Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The Garbage Man (Revised Version)
THE GARBAGE MAN
Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)
Like most hard-working Americans, Gerry Spradlin had grown to hate his job with a searing passion. The seeds of contempt were planted the day he started working for the sanitation department.
At age thirty-two, Gerry was nothing more than a glorified citywide janitor. At least this is how he viewed himself.
Five days a week Gerry rode on the back of that filthy truck and forcibly endured all the harsh conditions; the blazing heat or the frigid cold. The smell of garbage would latch onto his clothes, soil his wavy brown hair. He’d go home every night reeking like a landfill and would shower and scrub vigorously to extinguish the stench. Some nights he’d shower two or three times just to erase the stink.
It wasn’t always like this. It’s hard to believe that after his high school graduation, Gerry was actually pre-med. He grew up listening to all the pretty girls gab about how one day they would marry a rich handsome doctor or surgeon. And this was all the motivation Gerry needed.
His interests didn’t lie in helping people. Money and chicks; these were his inspiration. Why else would Gerry take the courses required for med school? He didn’t know much about the human anatomy. Well, not at the time. But he knew there was money involved and he knew the word “doctor” was like kryptonite to a single woman.
His second year of college was where it all went bad. It took Gerry nineteen years of hard work and dedication to reach that point, but it took just one night to flush it all down the toilet.
Gerry attended a frat party during the first semester of his second year at Nassau. Gerry arrived late that evening and after discovering the kegs had all been tapped, he snatched a cold bottle from some frat boys unguarded twelve-pack.
A few of the frat brothers spotted their uninvited guest and interrogated him over the beer. “I walked in with it,” was his response, but they weren’t buying it. When they tried to start a scene and backed Gerry into a corner, he switched personalities.
For years, Gerry struggled with bipolar disorder and could not receive or afford proper treatment. Several shrinks tried to analyze him on different occasions but all with the same results. The shrinks would get too freaked out, spend the night restless, and refuse to treat him as a patient again. So Gerry learned to keep his disorder in check on his own, only releasing his affliction at appropriate times. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times.
The ensuing brawl led to Gerry’s permanent expulsion. The jock who had pinned Gerry against the wall and threatening to crush his throat was sent the hospital with a broken nose and three cracked ribs. The frat brother who attacked Gerry from behind with a pool cue got a bottle smashed over his head for his efforts. And the frat boy who paid for the twelve-pack that started this whole commotion got tossed out a second story window, resulting in two crushed discs in his lower back.
Once he got kicked out of school and served his sentence, this job was the best he could do. It was either collect trash or work the drive-thru at McDonalds. And Gerry was never big on fast food.
His parents had put their faith in him, and when he failed, they decided to invest the rest of their stock in his younger sister.
Jessica Spradlin was a straight A student, missing only three days of high school in her four-year attendance. Twelve years younger than Gerry, she had already surpassed him in every way imaginable and was a few months shy of graduating law school.
Jessica’s only flaw was that she still hadn’t left behind that whole Goth trend she experimented with in high school. She still had a penchant for dark baggy clothing and only used black nail polish that her brother found repulsive.
But so what if Jessica was doing better than him? So what if her future was brighter than Gerry’s? She was young, smart, and she earned every opportunity she had been given. As for Gerry; he put his pride aside, collected his paycheck every week, and made the most of the job.
As he soon discovered, you can learn a disturbing amount from collecting your neighbor’s trash. And this was the only aspect of the job Gerry savored. It was the one thing that kept him hanging on the back of that truck from the sweltering summers to the dead of winter.
For instance, Gerry knew Mr. Bulzomi–the balding accountant who lived next-door to him–was using Viagra to give himself an extra boost in the bedroom. Every month, he’d find at least one discarded prescription bottle in Bulzomi’s pails.
He knew that his old English teacher, Mr. Federico, was behind on his Porsche payments and that his wife owed back taxes to the IRS.
He knew this just as he knew Mr. McCormick–the town doctor–was deep in credit card debt and behind on his mortgage payments. And he understood it was all because of McCormick’s addiction to fetish porn websites, as Gerry ascertained from his credit card statements. Next time use a shredder, Gerry thought every time he sneaked a peek at one of the statements.
Hell, Gerry could’ve told you what the Henderson’s had for dinner on Friday nights. In case you were wondering, the answer is meatloaf.
What’s that saying, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Well, in Gerry’s case, the phrase undoubtedly applied.
He observed that rich people usually have lobster shells or steak bones collected in the bottom of their garbage cans. While poor people tend to have microwave dinner packaging and Mac & Cheese boxes stuffed inside their pails.
Gerry looked at the garbage as an intriguingly uncommon puzzle. Through the trash, he was able to piece together all the little details of his neighbor’s lives. From discarded pill bottles and their labels, he could determine which of his neighbors were miserable like him. He could tell who was anxious or depressed or suicidal. Who was suffering from erectile dysfunction or carrying STDs around the neighborhood.
From bank statements, he could tell who was penniless and who was raking in the dough. But he didn’t even need the bank statements. Just by examining leftover scraps of food, he could tell who was rich and who was broke. If blackmail was Gerry’s game, he could’ve made a fortune.
* * *
April, 24th, 2012.
Birds chirped and tweet their insipid tunes as a mellow breeze flowed through Gerry’s crimped hair. His gloved hand gripped the rear handle of the truck tightly as they hit a slight bump, which gave him and his partner a jolt. Gerry looked over at the man hanging on the other side of the truck. With his thin eye glasses, beer gut, and cleft chin, he bared more than a passing resemblance to Peter Griffin from Family Guy.
“This job blows,” Hal shouted over the noise of the engine and the enthusiastic birds. Gerry couldn’t agree more if he tried.
His fellow trash collector was a man named Hal Kendrick. An ex-con, this job was not Hal’s first choice. But like Gerry, he didn’t have the luxury of being picky.
Hal got popped for robbing a Subway sandwich shop, served two years in prison before they granted him an early parole. As far as the robbery went, he almost pulled it off. Hal got away with the cash, but accidently left his wallet behind when it slipped out of his back pocket. The cops were still there questioning the employees when Hal returned to the scene to claim it.
The brakes squealed as the garbage truck came to its first stop of the day. Gerry and Hal hopped off the back and went to work. Gerry fetched the Johnston’s bins, dumping the bags into the rear waste compactor, and then tossing the bins aside clumsily as most garbage men tend to do.
The truck inched forward and Gerry grabbed McCormick’s pails and dumped his garbage in back. He didn’t bother sifting through to take a gander at his credit card bills. It was nothing he hadn’t read before.
Then he moved on to his own house. Gerry’s neighborhood was always the first stop on Tuesday’s. He found the act of disposing of his own trash to be degrading. It wasn’t bad enough that he had to bag it, take it outside, and drag the pails all the way to the curb. He also had to pick it up and haul it away.
Gerry flipped both of his pails and dumped all the trash into the waste compactor. In this mass of chicken bones, rotten fruit, Styrofoam cups, disposable utensils, and other half-eaten food, he gazed upon a sight that would’ve made anyone else recoil in horror.
It was a severed human foot, sealed in plastic and wrapped with duct tape.
He could clearly make out the black nail polish through the lucid plastic.
Gerry paused for a moment and stared vacantly. His look was not an expression of guilt or sorrow. His face was a chilling mask of indifference.
He glanced quickly over his shoulder to make sure Hal was busy. And he was busy, as he was in the midst of a heated argument with a woman whose pails he had carelessly thrown aside. The driver of the truck even stepped out to try and defuse the situation.
He wandered casually to the left side of the truck and pulled down hard on the lever that operates the hydraulically powered mechanism used to compress the garbage. The gears whined and screeched as the metal plate descended and the walls of the front end began to shift. The plate and the walls collided with a heavy metallic thud, compacting all of the waste and squashing it down to virtually nothing. He did it without batting an eye.
He didn’t even blink. Not once did he blink.