Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Benjamin Franklin said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. But I'd like to add a third certainty: trash. And while some in this room might want to discuss reducing taxes, I want to talk about reducing trash."*

   It’s true: I’m hypersensitive. I think I’ve mentioned this before. I’m one of those HSP’s you’ve read about in the media. (Side note: being sensitive, I’m aware that you may not have read about HSP’s, so I’m sorry if I made you feel weird about not knowing about us. Read this.)

   Anyway, so that means “sensitive” on many levels:

   I’m easily startled.

   I cry a lot. At weird stuff. Not just because I’m a woman.

   Loud noises disturb me to the extreme.

   I cannot function outdoors during the day without sunglasses.

   Et cetera.

   I’m not OCD, so don’t get the wrong idea. I can eat food off the floor or pee and not wash my hands. (Hmmm...does my lack of a comma over there make it seem like I eat pee off the floor? Cuz I don't.) I’m super normal. But just very, very sensitive. I’m a delicate robin’s egg of feelings and senses.


   Today I tried to recycle a bunch of crap at the student Co-op by my apartment. I have lots of packing paper, newspaper, boxes, etc. And cans and bottles and egg crates and what not. My apartment has no recycling. My car was straight-up full.

   There was an Eminem-looking dude smoking a cigarette by the recycle bins. He watched me park. He watched me unlock my car. He watched me walk halfway to the bin before he said,

   “Ma’am, you can’t dump here.”

   Okay, let’s start with “ma’am.” I know it’s a Texan thing. Maybe even a southern thing? But I’m having a lot of trouble adapting to it. It makes me feel like I’m 200-years-old. I know it’s just a “polite” mode of address, but it drives me bonkers. Ugh. I’d rather have someone say, “Bitch, you can’t dump here.” Anyway.
   Next let's talk about how he waited for me to get all up next to the bin before he bothered to say anything. What a master of the dramatic pause. Fuckface. 

   “I’m not dumping, I’m recycling. See? These bags are full of newspaper!”

   I felt really proud of myself. In Los Angeles, you’re encouraged to recycle. They provide bins for it. You can even make money from it (remind me to tell you about the time I read in the LA Times about a family that sent their oldest kid to MIT on recycling money…then they sent their second-oldest to Irvine, so that was a bit of a come-down. Ok, never mind, that’s the whole story).

   “That bin is already full.”

   “Oh, okay. Do you know of another recycling bin?”

   The woman that had joined him on his smoke break shook her head like, “Stupid, stupid person. She doesn’t know about ANYTHING!”

   “Um, maybe the recycling center?”

   He said it like I was some sort of fucking dickhead moron who was being intentionally obtuse.

   As if my California license plates and dumbfounded expression weren’t proof enough that I had no idea where that center might be.

   “Do you know where it is?” I asked, determined to turn the situation in my favor somehow. The color was rising in my cheeks. I could feel myself wanting to cry or scream. Okay. At this point I was pushing him so he could find an opportunity to be less of an asshole and I could find an opportunity to feel less embarrassed.

   “Maybe if you look it up online you’ll find it.” Drag. Puff.

   “Okay.” I started walking back with my bags of newspaper.

   “You know, it’s illegal to recycle here.”


   “It’s illegal to recycle in this bin. This bin is just for the Co-op.”

   “Ok. I didn’t know that. My landlord told me I could recycle here.”

   “No. It’s illegal.”

   “Okay, well I certainly wasn’t trying to commit a crime. I'm not, like, a criminal or anything.”

   Thought in head: why is this person working so hard to discourage me from recycling?

   “I understand.” Puff. “But it’s illegal." Puff. "Ma’am.”


   It was strange. I didn’t feel embarrassed anymore. I felt angry and a little confused, but not embarrassed. I got in my car and found the nearest recycling center on my phone.

   The recycling center is downtown and not too far from my apartment, so that was a plus. It looks like a place you might get stabbed at night, so that was a minus. And one of the boxes got stuck in the backseat of my car so it took me twenty solid minutes of ripping and tearing to get it out while at least 5 different men drove up with their recyclables and never offered to help. (What, you can call me “ma’am” but you can’t help me get a goddamn box out of my car? Chivalry my ass. Not cool. And certainly not what one (i.e. me) expects in The South.)

   The whole time I was driving down there and during the sweaty scenario that involved wrenching that fucking box out of my car I got to thinking really hard about garbage (both literally and figuratively). I’d been afraid on my drive to the center that they’d have objection to the size or contents of the boxes, insist that I break down even the enormous, reinforced, unbreakable one, that they’d insist that I drink all the water in my recyclable water bottles or something. I don’t know. I guess I was just intimidated by the amount of criticism I’d already experienced while trying to RECYCLE.

   And then I thought, "What if, at some point, we just can’t get rid of the garbage anymore?" I remember reading about that disgusting, floating island of rubbish that exists somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean (The Pacific Ocean Vortex). What if, someday soon maybe, we have nowhere to take anything so we just have to keep it? I’ve never personally experienced a garbage strike, but it seems like it would be mind-numbingly disturbing and terrifying. I can barely get rid of my recyclables in a doable fashion in a decent-sized city that cares somewhat about recycling (at least, they don’t provide shopping bags, so I assume they care…though that seems more of a cost-saving ploy than anything else, really).

   I’m not trying to give you the idea that I’m one of those amazing change-the-world types, because I’m far too lazy for that. But I do try to be conscientious. I try to recycle, I try to use less plastic, I try not to waste. But for each day I take a huge pile of packing papers, boxes and newspaper to the recycle, a new pile grows in it’s place. What if I’m creating the Austin Garbage Vortex all by myself? Or at the very least contributing to it? And those a-holes at the co-op won’t even help me! I’m virtually living on an island in a sea of recyclables. Am I gonna have to buy a truck?
Me being sad in front of my garbage. Which, incidentally, is in front of my door. Not a good fire plan.

   It took a full two days, but my feelings stopped hurting. I will continue to drive down to the corner of Murder Avenue and Drug Deal Lane to recycle (only during operating hours, of course), but I would appreciate if the fine men of this city would stop calling me ma’am or hurting my very sensitive feelings and help me change the world instead.
   Reduce. Reuse. Drive 12 miles. Recycle.
*Ruth Ann Minner, D-Del, 2001-2009. 

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