Garbage and Our Awful Fate (A Meditation on Contracts and Disputes Arising Thereunder)


I take the garbage and recycling out.

Imagine that a young man, strong and physically able - able enough to dunk a basketball, recently graduated from college and living, for a short season, at home with his parents, makes that statement. Imagine that this family lives in a place with regularly provided waste management services, let’s say garbage pick-up every Friday morning and recycling pick-up every other Friday morning.

He’s going to take care of the garbage and recycling.

Imagine that a man, a father, says that to his wife about that young man in the context of recounting a discussion of common space expectations, those communal rights and responsibilities that will lead to them all living together in harmony, he’s had with this son.

The mutual understanding of these two (or shall we say three, because the woman most assuredly has a different perspective from the father and the son) on this subject can fairly be presented as an item on a household to-do list:

  • garbage & recycling
The inquiry into what exactly checking the box on this task entails began on a rainy Sunday morning just after the father made breakfast and the family had all happily eaten together. The son was doing the dishes, the coffee grounds and eggshells had been sifted out of the trash for the new compost bin (Do you even compost eggshells or is it better to just tiptoe over them?), and the woman had returned from taking the kitchen trash bag outside to a waste bin that wasn’t there. There’s a reason Shel Silverstein wrote about Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.
Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out!
She'd scour the pots and scrape the pans,
Candy the yams and spice the hams,
And though her daddy would scream and shout,
She simply would not take the garbage out.
. . .
And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said,
"OK, I'll take the garbage out!"
But then, of course, it was too late . . .
Lest we meet the fate of Ms. Stout, it’s worth understanding what it means to take the garbage out. When parties agree that a particular individual, in this case, the grown son, will “do the garbage and recycling,” what bargain do they think they’re striking?

The son: If they tell me when the cans have to go out, where they have to go, and how to get them out there, most of the time I do it. I sometimes do it without them asking, but I’ve got a lot going on. One time I emptied the kitchen garbage from the house. I need to have the right tools and I ordered a can crusher for them. I don’t know how they managed before I helped them out.

The father: He’ll put the trash can and recycling bin out for pick up most weeks if I remember to ask him the night before, tell him whether it’s a recycling week, and maybe remind him once more before I go to bed. Sometimes he’ll do it even if I forget to remind him, and usually he’ll empty the main garbage can and recycling bin into the pick-up containers before taking them out.

The woman:

  • Every Thursday, empty every small trash can in the house into the kitchen garbage bag (make sure the bag doesn’t have any holes in it and isn’t leaking, it’s probably best to just carry the kitchen garbage can from room to room with you as you empty the smaller bins, but it depends on how full it is and what sort of waste is collected in it.
  • When you empty the small cans, sometimes you can just scoop out the trash if there’s not very much of it and it’s light waste (you’re going to have to scrub your hands when you’re done anyway), but sometimes you get an unhappy surprise, so you may want to change the bag liner. And even if it seems like the bag liner doesn’t need to come out, it’s good to change it every once in a while just to keep it fresh and tidy. Be sure to get a replacement bag ready and tuck at least one in the bin for the next time.
  • Move the small bins in the bathrooms and pick up hair, toilet paper, cotton swabs, cotton balls, clothing tags, empty toilet paper rolls, and other items that have missed the trash can and landed on the floor.
  • Check the toilet paper holders and replace with a new roll if empty; check the back-up supply, too and make sure there’s a spare roll on hand.
  • Scan the kids rooms for trash on the floor and garbage or recycling that’s accumulated; check for dishes, too, and put those in the dishwasher.
  • Check the laundry room for used dryer sheets on the floor and dryer lint floating around; pick it up and add it to the trash.
  • Empty the cat litter into the bag.
  • Replace the kitchen trash bag and put that bin back under the kitchen sink.
  • Check the garage garbage bins - by the backdoor and by the workbench. They don’t need to be emptied every week but if they smell or are getting full, empty them and replace the bags. Put the bags back in the way they came out using the plastic ring that holds it in place. Don’t throw the plastic ring away or set it on the ground and leave it there.
  • Anytime you throw something away, even if it’s not a Thursday, and you notice - if you look, you will notice, that what you threw away falls back out because the garbage can is full, go ahead and take the bag out to the main bin and replace the liner bag you just removed with a clean, new one.
  • Collect all the cans, bottles, and empty jars that have accumulated on the kitchen counter, are left on the kitchen table, are sitting on the coffee table in the family room, whether they are yours (or whether you remember if they are yours) or not, out to the recycling bin. If it’s sunny out or if you’re feeling ambitious, take them all the way out to the big recycling container, not just the intermediate bin conveniently located in the garage. Ideally, drain any remaining liquid from these items first, preferably into the kitchen sink, rinsing out the kitchen sink, including leftover crumbs and food particles and turn on, with water running, the disposal for at least thirty seconds. Wipe down the countertops. If the sponge stinks or the towels are soaking wet, move them to the laundry and put out clean ones.
  • Empty the garage recycling bin into the outside container; throw away the garbage that’s in there, sort out the glass from the plastic and take all the plastic and metal out of the glass container. Do this even if it’s not a recycling pick-up week. Do this when you notice that what you tossed in the recycling bin bounces back out and onto the floor because the pile won’t hold any more. Do this even if rearranging the pile would allow you to position the item you tossed there in such a manner that it stays in balance and doesn’t fall out on the floor.
  • On Friday afternoons, bring back the main trash cans and, when applicable, recycling bin from the pick-up location and return them, empty, to their spot along the back of the house.
  • On and so on, day after day, week after week, world without end, Amen, Amen.
Women are inscrutable. Even so, we have, on fairly good authority, confidence that the explication of the woman’s concept of doing the household job of garbage and recycling is accurate. The attempts to elucidate the two male perspectives, that of the father and the son, are made with less certainty and insight.

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