Sunday, March 9, 2014

Garbage In/Garbage Out

His name may have been Bill or William or maybe neither, but he was Mr. Shirk and at least once a week he’d park his red Ford panel truck in front of the house, hit a bell with a metal object, get out of the truck, open the rear doors, and set up shop…a traveling butcher shop.  The dogs recognized the truck and were impossible to contain once they saw it.  Usually his first order of business was to hack off some bones, which cleverly got rid of the dogs, so they wouldn’t sniff around during his visit.

This is barely the era of air conditioning.  It would be a few years before air conditioning appeared in cars.  Refrigerated trucks?  Unheard of.  And more to the point, why?  Winter wasn’t a problem.  And somehow we didn’t catch horrible sicknesses from the mobile butcher shop’s meat in the summer.  He was our source for fresh ham, chicken, beef, Lebanon bologna, and other meaty delights.  He’d whip out a white cloth and swat the butcher’s block with it, pulled out the meat and the appropriate cutting device, and hack off however much carcass you wanted.  I loved it when Mother ordered hamburger.  Yes, I loved hamburgers, but I also loved to watch Mr. Shirk dive his (bare) hand into the hamburger container, squeeze his hand around some meat, and plop it on the hanging scale.  It looked so wonderfully squishy.

So, yes.  Mr. Shirk would drive to the house, hit the bell, get out, open the door, whack off some bone, wipe his hands on the white cloth that he used to clear crumbs off the block, touch and squeeze and cut the meat, plop it on the scales (which he also cleaned with the white towel), and wrap the meat in butcher paper, all with his bare hands, cleaned by his all-purpose towel.  He stopped at the house toward noon, so the temperature would be in the 70s in the summer.  However warm it was, the smell when he opened those doors is a fragrance I think of fondly and probably won’t ever inhale again.

If Mr. Shirk’s traveling butcher shop’s cleanliness might be considered iffy by today’s standards, Gap’s garbage collection would leave everyone aghast.  This pre-dates plastic trash bags and closed-in refuse trucks by a few decades.  The trash went from the garbage can to the dump (landfill? you jest, right?) via a truck with an open, hydraulic bed, what we commonly called “a dump truck.”  That is to say, open.  Utterly open.  Not even a tarp.  That was so the guy could toss the contents of the garbage cans over the side and into the rest of the haul.

Unlike Mr. Shirk, who would announce his arrival with a couple of clangs, the trash guys said goodbye by leaving the most ungodly smell.  Especially if some garbage juice spilled out of the back when the truck took off.  Especially in the summer.  Odiferous could well be the name of the Greek god of garbage.  His white robe would be spattered with indescribable stains and his body odor would be ferocious.  On the other hand, he’d be kind of swarthy with a farmer’s build and a stubble beard.  One should not use the term “Greek god” lightly.

Driving behind the garbage truck had its protocol…even say, perils.  Except for the very coldest days, it was not unlikely that garbage juice would leak from under the tailgate.  You learned very early on to keep your distance and get around the truck as soon as possible.  Being splashed by the toxic brew was a given if the truck started in an uphill position or pulled out from a stop sign.  The combination of pulling out from a stop sign that was on a grade made men dizzy, women weep inconsolably, and children of all ages barf their brains out. 

Naturally, driving behind the track was a zillion times worse in the summer.  Since this was pre-air conditioning, one drove around with windows down.  Rolling up the windows when the garbage truck came into view was futile.  The stench came in through the air vents, so the windows might as well stay down.  And Odiferous forbid garbage juice spilled onto the car.  The odor wafted in and out of the car until Thanksgiving.

The big clue the garbage truck was around, pre-scent, was a fairly pronounced trickle of dark gunk on the right side of the right lane.  Horse pee was down the center of the right lane.  Right side, garbage.  Forewarned is time to grab a clothespin. 

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