Monday, April 25, 2005

 

The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #3: Trash collector (Part IV)

I don't wish to overly romanticize my life as a trash collector. If you must know, most of the rest of that summer, and the three or four summers that followed it, were filled with the hardest, most back-breaking, most disgusting work I hope EVER to do in my life.

Naturally, my parents thought it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and still talk about those summers using phrases like "character-building" and "developing a strong work ethic" and other horse-shit platitudes that parents use (and that I can't wait to use myself) when they have consigned their flesh-and-blood to a sweltering season of hauling steaming bags of used diapers and coffee grounds.

But there were moments of pure wonder and brilliance.

Such as the end of my first day of work. We had indeed started at 5 AM--the proverbial crack of ass--and spent the morning cleaning out the cellar of an old lady who had recently died. David bought the estate lock, stock and barrel. Apparently, this woman had made a hobby--obsession probably isn't too strong a word--of canning. Her cellar was packed to the ceiling with stack upon stack of Ball-Mason jars and what David called "original Lightning jars" whatever they were. Every one of them was sealed and labeled. And filled.

David kept the most recent season's worth of goods for his own pantry, but that covered barely a fraction of what was left. The woman lived alone for years and obviously never ate all that she had put up, so consequently she had hundreds, maybe even thousands of jars dating back 20 or more years (and many of the jars themselves were quite a lot older than that). We formed a kind of bucket brigade and handed each other crate after crate, jar after jar, emptying the basement and loading the jars into the truck. I saw more preserved beans and tomatoes that day than I've ever seen in my life.

And then I found four oversized jars filled with a wine-colored viscous matter I couldn't identify. There were no years on the jars, but they were labeled: Iris, Petunia, Lily and...

"Is that last jar labeled Tom?" I asked David as I brought them out. "Never heard of a flower called Tom. Why would she can flowers anyway?"

David squinted at the jars, then raised his eyebrows. "Them ain't flowers, ol' fella. Those were the names of the cats she used to keep." He started cackling, as much at the look of rank disgust on my face as at the very idea. "Guess the ol' girl didn't want to bury em, by gorry! Pickled her cats, she did!" Oh, he thought that was a laugh riot. I still get chills thinking about it.

We carted nearly three full dump-truck loads back to the barn, where I spent the rest of that day emptying those jars (yes, even those four big ones filled with cat innards. THAT was a real New England-by-way-of-Stephen-King moment, now I'll tell ya) into a seemingly unending succession of plastic jugs and barrels. Then I filled each jar with a cleaning solution (mostly bleach and water I think) and let them sit and soak. I had jars everywhere, on every rafter and shelf, stacked in pyramids. It was quite pretty, and when I hobbled through the barn (it was my first day back in boots and my toe was still a little sore) my very footsteps set the jars vibrating with an eerie but somehow beautiful ringing sound that could be heard up the hill in the post office.

David returned late in the day, surprised despite himself that I had all the jars emptied and soaking. "By gorry," he said, when looked in the barn and beheld the wavering, ringing jars, "that's pretty goddamn good." Among my people, "pretty goddamn good" is about the highest praise you can hope for.

And then he made me grab one end of a stinking, sloshing barrel full of pickled veggies and cat guts and we proceeded to load the dump truck back up.

We carted the contents of those old jars off to the county landfill, easily the prettiest one I've ever seen. You had to drive through this forest of mature pines before coming out on this amazing overlook. Right below was the landfill. We started dumping jugs and barrels.

We had arrived at nearly sunset, so the view from the overlook was stunning, all reds and golds. "Ain't it somethin?" David asked. "I never been up here this late, but they said it was worth it." I looked around and noticed that there were several cars and trucks parked nearby, some occupied, some not.

"Boy, lotsa people must come for the view."

"No sir!" David said. "They come for the bears. Soon as the sun sets, the bears come out and pick over the trash down below. Thought it might be worth a look."

Now this was a treat. I had never seen a bear in the wild before, so I hurried to finish our work as the sun sank lower and lower. Within a few minutes we were done and David started walking down a short access road to the bottom of the landfill. I called after him.

"Aren't we gonna watch from the truck?" I asked, my voice cracking a little (hey, I wasn't scared or anything. It was puberty). But he ignored me so I had no choice but to hobble after him.

At the bottom of the road, he traded greetings with a small knot of people, including one of the custodians of the landfill. The man shook hands with me and said, "They'll be here soon, you bet! 'Nother half-hour or so, you'll see." I breathed a sigh of relief. We still had time.

David stood near a mountain of rubbish, watching the sky darken. I could hear him talking to himself. "Yessuh, I think he does. I think he does at that."

I came over and stood next to him. He glanced over. "And here he is now. You believe in haints, ol' fella?" As I came to learn, David had a habit of switching subjects without warning.

"In what?"

"Haints. Spooks and such. I hear you got a house full of em." I allowed that we had moved into an old house where some pretty odd things had happened. "I don't talk about it very much," I said. "People think it's stupid." What I was really thinking was that if I told David what I'd seen, he'd never let me hear the end of it. He was definitely treating me a lot better than when the summer began, but I thought him a hard-nosed, brutally honest man, the sort who would mercilessly tease a kid for what he deemed flights of fancy.

Then David spoke quietly, his voice a low grumble. "I don't see 'em so much anymore, myself. But I hear 'em all the time. By gorry, some days they can't keep their goddamn yaps shut."

"What?!?" I asked, thunderstruck.

By this time, though, someone else had come up next to David to watch the sunset so I didn't pursue the matter. I could see the newcomer out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was the landfill custodian. Right up until the moment he bent down, ripped a bag of trash open and began to make some odd snuffling noises.

That's when I turned and looked and felt every hair on my arms and neck stand straight up.

It wasn't the landfill custodian. It wasn't a haint or a spook.

It was a black bear.

I was all set to scream something unoriginal and obvious, such as "JESUS IT'S A BEAR!" when David, who was a mere five feet away from the snorting creature (which was easily as big as he was) calmly took one step backward and put a big, quieting hand on my shoulder. In perfect, painfully slow unison, we walked backwards, slowly, quietly, until we reached the bottom of the access road. That's when David said, cool as ice, "How d'you feel about running, ol' fella?" I felt just fine about that. In fact, I didn't feel the slightest twinge of pain in my toe as I pelted up the hill to the truck.

And that was just my first day on the job...



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Comments:
Awesome. Personally, right there would have been my story of the time I was 11 and shit my pants.
Do you think he really heard ghosts? Or was he a bit Schizophrenic?
 
Love your stories- every one of them.
 
MM,

So do you some crazy ghost stories to tell? I don't i've seen a post regarding them. We use to have weird shit happen at our house all of the time. I have some second hand stories for the most part, but my brother could write a book.

If you have some. I'd love to hear them. I'm sure everyone would.
 
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