The short life of a trash can is full of woe and wheels

August 29, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I WAS SITTING at the kitchen table sipping my morning coffee when I heard a noise in the alley. First I heard a "wham!" Then came the throaty sound of a car engine gaining momentum.

Both sounds were familiar. The "wham" sounded like our metal trash can taking a hit. The engine sounded like the one in the family station wagon.

Sure enough, when I investigated, I found that once again one of our cars had clobbered one of our trash cans. The can was dented, and I was deflated. My elaborate trash-can defense system had failed.

I recognize that some drivers regard running over trash cans as part of the American experience. For many, it is a rite of passage, a noisy transition from the narrow driveways of their homes to the broad boulevards of the wider world.

Moreover, I think some drivers use it as a memory aid, a way to recall what day of the week it is. If they hit a trash can, it must be Thursday, the day the trash gets picked up in the neighborhood.

But not me. I consider myself a defender of trash cans. Lately I find I have been devoting large amounts of my time and mental energy to the care and positioning of our household's trash cans.

My wife and kids think I am obsessing over this trash-can thing. But they can't be trusted. I have strong suspicions that members of my family are guilty of a form of trash-can abuse I call "hit-and-run-and-who-cares." You hit the trash can with the family car, you keep going, and when somebody asks you about it, you say, "Who cares?"

I have tried to protect our trash cans by placing them behind brick walls and telephone poles. As long as they were sitting in these havens, the cans were safe from assault. But on trash-pickup days the cans have to leave the havens and assume unprotected positions at the end of our parking pad, near the edge of the alley.

Pickup day is a vulnerable time for trash cans. Once they have been emptied, cans lose their moorings and drift into danger. Several times I have come home from work and found errant trash cans cruising down the middle of the alley, or provocatively posed in the middle of a parking pad. When a trash can is the middle of a roadway, it is begging to be hit.

So a few months ago, when I bought a new metal trash can, I chained it down. I did this for its own good. The 4-foot-long chain would, I figured, keep the can from wandering either into the trunk of a stranger's car or out into the alley, where it could be hit by a passing vehicle.

Thanks to the chain, the trash can was safe from attacks by strangers. The only people who could hurt it were members of our family. And that is what we have done.

On pickup days the trash can has become a sitting target for any family member driving a car in or out of our parking pad.

That is what happened the other morning. I was sitting in the kitchen sipping coffee when I heard my wife drive over the trash-can lid. Later she told me she had not seen the trash can, let alone lid. Both had been sitting in front of her car.

I could only imagine what the accident must have felt like for the trash can. It had done its duty, delivering mixed refuse to the sanitation truck. It was resting. Its hat was off -- tossed on the ground. Suddenly, it hears a car engine start up and hears the car moving toward it. It wants to escape, to roll down the alley. But it can't. It is tethered by that chain. And so it takes a double hit. First the left front wheel, then the left rear wheel rolls over its lid.

Rushing out to the alley, I tried to revive the lid. Using two kinds of hammers and two types of pliers, I tried to bang it back into shape. After about 15 furious minutes of work, I stopped. The lid was almost gone. In its short time with us, it had been hit twice before -- once by our eldest son, hurrying off to football practice, and once by me, hurrying home.

Slowly, gingerly I moved the trash can and its battered lid off the parking pad, away from the crushing cars.

I have begun the painful task of finding a new lid. It hasn't been easy. I have found plenty of places that are willing to sell me a new metal trash can, but none willing to sell me just a new metal lid.

In the meantime, I visit the old lid, periodically banging on it with a hammer, pulling on it with the pliers, hoping that somehow, someway, it will regain its old form.

Pub Date: 8/29/98

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