Garbage, person: In which I step outside and have an awkward conversation

September 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 5, 2019

As I write this on Thursday, Sept. 5, Hurricane Dorian seems to have largely spared the Triangle. It only started raining hard around 4:15 p.m., and there have been no winds to speak of. (The rain settled down after an hour or so and is no longer coming down in buckets.) As far as I could tell, Durham didn’t get any precipitation until around 2 or 2:30 this afternoon.

However, as you can imagine, the storm has been on everyone’s minds. A lot of area residents monitored its approach toward us as the system churned north past Florida and Georgia on Wednesday.

I starting running an errand late Thursday morning and returned home around 1 p.m. After puttering in the house for a bit, I got a notification from my phone’s weather app that rain was going to start about 20 minutes after the hour.

I cursed to myself because I’d yet to put out the trash. My neighborhood’s garbage is collected weekly on Thursday mornings. (Recycling is collected biweekly on Thursday mornings.) Bins were sitting on the curb outside a few homes on my street, but none had been collected. That’s because Monday the 2nd was a federal holiday, Labor Day, which pushed back the normal collected schedule for the week by a day.

At any rate, when I got the notification on my phone, I went to the kitchen, pulled the full bag out of the garbage can, tied it closed and headed out the front door. I went to my collection bins, tossed in the refuse and began hauling the wheeled garbage bin to the curb.

It so happened that I was wearing a nice old merino wool sweater that some months ago I had made the mistake of laundering at home. I’d started to put on the sweater that morning before realizing that it had shrunk in the dryer. Upon returning home in the afternoon, I decided to try it on for size. The fit was much better than I’d expected — I’d had visions of the garment’s bottom hovering somewhere above my midriff — but it was still a bit snug for comfort.

As I approached the edge of my yard, I noticed a young woman striding along the street. She was walking briskly and dressed in athletic gear. I wasn’t in the mood for conversation, in no small part because of my ill-fitting sweater, but I mouthed a hello her way in an attempt to be polite.

While I trudged along the curb — I didn’t want to leave the bin in near the sewer drain, for fear of having it knocked about by rainwater — the walker said, “I don’t think they’re coming today.” She added something like, If they haven’t collected it already, they’re probably not coming.

I looked at her, briefly wondering why she thought I needed to have this explained to me. I said, “I’m not putting it out for today, I’m putting it out for tomorrow.” Since I sometimes have a tendency to mumble, I don’t know if she heard me.

As I positioned the garbage bin, the woman went on to say that they — the garbage collectors — probably weren’t coming because of the weather.

This was completely wrong; the sanitation trucks hadn’t circulated through my neighborhood because their schedule had been altered by Labor Day.

I said something like, OK, thank you, and went inside.

It was a small interaction, and I think the walker was attempting to be friendly, but it managed to make me feel irritated, condescended to and generally uncomfortable. I wondered if she thought I was acting like a thoughtless person or an idiot and, if so, whether this was due to some fault in how I presented myself. And heaven knows what she made of me after our not-so-scintillating conversation.

People. What can you do?

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