Notes from the transfer station

I have been taking my garbage and recyclables for the entire time I’ve lived here (a little over 14 years) to the Columbia County Transfer Station, or, simply put, “the dump.” Taking out the garbage is one of those things (like grilling and higher-paying jobs) that is usually relegated to men, though for reasons that are not entirely clear, it was always my job when I was married, and is still my job now that I’m not.

To enter the dump is to enter a world in which gender roles are clearly defined, in which, as I hoist my recycling into the huge dumpster, I might hear an “Atta girl!” from one of the old men who monitors such things. This never bothers me, as I think the old men are genuinely impressed with my hoisting ability (or at least I like to tell myself this) or the fact that I am there at all.

Today I watched a man jump onto the back of his pickup truck to unhook the back part and then leap off with a big bin of recyclables. As he returned to his truck, I saw him carefully remove the gloves he had worn to touch his recycling bin (the horror!). I smirked and immediately wrote him off as a weekender. Real country folks don’t wear gloves!

And you could tell his pickup was probably mostly used for just such an event (Going to the Dump) since it was clean and quite new. I have just crammed my garbage/recycling into whatever sort of sedan I was driving in the time, often including children, often with no rear view whatsoever. Now that the handle to my trunk is broken (accidentally ripped off by me last year on a frozen Thanksgiving morning) I try not to use it much and therefore cram everything into the regular part of the car. My children have not accompanied me to the dump in quite some time.

But once it was a total fascination to them! There is that rule (children under 12 are not allowed out of the car!), which means that everything had to be viewed from a distance. I would watch them watching me when they were babies as I would get out of the car and throw my garbage into the vast dumpster below and wonder what they could possibly be thinking. Sometimes I would disappear into the tiny outdoor office of sorts to buy more garbage bags and I could just imagine their intense curiosity.

There is also an etiquette at the dump, as there is everywhere, and some of the rules I like to break because I know them, and as with grammar, now that I have mastered them, I can bend them to my liking. For example, the backing-in rule. One time I backed into an extremely low metal barrier that I could not see and ripped the back fender off my car. Now I pull in forward, silently daring anyone to challenge me. But of course, I often have dozens of infuriated one-sided conversations going on in my head nearly every time I’m there (Oh, of course, man, just park that way so that you take up as much space as possible and so it is most convenient for you!) because I feel that those who are not as well-versed in the rules as I am have no right to break them. It’s that simple.

The other thought I often have at the dump is, What if someone finds a piece of paper with my personal information on it and steals my identity? I imagine someone leaping into the giant recycling dumpster for just such a purpose and the thought panics me (this is, of course, how Arlo Guthrie was famously arrested for littering, but I’m not so sure I’d get a song out of it nor do I need a reason to get out of the draft). Then I think about those old men who work at the dump and I imagine them stopping these sorts of antics, if they ever occur. Then I imagine those old men going through the recycling themselves. Then ultimately I think, Well, if it happens, it happens. The dump is a place for clarity and acceptance.

I never really think about the dump unless I am actually there, but it has been a place of minor ordinary adventures for a little over 14 years, as you can see. Around seven years ago, I moved to a place where I could simply get garbage pick-up, but I chose not to. There is something about this regular ritual of purging garbage that I never want to give up. I will keep this job as long as its mine.

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2 thoughts on “Notes from the transfer station

  1. I loved the dump as a kid, although to be entirely accurate, in South Carolina, much of the dumping happened in the woods or fields around our property, with only the stuff that we might not want to scavenge for parts later and/or things that might stink making the trip to the official waste transfer location. My one concession to ritual involving ACTUALLY LEAVING THE HOUSE these days is that I maintain a post office box, and have no mail delivered to my house, even though I could do so easily. As a little kid, going to the post office with my grandfather to get the mail was an important daily happening: Papas would put on a nice hat to make the trip, because that’s what gentlemen did. I loved those old cool boxes that had the little built-in combo locks on them. Today they just have keys (alas!), but I still like the ritual and routine of the shared experience of mail retrieval . . . and maybe I’ll have to investigate our municipal dump now to see if that’s a viable exercise, too!

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