They call me the “Dump Ground Lady” but not to my face. Actually, I’m the second one. My job is to stay at the roll-off site all day and record what people dump. It’s not even a dump ground because in this day and age we’ve finally realized that you can’t just throw stuff away in a huge toxic heap that catches on fire. It has to be processed, recycled as much as possible, and then buried in a huge pit without burning. So now we have “roll-off sites” where there’s a ramp so people can drive up level with the tops of huge containers that fit on the back of a semi-truck. The truck drives them off to the landfill, which is not really where you can see it, even though a lot of trees have been planted there to make it nice. It’s miles from town and serves the whole county.
On a good day the roll-off site is pretty nice except for the smell. It’s not that the garbage smells, but the town sewage lagoon is not far away. And a rancher on the edge of town runs a little feedlot operation where he fattens steers. They eat in a pen and then when green-up comes they roam in a field until they’re ready for slaughter. In summer that field grows alfalfa, which does pretty well because of the steer manure. Seagulls and canada geese love picking around in that field and even in the pen.
The hauling containers have a big fence built around and over them, like the backstop on a baseball field. When the wind blows hard, the wire sings an eerie chord that has no words. We’re a three-container roll-off — used to be only two at first. I can never figure out why there the trash keeps increasing when the town is always shrinking. Part of my job is to manage the big wire covers attached to them and the gates that bar access so that people will fill one container before using the next. I pick up what they spill and get them to put their cans in a barrel and their cardboard in a big wire cage the high school shop class made. We need some way to collect grass clippings, which we have a lot of in summer because this is a lawn-proud town like most droughty little places with a lot of Scandinavians. The tricky part about saving grass clippings is that some people like them for compost. Others, of course, worry about what toxic weed-killers their neighbors have been using.
I don’t have to stay in the open all day, thank goodness. I have a little shed with an electric heater and a table, even a window so I can watch for arrivals and get my gloves on soon enough to be out there to meet them. Last year they even provided me with a biffy, but it’s not heated so no lingering. I have a radio but the real advantage of this job is that I can write. Actually, I get quite a bit done in the quiet times.
At home writing is a little problematic because I live with my mother, who’s a little bit demented and wants to see everything I write, and my sister, who thinks I never do my share of the housework. Isn’t it enough that I bring in a paycheck? It’s not a big one. Before they turned to hiring women the commissioners tended to hire alcoholic old men too frail to herd sheep, but the fatal flow with that type, of course, is that they drink. Out here it’s easy to sneak a bottle.
The woman before me started a lot of fights. She was a college-educated divorcee from back east and thought she was actually supposed to enforce the rules. Another dummy with a degree. In every situation there are two sets of rules: the one that’s official and written down somewhere and the other one that people expect and enforce with their behavior. She only lasted a few months before she took off. One of the guys brought out a big load of stuff from a house he was gutting and she tried to charge him $5 for dumping the water heater. That’s the rule, but this guy was the mayor’s cousin.
Sometimes there’s a lot of traffic and some days hardly anyone shows up. There’s a kind of pattern to the days, depending on what people are doing and what the weather is like. In spring women come out in cars, getting rid of their spring cleaning debris. On weekends it’s the men bringing brush they’ve cut. The Hutterite colony has a big truck they store garbage in, all sacked up, and they keep a sort of schedule, three old guys and one young one crammed into the cab. The young one is to actually do the work while the old guys tell him stuff. I don’t know what, because they speak German.
This town is next to a lake where they stock fish, but there’s a fish-cleaning station the Wall-Eye Club provided, so we don’t get that stuff, thank goodness. On days the meat processor in town has been butchering, the containers look like the scene of a crime. The seagulls hang around hoping to grab fat scraps. Nowadays all the fat gets trimmed off carcasses. I keep thinking maybe it ought to be rendered and recycled, but there’s not enough of it from one small operation. It’s not efficient in that way. But it’s good to buy local meat from a guy you know.
I’m writing a story about the guys who come out here more for something to do than because they have much to dump. Some of them are on disability; most are retired. There’s not much going on now that the bars have mostly closed. Their doctors don’t want them to drink, but the bars had pool tables. They like to pretend they pick up women, but I don’t know who those women would be. Dina was the barkeep — picking her up would be ridiculous and anyway they were already around her all day.
The secret to these guys is that they don’t want girl friends or even wives. I always wonder where their wives went — some got cancer and some just left, I think — but there isn’t a lot of girl friend material around here once you get past high school age. This is no town for a lady. It’s mannerly enough, but no education, no money, no scope for improvement. As my dad used to say, “them as have get up and go, got up and went.” What these guys really want is a mother: someone to cook and wash and clean. Only the ex-military seem able to keep house by themselves.
We have our little dramas. Once I watched two brothers meet on the spur road out here. They stopped with their windows even and probably talked for a half hour. Their wives hate each other and they never got a chance to see each other any other way. Everyone had to drive out into the alfalfa field to get around them, but we all understood and we didn’t mind. Once there was a fistfight, which was a problem because the commissioners won’t put in a phone line and that’s before I sold a story for enough to buy a cell phone. Once there was shooting, but it was only the town maintenance guy picking off the muskrat that kept digging holes in the dike around the lagoon.
What I wait for is the rich rancher’s wife who brings out her little weekly bag of trash in her big old white Caddie. She’s old but very elegant and drives about five miles an hour. Her three little poodles bounce around in the car like yapping popcorn while she gracefully gets out, takes that bag out of her trunk, tosses it, and waves before she leaves. She always comes on Saturday. When her door is open, I can hear over the yammer of the dogs that she, same as me, is listening to the opera. Not too far away a meadowlark sings its aria.