Trash truck becomes driving force behind basement cleaning


April 01, 1995|By ROB KASPER

Cleaning your basement is a painful process. It forces you to be brutally honest about your hopes, your dreams, your old lighting fixtures.

I discovered this recently as I stood in my basement and looked at a bathroom lighting fixture, one that my wife never liked. For 10 years I had been promising myself that someday I was going to do something clever with this exiled light.

But last Sunday, in the dust of the afternoon, I faced the fixture and knew the time had come to say goodbye.

If the light had resided in the cellar of a talented electrician, it might, I told myself, still have a chance at leading a productive life. But fate -- and a more stylish fixture -- had placed it in my basement. And so I had to give up the dream, to forget about transforming it into a workbench light, to put the cussed thing out in the alley so the trash truck could carry it away.

The trash truck is my taskmaster. Its schedule determines my weekend workload. If, for example, the regular Monday trash pickup has been called off, I know I shouldn't work very hard on the preceding Saturday and Sunday.

There is no sense taking on a major trash-generating household project, such as cleaning the basement, on a weekend that falls before a trash pickup holiday. Bad things happen when your weekend projects get too big for your trash cans. For example, if you clean too vigorously you end up filling up the cans. When the trash doesn't get picked up on Monday, you put yourself in a state of trash-can overload.

This is bad state to be in. Your trash, which was never much to look at, becomes more unsightly. It spills out and attracts visitors, some human, some not. The humans rifle through the bags looking for something valuable. Soon your trash is spread all over the alley, and you have yourself another job: sweeping the alley.

Recently I have been seeing more trash trucks than usual rolling down my alley. The City of Baltimore has changed the way it picks up bulk trash in my neighborhood. I used to have to make an appointment to have big trash hauled away. Getting rid of an old mattress was like trying to get a reservation at a trendy restaurant. You called. You were put on hold. Eventually a sour-sounding person would come on the line and say you had to wait a month before you could get served.

Nowadays, however, no appointment is necessary. The bulk trash truck is scheduled to come through the neighborhood on a regular basis, picking up abandoned mattresses, tired-out washing machines and the like. Longtime city residents tell me that collection usually gets better before a mayoral election and Baltimore has one this year. I guess that means that while voters in other parts of the nation pick their leaders based on lofty political ideals, we pick ours based on what they do in our alleys.

As soon as I learned that the bulk trash truck was visiting my alley on a Tuesday, I announced to my family that I would be spending Saturday and Sunday cleaning the basement.

I warned them that I would be in a cleaning frenzy, that anything found on the basement floor stood an excellent chance of ending up on a trash truck.

I hoped that this threat would scare up some helpers. Nobody was scared, at least not scared enough. I cleaned alone.

I tossed out the lighting fixture, a symbol of my electrical shortcomings. I tossed out a cracked kitchen chair that I was never able to mend. Then I came upon a collection of bicycle parts.

There were frames, old seats, pedals, and a chain or two. Some of the parts had taken up residence in our basement a few years ago when a family down the street moved to New York and had cleaned out its basement.

I had promised myself that I would fashion bikes out of these parts for my growing boys. Over the years the boys continued to grow, but the bike parts never came together.

And so last week I carried the bike parts and sundry other reminders of failed projects out to the alley. I took these items out under cover of darkness, about 9 o'clock at night. I did not want to look at them.

But, apparently they appealed to somebody. I was up early the next morning and walked out to the alley, at 6:30. The trash truck had not yet arrived. But, during the night, someone else had visited the trash. The bike parts and ugly lighting fixture were gone.

Proving, I guess, that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

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