I got a gig last summer cleaning up the aftermath of an outdoor festival. My duties ranged from garbage pickup to table stacking and weed whacking. It wasn’t so bad.
First day out, I found a Leatherman and a virgin bottle of wine in the scrub. This kept me motivated. In my crew were musicians, painters, actors, ex-actors, and ex-cons. A guy named Blake volunteered me to assist him with recycling on the final day.
We had a scant three hours to drive a fully loaded truck of paper, glass, etc. across town, unload it and return. I really didn’t want to help, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to hang around with the actors and sweep the parking lot, so I agreed.
Blake lived and preached a simple lifestyle and a raw food diet. At least he didn’t spout off on Jesus. I made sure to chuck out my paper pizza plates and Tetra-Paks when he wasn’t looking.
Earlier, I saw him sorting glossy from newsprint into neat, symmetrical piles in the back of the truck, even as the other guys were just chucking stuff in willy-nilly. We were set to go when Don, our crew chief, lobbed into the truck an old shoe he found by one of the dumpsters.
Blake took exception and asked Don what was wrong with him because we couldn’t recycle a shoe. I cut in, saying that we had to get cracking, that I didn’t want to be working for nothing. It was an hour’s drive, one way, plus a considerable unloading time.
Jay and Allan, brooms in hand, nodded in agreement.
Don sat on the bumper, drawing a fresh cigarette, smiling. “Yeah Blake, you heard the man, get a move on!”
“Shut up, Dad,” Blake said curtly.
“Yeah, well, I am old enough to be all of your guys’ fathers. Except for you Blake,” Don deadpanned, his eyes glazed and lounging inside their sockets, no doubt the result of the potent lid he tied into over lunch break. “And anyway, I wouldn’t breed something that ugly!”
Blake just smiled and asked if I was ready to boogie. I nodded, tapping my watch.
“And don’t take all damn day,” Don shouted from the sidelines as we drove off.
I rolled up the truck’s cargo door and a heavy wave of paper crashed over my head. The bumpy ride across town had made short work of Blake’s tidy stacks.
All we had to do was toss everything into the depot’s designated bins, but the truck was so full I had trouble climbing aboard.
I told Blake we were going to be here a long time. He said he tried to get another guy to come along, but Don, “that idiot,” put the kibosh on it.
I said, “Oh well, whatever,” and propped up a tower of cardboard with my back so that Blake could more easily heave out endless bales of leaflets.
“Christ. Do you think they printed enough flyers?”
“Yeah . . . really,” Blake replied, sweating and looking concerned over his misplaced water bottle. “OK. Switch up.”
I moved into the rear of the cargo hold, grabbed some beer cartons that, on closer inspection, were filled with cling wrap and watermelon rinds and cute little plastic key chains the festival was giving away. And then I spied a dirty mound of sundry papers hiding under a torn festival banner.
When I came up for air I asked Blake if this soiled mound was still recyclable or what.
He blankly looked past me, took a few steps, and in a resigned voice said that at this point my guess was as good as his. An avalanche of cardboard dropped with a thud behind him.
Blake insisted we separate the dirty mound’s recyclables from its garbage.
We toiled in silence, on our knees, committed to the task, aware of the ticking clock, scraping petrified cheese from pizza boxes, shaking cigarette butts out of beer bottles. Soon we had sub-piles of sub-piles. Time was going to beat us, no doubt about it.
I was deep inside that narrow head space of concentrated focus when, like a maniac, Blake leapt to his feet and began kicking the pizza boxes and foam cups and chocolate bar wrappers off the back of the truck. He double-shouldered stacks of “Hot Westside Properties” promo DVDs – which I was pretty sure couldn’t be recycled – and launched them out like a shot-putter, unconcerned with which bin, if any, they landed in.
I looked over, gripped by equal parts amusement and concern at the sight of Blake coming unhinged, totally undoing all the mindful organizational work he’d done in the first place.
“Aw, ta shit with it,” he muttered, booting a litre of used Castrol out onto a mountain of binned cardboard.
Jeff Gantner is a Canadian freelance writer living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has also lived in Vietnam and Ukraine, and has equal affinity for both banh mi and hot pepper vodka. Jeff holds a certificate in Technical Writing with Distinction from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. In the time when he should be working, the autodidactic Mr Gantner enjoys playing bass guitar. Follow his blog of foreign adventures at: jeffgantnerwriter.com/blog and his visit his website at www.jeffgantnerwriter.com