It’s because I tried to pull a fast one on him, and recycle my pants.
They were clean, and I wasn’t wearing them, and I was, in fact, wearing other pants, and I wasn’t anywhere that he could see what pants I was wearing, just to get all the obvious questions out of the way.
But we had just moved in, and I went through some old clothes, and there was a stack of old pants with holes worn in them, with open butts, with paint all over them – a stack of pants that weren’t going to do anyone any good, if I dropped them off at Good Will. They’ve got better things to do at Good Will, then throw my pants away for me.
So when I took the big recycling bin out to the end of the driveway, I saw the pants sitting there in the garage, in the no-idea-what-to-do-with-this-crap pile, and I put them right on top, snapping the lid over them. I even had a little conversation with myself, about whether or not you could recycle pants. I figured, why not? You can recycle everything else.
In 2010, it turns out they’ve got phones in their garbage trucks. Because I heard the truck show up, and then the phone rang a minute later.
“Yeah, this is John at the recycling company.” Actually, he said the name of the recycling company, but this guy is really easy to upset, so I’m not going to say it here.
“Listen, only recyclables can be in the recycling bin. If we see other stuff in there, stuff we can’t recycle, we aren’t supposed to take any of it.”
“I see.” Keeping it neutral, because his voice was like someone calling into a talk radio show, mad about a school levy or a smoking ban or something.
John said, “He didn’t notice it till he had already dumped the bin in the truck, or he wouldn’t have even taken it today.”
So it was a big deal, his tone told me. I got lucky this time.
I said, “Are you talking about pants?”
“Yeah, I’m talking about pants!” Exasperated – even though he hadn’t mentioned it yet. As if, man, he was so sick of bringing up pants for the first time in our conversation. “You can’t recycle pants!”
“Really? Why not?”
Thinking, what’s the world been doing this whole time, with our pants? Just wearing them until they flutter apart into dust and pants oxide?
But he’d been around the block a time or two; he flipped the question over on me. “Well, just how in the world do you expect us to do that?”
The conversation that I’d had with myself on the subject had been brief. I hadn’t really hammered out the details, on what they would do with the pants. Getting a little bit irritated now, the recycling dude scolding me over the telephone.
I said, “Well, yeah, but I have no idea how you recycle anything. I mean, you guys don’t even require us to separate the glass and plastic, so what? Does someone out there have to do that?”
“Yes!” He snapped, like maybe that someone was him.
“Well, look, I didn’t mean any offense. I guess I figured, you know, run the pants through a shredder. Make pillow stuffing out of them?”
Now I got a long pause – he knew a good idea when he heard one. I mean, as far as I could see, that was checkmate right there, in just a few moves. Pants can be recycled. Call the pillow factory.
But he basically flipped the board over, instead. “You can’t recycle clothing or fabric. We don’t accept it, we don’t take it, and now I’ve told you, so you know.”
“You want to pass along the pillow idea, or you want me to break off an email or something?”
“I want you to keep your pants out of the recycling bin, if you want us to pick up your recycling.”
“Well, then you got yourself a deal,” I told him, my tone bright – I love common ground.
He didn’t. He hung up on me. I got out my bill, and I called the number on it, and a girl answered who listened to me for a minute and then said, “Yeah, you aren’t supposed to recycle clothes. John’s got a kind of pet peeve about it.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
But she wasn’t sorry, just nicer. I’m supposed to keep my pants out of the recycling bin, which is of course, no problem.
Yes, but frequently, and to this day, I’m home when the recycling truck comes. And I don’t know if that’s John riding on the back of it, or if it’s just one of John’s minions, an agent out in the field, keeping a sharp eye out for people abusing the system, trying to recycle their pants.
Twice I’ve been outside, trotting down the driveway with the bin, almost – but not quite – late. And whoever was on the back of the truck wouldn’t look me in the eye, seething as he was with pent-up rage.
And when I’m inside, he yanks the lid off and Frisbees it across my driveway, and carefully inspects the contents of my bin, his eyes narrow, his brow furrowed, sometimes with his hands clenched into fists, holding onto his recyclable fury like it’s made of solid gold.