(Published in the October 2010 issue)
Tuesday night, the cans go to
the curb. Wednesday morning,
a pristine truck rolls up to the
house, a hydraulic arm grabs the
black bin, and the show’s over.
I’ve never met the guy who’s got
my neighborhood on his collection route-I don’t
even know if he’s a guy.
It didn’t used to be that way.
When I was growing up on the mean streets of
the Philadelphia suburbs, trash day was a big deal.
I heard the mechanical behemoth thundering
down the next block, and I dashed to the curb to
see Manny the Trashman. I was seven, and he was
Manny had my dream job.
My love affair with all things refuse began a year
earlier. I was standing outside with my father when
a trash-truck driver pulled over across the street. His
colleague jumped from the back of the vehicle, and
then the magic happened. As the guy was dumping
a neighbor’s can, a red ball and two stuffed animals
appeared amid the rubble. He retrieved the ball and
one animal from the gaping steel chamber, inspected
them briefly, then threw them inside the cab with the
driver. My jaw dropped.
“Dad, does he get to keep that stuff?”
In the instant that my father nodded, I saw my
career path. The perfect job. Working with friends,
finding treasures on every block and getting paid
for it? Sign me up!
I might have missed a few of the next 52 trash
days, but no more than that.
The ground shook as the sanitation crew
neared our street. The hair on the back of my
neck stood on end when the reverse-indicator
beeped. When the Dream Team actually arrived,
I smiled so wide and waved so emphatically, they
had no choice but to wave back. One time, the
driver even talked to me.
“What’s your name, Kid?”
I told him it was David. When he said his was
Manny, it was as if a superhero spoke to me. He
was the man behind the wheel, the conductor of
cleanliness and in complete control of the trash-
compacting jaws of death-which occasionally
kept its mouth open for emergency toy retrieval.
When toys lost their thrill for me, so did
Later, I wanted to be a doctor like my dad, but
studying for biology exams (or even showing up
for class) didn’t agree with me. After college, I
interned at a radio station and thought I wanted
to be a deejay, but I ended up selling airtime
instead. I did that for seven years, then operated a
small ad agency for six, and now I’ve been running
this magazine for four.
And now I think I may really have found my
My hours suck a little, and my brother, who
did go the doctor route, makes more money in
a quarter than I do in a year (he still lives in the
suburbs outside Philly, though, so that evens
the score), but I love this town and the unifying
characteristics of life here that bring us all together.
Working with friends and my wife on a magazine
that celebrates this city is a dream job.
Last night, the woman who cleans our office
was emptying the trash. Watching her dump the
cans was way less exciting than it was when I was
a kid-then she paused, reached into a can and
pulled out a mint-condition Padres beer holder.
I don’t think a career change is in the cards
for me at the moment, but my childhood fantasy
has been rekindled. And I just figured out my
Halloween costume-Manny the Trashman.
Happy Halloween, guys. If you see me
dumpster-diving, don’t feel bad-it’s my dream