Or, How to Make Friends with Garbage Men
So, as usual, this Thursday morning I’m sitting at the breakfast bar in my kitchen, typing away (see the banner pic above for a visual if you like). And, likewise as usual on Thursdays, I hear the telltale sounds of a garbage truck. And, of course, the bloody trash and recycling cans are still lined up along my back fence.
So, knowing all is not lost, I head out to move the recycling cans to the road. That truck always comes later and, again as usual, the garbage truck driving by had served as my calendar alert. (Note to my dumb self: ADD a calendar alert to take out trash and recycling).
Sure enough, I spy the back end of the garbage truck as I descend the back deck steps, the two men busy loading trash from my neighbor’s house further up the road. I dutifully grab hold of the two wheeled, 50-gallon recycling cans and drag them to the road. One is bright yellow, an official “gift” from the county, the other the standard dark green with a faded recycling symbol stenciled on the sides and top. I pause a moment, rearranging the boxes and bags in this home-made can, concerned that the recycling folks will yet again mistake it for trash. (Second note to self: repaint the bloody recycling symbol).
As I’m standing there, I hear the garbage truck’s klaxon come on, and look up to see it backing down the road toward me. As in, coming BACK to get my trash. Unprecedented, right? At first I waive them off, saying the cans are recycling, fodder for a later truck. But then, I say, “Wait, I do have trash,” and run to get that can and roll it to them.
“Wait a minute,” you’re saying. “You mean to tell me that these guys went out of their way to get your trash? To come BACK for it??”
And all because of the 100 or so bags I’d left them to pick up back in March.
Oh, did I mention the beer?
So, full story: I had been getting the house prepped for the market all winter and early spring, and leaving increasingly large amounts of trash by the road. And then it came time to replace the basement carpet. I could have paid Home Depot to remove the old stuff, but at $.50 a square foot – meaning about $500 for the whole basement – I figured I’d have some fun with a razor knife.
My only concern was the sheer volume of trash I’d be producing, upwards of 30 bags heavy with carpet and padding. And I couldn’t stagger the pick-ups, meting out the bags over several weeks to even the load. No, the house was going on the market and the garage needed to be empty.
Enter the beer.
My home-improvement-wise stepfather suggested an excellent course of action: bribe the garbage men.
So, late one Wednesday in early April, I dragged about 20 bags to the road. It had just rained and was chilly, projected to reach the low 40s at night. Perfect. So, atop a few bags but hidden beneath another layer, I left a case of Yuengling Lager. I chose cans to avoid the possibility of breakage, even though every fiber of my being recoils at the thought of canned beer, and hoped the men would be pleased.
As far as I knew, they were. In the morning, the bags were gone. All of them. And so was the beer. And so were the bags and bags and bags I left for them the following month, as my preparations wore on.
But until this morning I had nothing but circumstantial confirmation of how effective my ploy had been.
As he walks up to retrieve my trashcan from me, the tall, somewhat disheveled and unshaven young man smiles and says, “Hey, thanks for the beer you left that time.” Behind him, his older and heavier black companion smiles a knowing smile.
“No problem,” I say. “Figured I was asking a lot.”
With another smile, they empty my trash and climb back aboard the truck as it drives off.
Mission accomplished. And all for about $18.
Sam Baker, former maven of the fashion publishing industry, weighs in about leaving the rat race and making her own way. The similarities to Jerrod Beams’ fears are interesting, so I thought I’d share.
Any author worth his salt writes with a genre in mind. I’ll make no claims about my saltiness either way, but The Point of Escape was written with a couple genres in mind, one of which I’ll discuss today: suburban fiction.
Conversely, the Goodreads shelf for the genre that pops up as the third link in our Google search includes a majority of young adult lit. OK, teen girls’ lit. Judy Bloom and the like. Angst, adultery and ennui writ young. Not exactly what I’m going for here.
“So,” you ask, “just what are you about?”
Glad you asked. There are actually several flavors of suburban lit, all of which – unsurprisingly – draw thematic elements from those ubiquitous sprawling subdivisions and side streets. As you can tell from the brief descriptions above, this can be a fairly dark mode of writing, inevitably contrasting with the cheery stereotype of white picket fences and 2.5 kids. The darkness can become pervasive, as in subgenres like suburban gothic – which introduces elements of the supernatural and science fiction – or suburban noir – which slides into psychosis and horror.
My current project (yes, I’m writing The Next One even as I steer This One toward launch day) edges into these subgenres. It’s a three-part series that takes a rather dark look at what the world of cookie-cutter houses and conspicuous consumption can do to your soul. I hope to have the first installment in beta form by the fall, and to market before Christmas. Weary food for cheery souls. Ho. Ho. Ho.
Not so much The Point of Escape. I wrote it with beach reading in mind, and so – though not uncritical of suburban life – its themes are far more uplifting, its trajectory more hopeful. Jerrod Beams experiences all the aimless ennui of any suburban fiction hero. But although the ‘burbs in some ways embody the Faustian bargain he has struck with the Federal Mephistopheles – they and the life they promise are the false fruits of his soul-crushing labor – Jerrod is largely happy with what he has provided for his family. Just not how he has provided it. That’s what he hopes to change.
The great source of that hope – the ability to take stock and the courage to change – was inspired by a non-fiction work, and places the novel itself into a new genre, something I call entrepreneurial fiction. Defining this new genre will be the focus of my next post.