August 12, 2014

By T.W. Burger

I found it, naturally, while looking for something entirely different.

 

In a box on a bottom shelf in my office, jammed in with some other mementos, was my old Mr. Trash hat.

 

It was filthy.

 

Of course, it was filthy when I put it away, sometime back in the early 1980s.

 

The grime is easy to explain. Mr. Trash was a “refuse removal business,” which most of us would still call “garbage company.” I was the field manager, though I’m not sure I had any formal title. I ran the crews. We started out with five trucks. I’m not saying the trucks were worn out, but their continued presence on the road had to be due to divine intervention. This was 1981 or ’82, and one of trucks was a Dodge. Dodge stopped making trucks any bigger than pickups in 1968.

 

I was in management in about the same way a staff sergeant is an officer, i.e., not much. Oh, I had a desk in the office and a pager (this was way before cell phones) and a pickup truck. But I also ran the crews and picked up garbage, usually by swinging by the homes of customers who had been missed by my crews.

Mr. Trash

Mr. Trash

Garbage workers never catch a break. Even today, I believe, people look down their noses at them, no pun intended. Which is a shame, because it’s not easy work, and if you don’t think their work matters, let your garbage men go on strike for a couple of weeks. In summer. We had a strike in Atlanta when I was in my 20s, I think. We lived 70 miles away and used to joke that we could smell it.

 

One clever fellow in the city figured out how to get rid of his own trash. He would put the bags in a box and gift-wrap the box. Then he would drive into the city and park his car for a while on a side street and go for coffee, leaving his windows open. When he got back, et voila’, the garbage was gone.

 

Anyway, it was a challenge balancing my crews and the company owner, who, I suspect, had never before worked with anybody who didn’t wear a coat and tie.

 

For example, I had prepared color-coded maps of the county for each workday, with different color on the map for each crew. The boss went to the trouble and expense of having color copies made for each of the drivers. He presented each man with the maps. The drivers looked a little baffled, but dutifully stored the maps in the cabs of their trucks and drove off to the day’s work.

 

“They didn’t look very happy,” Boss Man said. “Well,” I replied, “only one of the drivers can read. They know their routes from memory. Roger can’t even read house numbers, but he’s got a tremendous memory, when he’s sober.”

 

One of my crew was attacked by a pit-bull whose owner had failed to secure it in its doghouse. Larry heard a noise and turned to see this animal snarling and heading toward him like a surface-to-Larry missile. The dog launched into the air. Larry grabbed a one-gallon pickle jar from the trash can and killed it with one blow. I arrived about 10 minutes later to find the homeowner screaming about lawsuits and such, and berating Larry with all sorts of insults. I interrupted to point out that if I had just seen a man kill my pit-bull with his bare hands, I might be a little more circumspect in the way addressed him.

 

So, after about a year of similar adventures, Mr. Trash and I parted company. The hat went into storage with hats from other jobs. And yes, it’s smudged and smeared by various substances whose origins I don’t care to think about much. I can remember it being so soaked that sweat dripped off the hat’s bill. I wore it for awhile the day I found it, and I do believe I could still smell garbage.

 

Still, Sue asked me if I would like her to put it in the wash. She has a sort of hat-shaped cage thing she can clip onto it so it won’t lose its shape.

 

I think it’s a girl thing. Wash my Mr. Trash hat?

 

No way.

 

It’s an historical artifact.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “”

  1. T.W. Burger said

    Reblogged this on Burger to Go.

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