The recent Obama ad in which Mitt Romney’s garbageman laments that all he ever wanted from the ex-governor was a hug, stirred up some old feelings in me. Feelings I thought I had put behind me. Now it can be told, nay – must be told. I too, was once a garbageman.
When I was a young boy, my mother would continually ask me and my brother what we wanted to be when we grew up. We always replied, “Garbageman!”
This frustrated her to no end, and no matter how many times she asked, our answer was always the same.
Think about it – this was in the days before car seats, iPods, satellite radios, Nintendo DS, in-car DVD players or anything else that could keep you quiet in the car. To kids who were constantly bombarded with shouts of “Sit down!”, “Put on your seatbelt!” and “Pull your brother back in the window!”, it was like riding with a North Vietnamese POW camp commandant. Brutal. Stifling. What rambunctious boys want more than anything is freedom of movement. Elbow room.
And what could be more liberating than standing on the back of a moving truck, perched on a one-foot square platform, one hand lazily gripping the grimy handrail, the other giving jaunty little waves and salutes to kids like me, imprisoned in the back seats of drab brown Oldsmobuick station wagons with imitation wood-grain paneling? That was the life! And what did mom know about anything? Sure, you were picking up garbage, but garbagemen make lots of money, plus they only work in the morning, you can keep all kinds of neat stuff that people throw out, and most importantly, you get to ride on the back of a moving truck! How much ass does that kick?!
In August of 1993, I was twenty years old, had just joined the Army, and would be leaving for OSUT (One Station Unit Training) in a month. I had quit college a few months before, frustrated at my inability to decide just what in the hell I even wanted a college degree for. With no idea of what to do next, I punted to Uncle Sam. If you don’t know what to do, join the Army. They’ll tell you what to do. Good and hard.
To physically prepare myself for the rigors of Infantry training, I was chain-smoking cigarettes and consuming large amounts of alcohol nightly. One night, while sitting on my parents’ couch in a semi-soused stupor, I was cruelly jarred from my meditative state by my mother’s snickering as she shook the newspaper under my nose, an ad in the employment section encircled and underlined boldly in frenetic slashes of blue ink. To this day, I can still close my eyes and see what sent a cold spike of fear through my heart that night: a help wanted ad for Garbageman.
My mom had just called me out.
“DO IT! DOOOO IT!!!” she cackled with evil glee, her hands clapping in sadistic joy.
This was her moment, and she would not be denied. After twenty years of my stock smart-assed reply to her every inquiry concerning my career plans, my day of reckoning had arrived. My brother, traitorous bastard that he is, had conveniently joined the Army and gotten himself stationed in Kentucky two years earlier, leaving me to face the music alone. I was outgunned, outnumbered, scrawny and half-drunk, staring into the eyes of a woman who wanted JUSTICE.
It was go time.
“All right, Mom, I’ll do it.”
Prince Valiant style ending –
Next Episode: The Wages of Stupidity.