Wine Bottle Boogie

by Eric Elmer

Wednesday is trash day. The truck doesn't come until Thursday morning, but it comes real early. Unless you want to get up at the buttcrack of dawn, you put your garbage on the street Wednesday night.

The subdivision has a rule that trash placed on the curb before 5 PM on Wednesday will result in a fine, but they don't enforce it. The way I figure, that's mainly to scare any assholes away from putting it out there earlier in the week. You should have to let it fester and reek in your garage like everyone else until you get home from work on Wednesday, then you can get it out of there.

One Wednesday I went out after work with Ray, and didn't get home until almost midnight. The neighborhood bags were piled high along the curb, and someone had leaned a stained box spring up against the little tree that grew in the square of sod that had been designated for our waste. I was drunk and tired and in no mood to deal with garbage, so I went to bed.

When I go to sleep after drinking, I usually fall into a dreamless stupor within 30 seconds of hitting the pillow. This lasts until the alcohol has been burned out of my system, and then I come totally, sweatily, queasily awake with two hours to kill before I can even consider leaving for work. Same story this Thursday morning. I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep so I went through the townhouse getting the garbage together. The kitchen trashcan gave me significant pause. I wasn't on real firm footing, gastrointestinally speaking, and the compacted refuse of a full week's bachelor life set me into an alarming jag of dry heaves. I had it all bagged up in 20 minutes, and I hauled it down the stairs and into the street.

The sun wasn't up yet, but the sky to the east had that pastel quality of pre-dawn. I carried my three Hefties to the curb and tried to find a place for them. Apparently we'd all been especially wasteful and/or gluttonous that week, because in the end the only place I could put them was on top of the wet and tilted box spring, which caused the little sapling planted there to bend even further. That little tree got such a raw deal in life. It had the misfortune to live in a patch of ground that was regularly soaked with stinking garbagewater runoff. Now it was struggling to prop up the evidence of some suburban brat's bladder control issues. Someone should just cut the sad thing down, I thought.

I caught a whiff of diapers and that started up the heaves again. As repellant as the idea was, I knew I should try and find a way to eat something before I left for work, or I'd have a sour gin stomach all morning and probably pass out in my cubicle. I made it back up into my kitchen and drank some water. Eggs and toast were the plan, as soon as I could convince my gorge to go back to sleep, even if I myself could not.

About twenty minutes later, as I prepared to launch in to the buttered white toast and scrambled eggs I'd made, I heard the garage door below my feet rumble open. Living on the second floor of a townhome unit above three garages has its advantages: you don't have to worry as much about pissing off the neighbors with your noise, but you have to deal with their comings and goings. I peered out the window to the street below.

My first thought was that I didn't know they made fur pajamas. Then I realized what I was seeing was the hulking hairy shirtless back of a man I supposed was my neighbor as he carried his trash to the street. His bald head gleamed in the newborn sunlight, and the two bags slung over his shoulder were tinkling: both seemed to be filled with glass bottles. As I ate and surreptitiously watched him through the blinds, he set them down on top of the box spring, and the sapling curved further towards its breaking point.

I bit into a square of toast. Something refused to give and I looked down to see a tangled cord of hairs between my mouth and the toast I had just pulled away from my face. It was easily seven inches longer than my own hair, curly and black. I'd had some co-workers over for cocktails a few evenings before I distinctly remembered the way that the lady from Billing had absently played with her hair as she spoke. I could feel a few of the strands at the back of my mouth as I swallowed the toast. I didn't make it to the bathroom, but I did manage to direct most of the vomit onto the linoleum of the kitchen.

Fifteen minutes later I was done cleaning up. Though I'd made up my mind to call in sick for the day, I was under the garbage truck gun. If I didn't get the bag full of paper towels and recycled breakfast down to the street before showering and going back to bed, I'd have to let it stew in the hot garage for another seven days. I plodded down the stairs once again.

As I flung my last contribution onto the mountain of trash, I could see the garbage truck coming up the street. My knotted plastic sack hit the corner of the box spring and one of Back Hair's bags came undone and opened, releasing an avalanche of drippy green wine bottles. The shifting center of gravity tipped the whole works forward and the little tree gave up the ghost. The wood was too green to snap, but it bent hard, and the wine bottles rained onto the sidewalk, many of them shattering. I was in the house and behind my blinds before the garbage crew discovered the mess. This discovery was punctuated with a great deal of salty language that seemed incongruous in the face of the beautiful new day breaking out all around us.

I left a message for my boss, tried to wash the shame and self-revulsion from my skin in a hot shower, and fell dizzy back into my bed. I'm dying here, I kept thinking. I'm dying in this life.

When I woke that afternoon, the garbage and the box spring and the broken glass were gone. So was the tree, but for a few inches of stump that poked out of the poisoned ground like a middle finger.

--EEE, 10/14/99