The dumpster and me

(Text written on June 7, and for reasons you can imagine published today. This clarification is to connect it chronologically with respect to the news published in the newspaper Granma on June 10 about sanctions for illegal solid waste collectors, that is so-called “divers”.)

Slowly, imperceptibly, the dumpster has become part of my life.

(Before continuing, a clarification.  For the purposes of this post I intend “dumpster” to mean a place where the neighbors in a neighborhood throw their trash, but not the trash itself.*  The primary objective of this is to avoid ambiguity.  I could have used other words, resulting in titles such as: “The deposit and me,” or “The container and me,” which turn away from the central idea which is the garbage.  Obviously I could be more explicit and use the title, “The garbage container and me,” but aside from being obvious and facile, it’s a demonstrated fact that long titles do not attract.  In addition, I thought about the polysemic and intertextual possibilities of said title.  I think it’s better to stop talking so much trash and continue with the commentary.)

It’s said that the dumpster has been increasing its influence, coming to be noticed more and more.  Let me tell you.  I’m woken early by the noise of the coachman-garbageman, who transfers the garbage to his wagon, armed with a large hoe and a shovel.  Although he is rarely accompanied, I listen to him comment on the things that go into the trash, singing tenths, or talking to his horse.  Despite his efforts, there are always some bits of trash spread around.  Others will fall off during the trip, because of cracks in the old wagon and the rhythm of potholes in the road.   During the night the neighborhood dogs fight over some leftovers, disturbing the peace with their furious barking.   On occasion they manage to turn over the containers and spread their contents everywhere, leading to curses and cries from the garbageman the next morning.  The cats, however, like good survivors, do their part without calling attention to themselves.

When the collection is delayed, the dumpster reminds me of the Nile from ancient history class, because it overflows and fertilizes its “river basin,” opportunity that the young boys take advantage of to practice their trash-basketball, and the veterans to remember how to step—in flip flops—through a minefield.  Its lid-less deposit serves as shelter for flies and cockroaches and with its odor it helps us to know when the wind is blowing in our direction.  And, no less than the dumpsters of the great cities, it has its regular divers. And when there’s no garbage, how we miss it! One time it was incinerated by some potential terrorist or a neighborhood arsonist, who knows, and in its place there flourished, free, a dump without borders, open to the sky, that gave the neighborhood the look of town from the old west in a black and white movie, with the trash coming and going on the wind.  What a beauty.  Of course if we could count on the old metal containers none of this would happen, but these plastics, they’re so fragile…

Unlike on the periphery, in the center of the city there are fewer dump sites and the garbage is collected in trucks.  But when these are uncovered, the garbage spills out of them just like out of the wagons.  And when you drive to a dump on the outskirts you increase your speed and so the spills are greater.  A few of these improvised garbage trucks belonging to the communal services company and others are borrowed from different places.  I’ve heard it said that if they fail to stop at the passenger collection points* they punish the company responsible by taking the truck for a few days or weeks and using it to collect garbage. The old trash-compacting truck, previously imported from some former socialist country, has virtually disappeared.  This makes me think that their technology was much more advanced than that of the Lada cars, Ural motorcycles, and UAZ jeeps,* which are still circulating on our streets and highways.

But who said all is lost.  Periodically, and in accordance with some garbage plan or emergency preparedness exercise, a deafening huge front loader (popularly known as scoop) and an even larger tumbling truck, take the garbage, and grass and part of the earth of the dumpster.  Sometimes they also destroy the sidewalks, which were built for the circulation of pedestrians and not for this enormous noisy equipment used in construction.  In addition, they are always accompanied by six fat mustachioed conversationalists, beautifully dressed and equipped with cellular phones and “trunkins,”  who meet under the tree nearest the dumpster, and who travel in Ladas and jeeps.  This whole scene—something surreal, I confess—provokes complaints from the neighbor below who is a retired engineer, who comments painfully on the barbarians and their waste of fuel.

Translator’s notes:

In Spanish, “basura” can mean both garbage and garbage can, and “basurero” can mean dump, dumpster, or garbage collector (along with all the variations using “trash” and so on).  The potential confusion El Guajiro Azul is addressing here does not arise in English because the there is no linguistic similarity between ‘garbage’ and ‘dumpster’.

Passenger collection points:  Private vehicles are required to stop at designated collection points and pick up passengers.  Many trucks can be seen driving along the highways filled with people standing in the back.

Lada, URL and UAZ are all vehicle makes from Soviet Russia.