July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I can never figure out what the garbage men will and won’t take, and I’m pretty sure they keep changing the rules.

Wait. Can I even say “garbage man”? A lot of people find it offensive. I mentioned garbage men in an article once, and a few of my readers went crazy. Is it because women can do the job too? Because we changed the term years ago, and I still haven’t seen a garbage woman. Most women I know won’t even take the garbage out of the house. Nor do they push it down with their feet.

“Garbage man!” they say. When it’s convenient.

So maybe it’s the men who find the term offensive.

Or maybe the problem isn’t gender. Some people think that the term “garbage man” is saying something derogatory about the guy who does it. Like he’s garbage. But to be honest, the term “garbage man” isn’t saying that the guy is garbage any more than “fireman” is saying that the guy is fire. There are a lot of terms like that. A milkman isn’t milk, a mailman isn’t mail (he could be femail), a corpsman isn’t dead, a gentleman can be Jewish, an assemblyman is usually in one piece, most Ottomans are not named “Otto,” a henchman doesn’t hench, a Roman doesn’t Ro, a shaman isn’t quiet and a talisman doesn’t wear a tzitzis.

I call them “garbage men,” but I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. Without them, our lives would be disgusting. Also, they have to wake up really early in the morning and hang off the back of a truck, which isn’t as cool as it sounds because:

  1. They have to stop every 10 feet, and
  2. Sometimes it’s raining, and
  3. What it really means is that there aren’t enough seats.

They’re lifting things all day, and people absolutely do not care about sealing their bags. We have to respect them, and also trust that they aren’t gluing our old credit cards together. Without them, we’d have to drive our garbage to the dump ourselves, and we’d keep pushing it off until our pile is insanely huge, and we’d have to put it all in our minivans and push it in with our feet, and there’d always be traffic to get to the dump, and we’d be sitting in stinky cars, and stuff would spill every time we made a short stop.

And anyway, I actually have a son who recently told me that he wants to be a garbage man when he grows up. So apparently, he’s not offended by the term. Though he also told me be wants to be a paperboy. (Can I say “paperboy”?) So I told him that he doesn’t have to choose—he could actually do both. The hours are about the same. He can drive the truck slowly around the neighborhood and toss papers out of it. Or he could throw the papers directly in the garbage, and cut out the middleman.

And anyway, what should we call these people? Some say we should call them “sanitation engineers.” Engineers? I’m related to some people who went to school for years to be engineers, and I’m pretty sure they would be offended. How much extra schooling do you need to be a sanitation engineer? Definitely not more than four years.

So a lot of people say “trash collector.” But I think that’s worse. It sounds like he has a weird obsession. It feels like a guy who comes over to you at parties and says, “You wanna see my trash collection?” And he has pictures on his phone.

But my point is I have no idea at any given time what they’ll take. For example, I can’t always figure out, on any given week, how to get them to take or not take our old garbage cans. We had a garbage can that we bought the first week we moved into our house, and the very first time we put it out at the curb, the wheels disappeared.

So we bought a new can, and we put out the old can to be collected, but they didn’t collect it. (Maybe we should have put the can in a garbage bag.) We eventually became a family that needed as many garbage cans as we could get, so we went back to using it, even though it couldn’t actually stand up. We just stood it against the telephone pole next to our driveway. Then the garbage men would empty it and leave it in front of our house without taking the time to lean it back against the pole. So I can’t tell you how many times we’re driven over this can. Yet they didn’t take it for almost 11 years, until finally one day they changed the rules and took it while I was stuck in bed with a herniated disc. So one of my neighbors ran out and got us a tiny can that holds about as much as a kitchen garbage. So now we’re waiting for that one to die. The bad news is that it’s really good quality, so that’s never going to happen.

But my point is that there are things the garbage men take, and there are things they don’t, and there are things they only take sometimes, and I don’t have time to sit outside all day and figure out why they’re taking whatever they’re taking. I don’t know the rules. I just leave it at the curb, and let the garbage men decide. I assume they know the rules, with their six-year engineering degree.

By Mordechai Schmutter

 Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].



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