Whoever pushed the garbage can to the curb a few weeks ago Monday night must not have been paying attention. The garbage can was placed too far away from the curb and was turned the opposite direction.
When the garbage truck arrived Tuesday morning, the driver quickly assessed the situation and sped past.
He never stopped.
He never stopped to pick up the garbage.
The garbage can spent all week on the curb, filled to the brim -- facing the wrong direction.
Lord, have mercy.
I don’t usually give a hoot about this sort of thing because it’s not my garbage or my home, but it caused considerable anxiety for my 14-year-old son who has autism.
Isaac, who has been obsessed with the garbage routine for years, nearly crawled out of his skin when he saw the neighbors’ train wreck.
If he could verbalize his thoughts, I know he’d say, “The garbage can faced the wrong way! The garbage truck didn’t stop! The neighbors didn’t follow the rules! What’s going on around here? I need to control this situation! Now!”
The garbage routine is the predictable ebb and flow of every Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
Isaac’s unwritten rules are simple:
1. Put the garbage can on the curb Monday night in the correct direction, close enough to the curb so it can be dumped.
2. Watch the garbage truck’s mechanical arm lift the garbage can and dump its contents. Watch the arm set the container in the yard.
3. Push the empty garbage can away from the curb and back to the garage or house Tuesday. Do it as soon as you get home.
Isaac’s the self-appointed expert on waste management quality assurance. He’s the one-man neighborhood watch for garbage containers.
It’s rare anyone violates these rules, but now that the neighbors across the street have had trouble with standard operating procedure, it creates doubt in Isaac’s mind.
Since the train wreck incident, he’s had garbage on his brain more often than usual.
He’s carried overflowing garbage from across the street and put it in our garbage container (gee, thanks) so the local family of crows won’t puncture the bag and spread trash all over the neighborhood.
He’s moved the neighbors’ container to their garage – while they have been home – because it bothered him so much. “Sure, he can do that, no problem,” the guy next door said.
He’s stood outside by the light of the moon, moving a few containers closer to the curb.
He’s walked across the street and moved their empty container from the curb closer to their house.
He’s walked across the street and more than once moved their container so it faces the right direction. (Why can’t they get this right?) Isaac can’t bear the thought of the garbage truck not stopping again – or the garbage can setting near the curb all week long.
Isaac asks Chris or me before doing these things. It’s amazing how much calmer he is immediately after the garbage is in order.
All is right with the world again.
Tuesday morning Isaac came inside the front door, looked at me with concerned eyes, and said, “Help please.”
I had seen the damage but knew I couldn’t help this time.
“Let me call someone on the phone, okay?” I said, as he waited by the front door for his school bus that would arrive in the next fifteen minutes. “I’ll call someone who can help us.”
“Yes,” he said softly. His answer was a combination of anxiety, sadness, obsession, and fear.
Woman: Hello, Public Works.
Me: (calmly) Hi, our garbage was just picked up this morning. The garbage truck dropped our empty garbage container on its side and now one of the wheels is broken.
Woman: Your address? I’ll try to have someone come over today. If not, it will be next Tuesday.
Me: (Silence. I begin deep breathing . . . WHAT? Next Tuesday? You can’t be serious!? I almost called 911 because this IS an emergency. The garbage container wheel is broken! This is a life changer!) We really need to have that wheel fixed today. I can’t even wheel it back to the garage. (Public Works woman, don’t you know that’s a violation of rule number 3?)
Woman: We’ll try to take care of it today.
Me: Thank you.
“It will be fixed today,” I said reassuringly to Isaac. It sounded good to me. I prayed it were true.
“Fix it,” he said, in agreement.
He looked relieved but skeptical. A few minutes later his bus arrived and he waved goodbye to me and the garbage can that remained near the curb.
I took Henry to school, came home, and got into the shower. I was thinking about our lack of control over situations – there’s so much we can’t control. We learn not to worry about things we can’t change. It’s a difficult concept to understand and to put in practice, more so when a disability like autism is involved.
When I stepped out of the bathroom, I heard someone pounding. At first I thought it was someone at our front door. I peered through the blinds in Isaac’s room and saw a woman in our driveway wearing a bright yellow vest, hammering a brand new wheel onto our garbage container. Her white truck with the city symbol was parked in the street and four or five garbage cans were in the back of the truck, waiting for repair or new owners, I guessed.
She looked like an angel disguised as a city employee in uniform.
She test drove the new wheel.
I wanted to run outside and thank her for coming over so quickly during this wheel emergency, but I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. My hair was dripping wet, and I was wrapped in a sage green towel. She probably didn’t know how important her work was to Isaac and me.
Later that morning I pushed the garbage can back to our garage. Just trying to follow the rules, I thought to myself.
When Isaac got home from school, he noticed the garbage can near the garage. I told him it was fixed. He wheeled the empty container to the curb – where it was when he left for school – then he moved it back to the garage. He wanted to see for himself that the wheel had been repaired, I think. He wanted to do the job he couldn’t do this morning.
He was happy and relieved.
All was right with the world again.
Everything will be right with the world until Monday night when Isaac surveys the garbage scene.
Let’s hope everyone follows the rules.