Opinion: One man’s trash and all that


I fear I am turning into a weird old man.

Wait. I already had the weird part covered. I guess I am turning into a cranky old man. You know, the kind who sits on his porch and yells at the kids to get off his lawn. Except the issue is not kids on the lawn, but trash. Not on my lawn. In my trash can.

Let me simplify: Someone keeps going through my trash, and I am not happy about it.

I should explain that I live in a neighborhood where we put our trash in dumpsters in the alley in back of our houses. I should also explain that this alley carries a lot of traffic including guys pushing grocery carts they stole from the Kroger up the street. You put two and two together and you come up with scavengers doing what they do.

Those grocery cart guys fascinate me. You see them hanging around the corners and their carts are just loaded with castoff goods, the flotsam and jetsam of city neighborhoods — old rugs, wastebaskets, busted applicances, and always — always — a broom or mop sticking out the top of the heap like a mast. Sometimes you just see the carts while the owners — well, I don’t know what else to call them — are nowhere in sight. I wonder why some other grocery cart guy doesn’t come up and help himself to the stuff in the unattended cart. Maybe it happens. Or maybe there’s some sort of honor system.

Anyway, you don’t see this kind of stuff growing up out in the country, that’s for sure. Oh, we had our share of oddballs, too.  I was related to a few. They just didn’t have grocery carts full of junk.

Anyway, back to my trash. I’m very good about putting it in bags, tying them shut and placing them carefully inside the dumpster. And someone else is very good about getting into the dumpster, ripping them open and dumping out the contents, looking I guess for some sort of treasure among the banana peels and coffee grounds.

And I find myself getting a little steamed about it. It feels like a sort of low-grade property violation.

And then I remind myself that I did throw it away, which says I no longer want it, which sort of makes it up for grabs — one man’s trash and all that.

(I also feel a little puzzlement, seeing as how there’s another dumpster nearby full of recyclable material that never gets touched while the garbage is being strewn all over. I suppose I have to consider that it may not be a human hand at work. This is an urban neighborhood and it has been known to harbor certain long-tailed members of the genus Rattus. But I don’t think rattuses would untie the garbage bags and upend them.)

Anyway, I end up feeling angry on the one hand that someone has made a mess of my trash, and foolish on the other for allowing a dumpster diver to raise my blood pressure, and weird for feeling so possessive about stuff I threw away. Like moldy bread.

I guess it’s all part of life in the city — a life I chose a long time ago when I left the country to make my way in the world, back when I wasn’t a weird old man, but a weird young one. Remember, I said I already had that part covered.

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