cold light of dawn. As I finally drifted off to sleep, the garbage trucks began to roar up my street.

*I was intrigued by a quote in Joan Acocella’s recent essay in the “New Yorker”, where the great Fred Astaire, having been taught the Moonwalk by Michael Jackson, told the young star that they both danced out of anger.