Yesterday was what is known in my town as spring cleanup, or Big Trash Day as it’s called in my neighborhood. This is where you can, on your regular trash day, put out all the crap you’ve needed to throw away all year, but couldn’t put out for a regular trash pickup. Things like furniture and TVs and old lawnmowers and boxes of junk from your basement. This weekend, piles of trash started sprouting on lawns and I joined them, carting my many loads to the curb last Sunday.
Big trash day always disturbs me. Although glad to be able to get rid of the useless detritus of my life once a year, I also feel wasteful and guilty about the environmental impact. Just the thought of all of those piles of trash all over the city being dumped into a landfill makes me ashamed in a way we liberals know all too well. Yet I join in, grateful to have it all disappear into the big truck. I’m an American and paying someone to make trash disappear is a privilege we’re born with. It’s best not to think about it too much.
If you have really good things on your pile of trash, say like a lawnmower that can be fixed up or a reasonably clean recliner, The Scavengers will come around and take them off your trash pile the night before Big Trash Day. The Scavengers are guys who drive around in pickup trucks looking for “good finds”. Spotting a potential find, they pull their pickup to the curb and quickly hop out, sizing up the item in a flash and tossing it into the bed of the truck if it’s deemed worthy, or hopping back into the running vehicle and swiftly pulling away from the curb if it isn’t. Sometimes I wonder what their homes look like. I like to envision them as happy junkmen, tinkering on a lawnmower or two under the ol’ shade tree in the backyard. In reality, they are probably the same people who live in the house out in the country I pass by occasionally – junk packed into every corner of the yard, entire conversation pits of old furniture next to piles of ancient washing machines and car engines that, over the years, have rusted and fused into one large mass of metal. Sometimes I wonder what they put out for Big Trash Day, but suspect they have nothing to offer.
Before the trash men came, I was surveying my pile of stuff when I spied something new on my pile. It was an unfamiliar box placed on top of everything else and when I looked inside, found it full of photographs – hundreds of them – old black and whites and newer color photos. I took the box inside and started going through what turned out to be a chronology of one couple’s life together. The photographer did not label the backs of most of the pictures so I never determined who everyone was, but found out the following: The husband was in WWII and was stationed in Germany. There were no pictures of concentration camps or starving skeleton-like people, so these pictures were relatively boring ones of fellow soldiers and bombed out buildings. The husband was an active guy – a competitive skier in the 40s, and competitive motorcycle and car racer in the 50s. He owned a 1959 Corvette. Later in years, he and his wife traveled extensively all over the United States, and to India and China. Interestingly, the black and white photos are full of people – people posing, clowning, or just sitting and unaware their picture was being taken. Almost all of the color photos – the travel photos – are of places: restaurants, signs, storefronts, museum displays. No people, just places and things. There were also a few very old photographs from the late 1800s and pictured two brothers. They were posed studio photographs, and paper clipped to one was an obituary dated 1974, saying the deceased was 89 years old when he passed. One of those ancient children got old and died, it appeared.
Why had someone thrown these photos out, I wondered, and how did they end up on my trash pile? Maybe a Scavenger had picked up the box on the previous block, thinking it was something good, then had discarded it on my pile later. Maybe it was left by a relative (son or daughter?) who didn’t want anyone to know they didn’t care about their family photos and had placed them on another neighbor’s pile of trash anonymously. It’s a mystery I’ll never know the answer to. Now the trash man has come and gone and I still have these pictures of people I don’t know. I wish there was something I could do with them but who needs pictures of nameless people they’ve never met? I’ll probably hold onto them for awhile, maybe keep them in the basement until the next Big Trash Day when, perhaps, a Scavenger will pick them up and find them useful for something. Or maybe not, in which case they’ll end up populating the landfill, lost forever.