The trash in the bathroom needs to be taken out. I think of it every time I leave the room, but don’t think about it again until I find myself leaving once again. I guess it’s not bugging me all that much right now, and I guess I keep waiting for someone else to take care of it. What does it matter, you think, that I am thinking about trash? Well, a few years back, I lived in a small Colorado mountain tourist town. When I say small, I mean 500 people in the winter, about 1200 in the summer, with around 2000 visitors by day. It was an experience, to put it into perspective, it was as if I had stepped into my own version of Northern Exposure.
I had good and bad memories in my Northern Exposure town. I met some wonderful people, found out what betrayal feels like, re-ignited my acting career, found and lost my first big love, and discarded a friendship that was toxic. The five years I spend in that small Colorado town were a microcosm of life. I wonder, to this day, if I would be the person I am had I not had the experiences I had there? Sometimes my answer is yes, sometimes no. Either way, it was my experience, it made me. I try to hold on to the positive memories.
The one quaint aspect of a small town like the one I lived in, was that everyone knew everyone else’s business. If something happens at the small grocery at one end of town, by the time you walked to the other end, word has already arrived of said happening.
I digress, back to trash.
Wednesday and Saturday are trash days. There isn’t the money to support an actual business of men driving a loud beeping truck down the street to collect trash. So occupants have to take their own trash to the outskirts of the city, to the dump.
The dump is run by Fred; or The Trash Man, as he is referred to in town. A man, that at first blush, causes a person to tread lightly, with great trepidation. Fred has a long stringy ponytail, half gray, half dirty blonde. His teeth are crooked and painted with the years of a decaying dental plan. His clothes are always some shade of camouflage, and during the summer months, his scrawny, tanned build is camouflaged in only a vest. Fred reminded me of a stray dog that you don’t understand, yet can’t help but be kind to.
It took awhile to feel out the locals in this old mining mountain town. They didn’t take to newcomers; they knew none of us who were visiting would be there for long. There was no information about the past divulged, there was a polite nod after three years I had earned, but that was it. It was a hard life in this town, the economy wasn’t great, the nearest town with a decent grocery store was 50 miles away on one of the most dangerous twisting, turning roads in the country. So this one local who I didn’t know what to think of, only got a nervous nod from me at the beginning and a barely audible ‘thank you’.
Something changed, maybe it was me, my attitude, or maybe it was the weather that had me thinking reflective thoughts. I recall one winter day in particular. The snow was lightly falling and the sky was a gray sheet that shielded us from the sun. I often got depressed after weeks of this kind of weather. I took the trash to the dump on this day with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Fred asked what seemed to be wrong. I told him it felt like the world was caving in.
Fred looked up at the sky and clapped his glove hands together. He said the world is made up of all kinds of people, and we need to just continue down the path we see best fit for ourselves and try to smile. Life isn’t that long, he gave me one of those almost toothless grins of his. There are little moments every day we can treasure; there’s always gonna be problems, so let ‘em be.
I looked at Fred unblinkingly, thinking of the old adage that ‘truth often times is spouted from the mouths of babes’ and adding this trash man to that list.
You always have choices, Fred said next, sometimes the only thing left to do is make a choice and stick with it.
So trash, sometimes I find myself reminded of the old adage that one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, and I think about that sage Trash Man in the Colorado mountains who tried to see the good side of things. And I remember how as we got in our cars to drive our emptied cars back to town, he would always wave and call out, as if he were some mythical Santa, “Have fun with it.”