I had an old couch and a futon that had been in storage in the barn for a couple of years. These things had been with me for years but not really part of my life. A barn allows for the storage of too many things that are hard to throw out even if they feature unfortunate polyester upholstery in a mustard plaid pattern not even my mother would love. Out in the barn these pieces had accumulated an impressive coating of swallow droppings. The stuffing had rotted to a wonderful mushiness, perfect for the local population of mice. I had to face the fact that these items no longer deserved a place in my heart, let alone my home.
It is not easy to dispose of unwieldy garbage where I live. I don’t have trash pickup because out here we simply burn everything. Unfortunately mattresses don’t ignite easily. They usually just smolder like a peat bog for thousands of years and that sort of thing plays hell with property values.
The suburban method of furniture disposal, i.e. depositing on a curb with a “free to good home” sign, doesn’t work here either. We’re in the Twilight Zone and by that I mean the cornfield episode. Most people driving around the countryside here have no idea how they got here or how to get home. They’re frustrated, angry, and in no mood for charming castaways tossed to the front lawn. They don’t don’t understand how good that piece would look between the corner curio cabinet and the punched-tin pie safe. My discarded furniture would sit around for months getting soggier and soggier. It would end up creating discord between me and the local farmers. And oh how I hate pissing off anybody handy with a pitchfork.
So, to the dump.
My, how that experience has changed! When I was a kid, going to the dump was a Saturday afternoon outing for the whole family. It was our version of a trip to the IMAX. Only it was cheaper and there was something for everyone.
My scat-loving younger brother found the stench an endless source of entertainment. He pulled out every second grade fart joke in his arsenal as soon as we rounded the last corner before the gate. He’d keep it up over the course of the two-hour visit. When he finished the repertoire he’d start over again with What-did-one-burp-say-to-the-other-burp? If he got bored he’d practice his armpit flapping noises.
My mom’s a bird watcher, so she’d bring along her binocks and while away the time identifying the various species of buzzard and gull.
My dad, on the other hand is a talker, the type of person always on the lookout for fresh meat he can regale with war stories. He never saw any action; wasn’t even in any branch of the armed forces. However he was a high school teacher. ‘nuff said, right? Back then the dump always had a couple of bums living in tarpaper shacks with tin can chimneys. They’d have all-day rubber tire fires going outside for cooking and entertainment. If they were facing the wrong way when Dad’s Buick drove up they were out of luck. No chance to make a break before the old man sidled up with the latest hot gossip from the faculty room or anecdote about the school board members’ shenanigans with this year’s contract.
My older brother and I scouted for two-cent deposit bottles. We were quite the entrepreneurs and could support our hefty comic book addiction with what we found at the dump. This was before the bag ladies cornered the market on bottle returns. I can’t imagine what modern pre-teens with monkeys on their back do for cash flow now.
Dumps are no longer the IMAX of the 50s and 60s. It’s big business now: industrialized, corporate even. And that reassuring smell of gagging putrefaction is gone. It’s just not the same. If you go for old-time’s sake anyway, you’ll pay a hefty fee for your reminiscence: $68/ton. $68 being the minimum. You might only have a bag of old pampers and a used Kleenex or two, but you are still paying $68.
My old couches were not close to a ton, so I filled my truck with as much stuff as I could stuff: old cracked windows (which are by far the hardest thing to recycle–there are only so many people building coldframes), rubber tires (the classic dump item), crates of broken glass, ripped up tarps, moldy carpeting (again mustard plaid), and an empty 55-gallon drum (don’t ask).
The guy at the guard shack looked at the contents of my little truck (Chevy 1500, 4×4) and shook his head. He saw before him a scrawny little girl who would never get those couches and that damn barrel up and over the side of the dumpsters reserved for lay people on this side of the gate. He searched his conscience, thought about the easy $68 he was about to acquire, and took a chance: he granted me dispensation to enter the dump proper and use the special roll-off on the other side of the hill. “It’s by a ledge you can drive up to so you won’t have to lift anything. Just push your load off your, what is that little thing? One of those Jap makes? Where’d you get that? I didn’t know they imported those things.” I drove off while he was still laughing.
I didn’t think anything of it until I’d actually breached the gate beyond the guard shack. There I entered a netherworld, a secret place no one knows exists. It’s filled with gargantuan monsters doing magical, dark things. There wasn’t a sign there that said “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” but there was this: “No one permitted beyond this point without a hard hat.” You see what I’m getting at. Gaining permission to use the roll-off in the back was a statement. I was a special person, privileged as only those with a keen mind and stringy upper body are. I was honored. I was humbled. I was entering the dump without a hard hat.
I almost got lost before I found the roll-off next to the cliff. There were many side lanes that led into deep valleys between huge treacherous mounds of earth that no doubt hosted hidden crevasses that would eat you alive if you ventured off the path. The man had said I just needed to follow the Jersey barriers around to the right and over the rutted, gravel road (“but your little…whatever… will be okay as long as you don’t hit any of the half-buried rebar encased in concrete, heh heh”), back onto the macadam, and then around to the cliff. On the other side of that is the roll-off. “Just back your little import up to the ledge and you can push your stuff over the precipice and you’ll be fine.” Because the instructions were so lengthy by the time he got to the end I forgot to ask him what a Jersey barrier was. About five seconds beyond the entrance I remembered that little point. Too late then. You know the rules about going to places you don’t belong: Don’t Turn Back; You Don’t Get a Second Chance.
Did I mention the modern dump is industrialized now? It’s no longer Alice’s Restaurant Massacree in four-part harmony. The place is crawling with Cats— huge tank sized front end loaders, back shovelers, bulldozers, cherry pickers, and fork lifts, all painted in Caterpillar yellow. They ran around and over the mounds like ants working a hill. They pushed massive amounts of dirt over ecologically perfect layers of composting trash, ensuring the neighbors’ ground waters remained safe and EPA-passable. No idea why that was important; there were no neighbors for miles around.
Except for that one cranky old guy that is. When they upgraded this dump years ago, the first thing they did was kick the tramps out. One irascible man wasn’t having it. He had no teeth but kept threatening them with a rusty Smith & Wesson that probably didn’t work but would have created havoc with the dump’s image. A dump in the neighborhood is already a hard sell; no sense making it worse. No sense in attracting attention. So they eminently domained the one house on the perimeter and gave it to the old guy. He lives there now with hubcaps on his walls and a killer collection of discarded cabbage patch kids.
I eventually found the roll-off in the back, made my dump, and wended back around to the guard shack by following what I assumed to be the fabled Jersey barriers. The man weighed the truck, gave me a bill for $68, and took my credit card. I asked him why the dump didn’t stink anymore. He had a complicated answer about their high-tech ambient analyzing system. At intervals during the day, it took air samples at various spots and analyzed the chemical content. It then compared the results to wind speed and direction, humidity, and barometric pressure. If the numbers were right (and Mars was retrograding, I suppose) the system would emit a fair amount of nasal soothant into the area. It negates any dump stench present and keeps the non-existent neighbors (except for that one old guy who has no sense capability left anyway) from calling in the media or initiating a law suit.
In the end the dump visit was satisfying. It’s exhilarating climbing up a good size dump mound. You get a nice chunk of altitude up there. It’s windy and the view is fantastic. I found myself really enjoying the day. The thin air might have had something to do with that. Whatever, it got me in a nostalgic mood. It may not have been as good as Saturdays back in the 60s, but there’s a lot to be said for a good dose of nasal soothant when the atmosphere is rare.
This essay was first posted at the Book View Cafe blog on May 8, 2013.