Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Garbage is Beautiful!

We have three garbage trucks in our house.
They’re not the city’s — or full-size, for that matter, but just as real as any one you see rumbling down the street.
Real to my 4-year-old, who wants to be a garbage man when he grows up.
And he is a garbage man every day at home, as he piles up his Legos, scoops them into the tiny trash cans, then loads them into the back.
He got his first truck two years ago for Christmas from his grandma. That came with a tiny man, whose trunk fit into the cab or in a hole at the back of the truck. That man, and the two garbage cans, have been lost so many times I've given up count. I’m always recruited to find them, since the guys in my house think I keep a running inventory of every object’s location — along with the olive oil, car keys, bottle opener, PSP games, sneakers, winter hats, and any of T’s three Spider-Man toys.
He got another, longer, green one with electronic buttons that make life-like sounds. This Christmas, Santa brought T a jumbo one, complete with a gray Dumpster that lifts into the back via a lever system. The little square garbage cans have lids, miniature replicas of the brown, wheeled ones the city gives to every household.
Between the recycling and trash pick-up, three early mornings a week are occasion for the thump-thump of half-asleep little feet running to the window to spy on the garbage man.
Later, when we wake up, we’re given a run-down of activity: The garbage man threw the can and cracked it, he didn’t empty it all out and some trash spilled into the street, he didn’t see a box by the can, he activated the crusher for the broken chair pieces.
One day, my husband took T with him to the Haddam town dump to drop off trash for his mother. What do you know, a trash hauler noticed my son’s unwavering interest and asked if he’d like to sit in the cab for a minute.
He talked about that moment for many a day.
Last night, the kids were leaving for a party.
"Wait a second," T said outside, after descending the front steps. He marched toward the side of the house. My husband heard a dragging sound, then some grunts.
From the darkness emerged T, both hands gripping the plastic garbage can, slowly pulling it toward the curb.
Next, the recyclables. T pushed the blue tub down the slight incline of our side yard, neatly lining it up with the garbage can.
"All ready?" Dad asked.
"Yup," T said, marching toward the car.
I must have read aloud the slogan on those light-blue Dainty garbage trucks that haul around the city, because one day T and I were walking the neighborhood, he in the stroller, and he piped up, “Garbage is beautiful!”
“No, it’s not,” I say. “It’s stinky.”
He entreats, “It’s beautiful!”
My silence signifies resignation.
There must be some redeeming quality about refuse if it elicits such devotion from a 4-year-old.
I just haven’t yet figured out what it is.

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