Trash talk is right down his alley

August 24, 1996|By Rob Kasper

SOMEBODY called the newspaper recently and wanted to talk trash. The caller was transferred to me.

I am not sure what I find more alarming, the fact that my colleagues associate me with trash, or the fact that they are right.

I ended up having a terrific time talking with Jane Maher, the caller. We discussed the fine points of trash collection, of trash-can etiquette, of trash-can crime, and trash-can sanitation.

Perhaps in other conversational salons, great minds discuss the true meaning of supply-side economics or the impact that the discovery of Archaea, tiny one-celled organisms found on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, will have on science. But for me, and other alley-types, trash matters.

Maher's major question was, "How do you kill maggots?" I knew the answer. The larvae of the common housefly, which tend to prosper in trash cans on hot summer days, can be rubbed out by drenching them with hot, soapy water.

I have been battling these trash-can life forms since I was a boy. I recall that a highlight of my youth -- this tells you something about my youth -- was when my mother first put me in charge of ridding the family trash cans of these pests.

I was given a kettle filled with boiling water and sent to the alley. I was about 10 years old. It was the first time I was trusted to carry anything dangerous. I had already put strong-smelling disinfectant in the bottom of the afflicted trash cans. I poured the boiling water in the bottom of the cans and swirled the hot solution around the cans. There was steam and suds and soon larva corpses. It was pretty exciting stuff.

PTC To find out if there were any new methods being used in the battle against houseflies, I called the Home and Garden Information Center run by the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service ([800] 342-2507). Horticulture consultant Ria Malloy filled in.

After consulting the files, and checking the reprints, Malloy said the recommended way to eliminate maggots was still drenching them in hot soapy water. The soap makes it difficult for the larvae to breathe, she said. Spraying trash cans with an insecticide that contains tetramethrin can help in the battle, she said. But she reiterated that hot, soapy water was the No. 1 weapon.

The main preventive measures, she said, were to keep the trash cans as dry as possible, and keep tight-fitting lids on your trash cans.

When I called Maher back and relayed this information to her, she seemed both grateful and skeptical. She seemed hopeful that washing the cans with soapy water would help. But she was doubtful that lids could be kept on trash cans.

She said, and I concurred, that in today's world there are many forces at work to keep lids from residing on the top of their rightful trash cans. There are strong winds that blow the lids down the alley or out into the street where they can be flattened by traffic. There are the trash collectors, the guys who sometimes toss the lids near their rightful cans, and who sometimes don't. And there are the trash-can criminals, characters who, if they like the looks of your can and its tight-fitting lid, will steal your trash can but leave your trash.

There are economic forces at work as well, Maher said. While you can easily buy new trash cans at any hardware store, she said, it is virtually impossible to buy just replacement lids.

Maher and I discussed the lifestyle implications of trash collection. For instance, she said, throughout Baltimore County, general trash is picked up only once a week. This means that if you plan a backyard crab feast, you want to have the feast a day or two before, not after, the scheduled trash pickup. Crabs have a delicious flavor at the table but produce a strong aroma in the trash can. If crab carcasses sit in a trash can for a week, heating in the summer sun, they produce a "perfume" that could knock out a horse, or make a politician speechless.

Finally, Maher and I relived a golden moment in trash collection history. It happened back in 1982, when William D. Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore, tried to save money by changing the city trash collection schedule from twice a week to once a week. The City Council, led by George W. Della Jr., objected, saying the city charter required twice-weekly pickups. A suit was filed and soon City Circuit Court Judge William H. Murphy Jr. ruled that the twice-a-week schedule was required.

A few months later, Murphy ran for mayor against Schaefer and got clobbered. But when Murphy saved twice-a-week collection, wanted to give him the ultimate trash can salute, and bang two trash lids together.

The trouble was, I could find only one lid.

Pub Date: 8/24/96

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