I headed out to the fabric store the other day to pick up some candy boxes my sister had recommended. The curb in front of every house was filled with piles of post-Thanksgiving and Black Friday stuff; stuff no longer needed; stuff to be discarded in the landfill: flat screen TVs; a sofa; a stuffed Shrek sitting in the lap of a giant stuffed bear.
* * *
I picked out my candy boxes and headed to the registers quickly: Everyone was still in Black Friday mode. Everyone was getting their stuff for Christmas.
“How are you?” the cashier asked.
“Grumpy. I’m shopping.”
He laughed. “You’re not usually grumpy.” Then he looked around and leaned in. “If anyone should be grumpy, it should be me.”
“Were you open on Thanksgiving?”
“No. Opened at six Friday morning and that was bad enough.” He shook his head and ran my candy boxes over the scanner. “I’ve lived all over the world. Lived in Asia. Lived in Europe. And I understand why everyone hates us.” He put my boxes in a bag. “We’re never satisfied. Americans never have enough.”
* * *
The kids packed twenty-five boxes of candy, watching warily as the stash of candy grew smaller and smaller. “Isn’t there going to be any left for us?” Instead of ten candies per box, they reduced it to eight and put a festive sticker on the cellophane front of the bag to hide the fact that the recipient was being gypped.
“Do a box for the garbage men,” I said. Now, I understand that the term garbage man is not politically correct, but sanitation worker doesn’t seem right either. It’s like calling myself a domestic engineer instead of a housewife. You can pretty up the term as much as you want, but in the end, the meaning is the same. Besides, I was talking with my kids. I don’t need to be politically correct with them.
Who’s going to take the box out to them?” somebody challenged.
* * *
I was hoping the next day that Squints wouldn’t hear the roar of the truck. But of course he did: He leapt from his chair. “They’re here, Mom! Let’s go!”
My bravado faded. “You take it.”
“I’m not taking it. Come on, Mom!” He tugged on my arm.
“Oh, look. They’ve gone. Let’s get them next time.” In our development trash gets picked up twice a week. There would be another opportunity soon.
Squints frowned. “You’re just scared.”
“No I’m not.” But I was. I didn’t know these guys. Was it, as my daughters informed me, weird to take a box of candy to the garbage men? Men who, for the past seven years, have picked up my trash without my bothering to thank them?
“Mom, here comes the recycling truck!” Squints slipped on a pair of shoes. “Let’s get them instead.”
I sighed heavily and grabbed a box of candy and headed out the door. A man emerged from the truck. I put up my finger in a “just a minute” gesture and immediately regretted it. Who was I, to tell someone to wait? He waved and picked up my bin of newspapers and tossed it in the truck. But I’d timed it all wrong: The bin of plastics and metals was still there. Should I wait while he finished the job while I stood there watching? Or should I just give him the candy and let him get on with his day?
“We made you some candy,” I said. And the words felt thick and dull upon my tongue. I kind of shoved it at him.
He took it in his gloved hand. “Thanks.”
And then I turned away and he picked up the plastics and tossed them in the truck before driving away.
Labels: Community, Consumption, Environmentalism