Thursday, June 18, 2009

Garbage Week

Tuesday morning last week was recycling day. I had put our giant recycling bin (I went with the largest size and haven't regretted it) out the night before, as usual. So I'm getting used to my new routine of feeding my daughter breakfast (or trying to) and getting her ready for daycare while my wife Erin showers and gets ready for work. I check outside the window to see what the weather's like, and notice that our bin's lid is open, and it looks like there's a bag in in there. I go outside, still holding my daughter, and discover someone has dumped three bags of stinking, putrid garbage in our recycling bin. There were literally maggots crawling over one bin.

What I did next I am not proud of at all. I'll spare all the details, but suffice to say my daughter and half the neighbourhood were witness to a string of expletives as I flung the garbage bags onto the street and went back inside. Realizing that the garbage bags would likely sit in front of my house for days, I then went back outside and flung the garbage bags further down the street so they would be someone else's problem. Why should I have to deal with this, I thought? It's not my fault - it's not fair. My neighbour had come out by this point and asked what happened. I explained, with some swearing, what happened, followed it up with a shot at how much I hated our neighbourhood, went back in and slammed the door. Again, not proud of this. I was full of 'righteous' anger at the time. I was wronged. I had every right to be angry and do what I did. I thought.

"Two rights don't make a wrong" is a bit of a cliché, but it's true. I may have been wronged, but I acted irresponsibly and immaturely. It was unfortunate that someone dumped garbage in our bin, but sometimes unfair things happen and we have to deal with them - not by making them worse. Not by scaring my daughter, alienating our neighbours and passing the problem onto someone else. I was of course explained all this by Erin as we drove to work and as my anger was subsiding. By the time I got into work and had calmed down, I realized what an jerk I had been. I pictured those garbage bags in the middle of the road still sitting there as a visual reminder of my jerktitude for all to see. By the time I got in to work, I realized I had to take responsibility for them.

I contemplated heading back home during lunch to put the bags in our (very small) garbage bin. I even thought of calling a garbage removal place and paying them to take the bags away. It wasn't fair what happened to me, but the whole neighbourhood shouldn't have to stare at and smell the garbage because of that. Then I got a call from Erin, saying the daycare had called saying our daughter had a fever. I offered to take her home, since Erin is just starting out at her job, and I could do some work on my laptop at home. Plus: extra baby time for me. I also took it as an opportunity to do the right thing.

When Eleanor went down for a nap, I got some gloves and moved the bags from the street, where they of course still were, into my garbage bin. It completely filled the bin, and garbage pick-up was a week away. I'd have to use one of the tags reserved for 'extra' garbage for the rest of our garbage, which normally never fills even our small bin. The city gives you five tags for the year, and then you have to buy more. It's nice to have them for parties when the garbage is a little higher, but I think extra ones only cost $3. I shouldn't have to use the extra ones because some jerk decided that a) he didn't need to separate his garbage and b) it's someone else's problem that he ran out of space. But unless I wanted to be as much of a jerk as him, I had to take some of the lumps that he gave out. But I wouldn't do it quietly...

The best way to act in any situation like this is to report it to the authorities. It has a bit of a 'tattle-tale' stigma to it, but the truth it, in a civil society, we need proper, legal means of recourse. Swearing and throwing garbage onto the street isn't one of them. If I found out who it was, punching him in the face, as much as it would feel good, would only cause me to get into trouble for assault. Erin always makes fun of me because watching movies when there's a fight or a crime or something and the hero fights back, my response is usually "Why don't they just call the cops?" It wouldn't make for very dramatic movies of course, but it's what we need to do in a functional civil society. I didn't call the cops, but I did call the City of Toronto's awesomely named "Waste Enforcement Division". I left a message on their voicemail reporting it, really expecting nothing to come of it.

To my surprise, the very next morning, a guy from Waste Enforcement shows up at my house to talk about it. I told him that I moved the garbage to my bin. He said I should have left it where it was, as that had technically made it 'tampered with' but he understood my predicament (no moving meant my recycling wouldn't be picked up.) I didn't mention my crazy tirade from the day before. To my surprise though, he said he would take the garbage away with him, and would sort through it to see if there was anything in the garbage identifying the person who did it. Nice! I haven't heard anything back yet, but I'll update here if I do.

So the garbage was taken away without using my quote, the jerk who did it was potentially one step closer to being caught. I felt pretty much the opposite to how I did after my tirade the previous day.

My neighbour had mentioned that the same thing had happened to them several times, but there was nothing they could do about it. They didn't seem to know that they could report it and the City would actually do something about it. The neighbours in question are not native-born Canadians and are not native English speakers, as our many of the people on my street. I realized that many people might not know that there are recourses to this kind of thing, and if there were, they might not know where to find the numbers to call. It took me twenty minutes of digging through the City's website to find the info myself - I could imagine for a non-native English speaker it would be even more challenging. So with the help of Erin, I made up a little sign that I'm going to post around the neighbourhood. Hopefully people will report the dumping more often, and hopefully, the person who's doing it will see the signs and be a little warned off.

Life's going to present us with shitty circumstances all the time. We can choose to complain about it, and do worse things back to others. Or we can choose to respond the right way - the way that respects our family, our neighbours, and society. More often than not, people respond the wrong way when they are wronged. There's countless examples that I don't need to get into. If more people can learn to turn the other cheek, and put others first, like I eventually did, I think this world would be a better place. There will always be jerks like the mysterious garbage dumper, but if we respond the right way, their effect on us will be minimal.

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