Friday, March 5, 1999
Dances with Dumpsters
"Bye dear, I'm going to the dump. Do you need anything?" Nine brightly colored dump stickers adorn the front bumper of my pickup truck like medals on a general's chest. Meanwhile at the dump, Walter Flannery lights up his breakfast cigar. Ralph Sanford dusts off his bowler hat. The social event of the week is about to begin as Carlisle "dances with dumpsters."
Any Carlisle resident can tell you that we no longer have a dump. We have a transfer station - and a fine transfer station it is. Dumpster after dumpster awaits with beckoning maw to devour each lovingly separated tidbit. By the time you've recycled your magazines, newspapers, clothes, tires, batteries, oil, tin cans, aluminum, plastic, glass, milk jugs, cardboard, and heavy metal, there is precious little left to dump. Even the trash that survives the final cut can turn out to be a treasure for the swap shed.
It was not always so. When we first moved to town in 1968, there was a good old-fashioned dump. Magazines, newspapers, metal, glass, etc. were all included under one categorytrash. And it all went to the same location over the bank. "Toss it as far as you can," was the rallying cry as you struggled to the edge of the cliff with your trash barrel. The only items prohibited were auto bodies and dead animals.
When I was a kid back on the farm, we burned all our trash in a 55-gallon drum. After the drum finally filled up with ashes and tin cans, we trucked the entire barrel to the dump like a disposable septic tank. There were trash collectors, but that would have denied all the kids in town a chance to play with fire - an important rite of passage. No one seemed to mind that our neighborhood smelled like a smoldering dump. To us kids, it smelled like country perfume.
As the Carlisle dump inched closer to Lowell Street, the selectmen established rules and regulations to slow the avalanche. They posted specific dumping hours, a detail that escaped some of the local citizens including myself. Several of us gathered at the locked gate one fateful night, trash in hand. Mob psychology took over and we decided to mock the law by dumping our trash over the fence. I can still hear the defiant laughter as we jumped in our cars and raced away.
Later that evening, there was a knock at the door. A very somber-looking Roger Davis, then a town policeman, stood under our front light holding a crumpled envelope with my name on it. The evidence was irrefutable and I awaited my punishment. "We're going back to the dump," commanded Roger. My daughter's cry of, "Is daddy going to jail?" rang in my ears as I sheepishly returned to the scene of the crime. Roger held the light while I tossed our rubbish over the bank "as far as I could". I was tempted to rat on the other scofflaws, but reconsidered. I certainly didn't want to aggravate Roger any more than I already hadand we did end up dumping our trash.
Despite wishful thinking, the dump eventually filled up. This initiated one of the most exciting chapters in the town's history known as "whose neighborhood shall we pick for the next dump?" As each prospective location was proposed, local residents would rise up in protest. This continued for a year or two until everyone in town had risen. Confusion reigned until that fateful day when the Carlisle Solid Waste Disposal Study Committee suggested "Let's truck it out of town." The modern transfer station was born.
What followed were the glory days in Carlisle's trashy history. The transfer station became the social center of town, attracting politicians, petitioners, fundraisers, ticket rafflers, and an occasional wayward dog serving time in the pen. This story might have ended there, with our trash disappearing down the road to some more appropriate location. But then came the crowning achievement in our rubbish repertoire - building the swap shed. "Do you need anything at the dump?" now became a rational question each Saturday morning. Only the IRS has been more effective at redistributing wealth.
Our home heating system is powered by a swap shed electric motor. Our lawn is cut with a swap shed lawn mower. We read swap shed books. Our wine is stored in swap shed wine racks of all shapes and sizes. A swap shed picture hangs in our hallway. I drink my morning coffee out of a swap shed mug. To be fair, it works both ways. I imagine someone is cooking dinner right now in our yellow electric fry pan while watching our old Zenith color TV.
It was sad, but not totally unexpected, that someone would eventually take advantage of the situation. Sure enough, I arrived at the swap shop one day to find a bag full of old National Geographic magazines on the shelf. There was another bagful on the floor. Yellow geographical towers everywhere. Periodical packrats were trying to ease their guilt by unloading lifetime subscriptions on the innocent swap shedders.
I carried our own bag of National Geographics back to the truck, too embarrassed to leave them with the others. They'll be put away in the attic until the next millennium when the town's supply has dwindled and memories dim. Then, some dark and stormy night, I plan to return to the dump and laugh defiantly as I toss my copies over the fence and race away. I just hope that Roger Davis isn't watching.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito