The hour was ten ‘o clock. The ad said to report to the main office at 2 a.m. Judging that I would benfit little by attempting to get a couple of hours’ sleep and sensing that I would need my strength for the ordeal to come, I started ingesting carbohydrates, notably barley and hops. They say there’s the nutritional equivalent of a fried pork chop in every can. I sipped my breakfast and left home at 1:30 a.m. to meet my destiny.
Senses and judgment properly dulled, I arrived at the office. It was on Airline Highway, the same seedy stretch of road that saw the downfall of Louisiana Senator Earl Long, portrayed by Paul Newman in the movie Blaze. A generation later, we would see television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart brought low by a $35 hooker at the Sugar Bowl Courts, a “No-Tell motel” located a mile down the road, which was also used as the set in Newman’s movie.
I had no idea what a garbage company’s headquarters would look like. Looking around at my shady surroundings, it was obvious I had come to the right place.
Once in the empty office, the manager, a pudgy, bespectacled troll in a tie and dirty short-sleeve shirt blinked at me with a puzzled look, and asked me if I was sure I was in the right place. I assured him that I was. The interview completed, he gave me the standard tax forms to fill out. After I had completed them, I inquired as to how much per hour I would be making on this job. It was then that the office troll shattered…
Garbageman Myth #1:Garbagemen make lots of money.
I would be earning MINIMUM WAGE!
“But, but… garbagemen make good money!” I sputtered. He laughed and explained that this was a temporary agency – if I was still on the job after 30 consecutive days, the garbage company would hire me on at union scale, which combined with the amount of overtime required, would indeed amount to a princely sum. To add insult to injury, I was informed that I was to report for assignment at 4:00 a.m., further down Airline Highway. He also told me that if I didn’t get assigned to a truck, to report back to this office for another possible job. Fuming at myself for being so stupid, I drove off.
When I arrived at the address I was given, I found myself in a large fenced-in yard, populated by a lone black man sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette. I asked him if this was where you go to be a garbageman. He eyed me up and down for a full five seconds, his face expressionless, before replying, “Yep.”
I sensed an instant rapport between us and sat down on the bench. I asked him if he thought I would get assigned to a truck. He glared at me for another five-count and said, “Hell, no, white-boy.”
My new friend explained that when “The Man With The Clipboard” came out of the building, you had to “get in his face” and get him to write down your name. Unspoken, and yet plainly expressed, was his doubt of my ability to assert myself and land one of the limited spots aboard a truck. Over the next hour, as the yard filled up with over 100 burly black men, I began to think he might be right. The new arrivals looked at the skinny white kid like you might view a parrot in a supermarket: sure, you’ve seen one before, you know what it is, but what the hell is it doing here? The context is all wrong.
And then, pandemonium erupted as The Man With The Clipboard strode into the yard. Swept along with the crowd trying to “get in The Man’s face,” I was jostled from side to side like a soccer mom in a mosh pit. Lucky to keep my feet, I finally broke free into some open air. A hush fell over the crowd as they realized that they had inadvertently pushed me directly in front of The Man With The Clipboard (later I began to suspect that they had done it on purpose). Time stood still as The Man, an overweight, middle-aged white man, blinked with astonishment at me from behind thick glasses.
“Write your name down here, son,” he said finally, handing me the clipboard. I scrawled my name in one of the few empty slots left on the sheet, next to Truck 42. The crowd parted silently as I went to meet my crew. Well, mostly silently. There was some more pushing, shoving, and polite entreaties to “get the fuck out the way, white-boy!” But I barely noticed, as one thought repeated itself in my mind…
Oh my God, I’m a Garbageman.
Next Episode: A Blur of Misery