Non-fiction, 10/28/08

Oftentimes routines are merely that: routine. Rote, unimaginative, joyless tasks that we take to begrudgingly, either because they simply must be done, or because someone somewhere will be deeply affronted if they aren’t. We go through the motions, as they say, and afterward wash our hands of the matter, thinking, “Well, that was a pain in the ass. Thank goodness it’s done and over.” But the thing about routines is that, much like cockroach infestations and the indomitable will of Oprah Winfrey, they’re never fully done with. They can only be subdued, temporarily, before demanding our attention again as surely as the last time. Some routines, however, are pure bliss. Who doesn’t enjoy brushing their teeth twice a day, for example? How about sweeping the floor? Or emptying the catch on their sink’s drain after a particularly eclectic round of dirty dishes? These are the duties that make life exceedingly livable, I’ve decided. Which, as it so happens, brings me to my current rave: Tuesdays. Tuesdays are quite possibly my favorite day of the week. Do you know why? Because Tuesday is garbage day.

Now, before you sigh with disgust and walk away from this article (trust me, you’ll rue the day), know that I adore Tuesday not for the garbage pick-up, but for the sorting of recycling. Ah, recycling! Our most venerable of public practices, dating back at least to the early 1940s, when patriotic Americans stepped forth to flatten tin cans and salvage rubber tires for the wartime effort. Who knew that recycling would catch like wildfire, prompting millions of Americans to invest in state-of-the art can crushers and indestructible bins, color-coded for glass/plastic, newspaper and cardboard? Scarcely a home exists today without them. And who could foresee that citizens would eagerly memorize the significance of tiny numbers inside tiny triangles, printed at the bottom of plastics and glass, and gleefully clean, sort and convey these treasures to their proper facilities? Don’t quote me on that, but the advent of recycling was sensational nonetheless.

Naturally, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon as well. In fact, I’ve become a fanatic of sorts. In grocery stores I sometimes catch myself gazing longingly at six-packs of soda, desperately wanting the cans emptied, rinsed and stood on end, ready for crushing. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees—I have difficulty seeing the food for the cans. But I digress.

Tuesday morning: Awake at dawn, I lie quietly in bed, positively twitching with excitement. Should I wait 20 more minutes? Too long, make it ten. The suspense is killing me! It’s Tuesday, for goodness sake! I throw the covers off and leap to the floor, already calculating my plan of attack. First I check the kitchen counters for errant bottles or cans, then, finding none, move to the island, where junk mail is bound to accumulate. Sure enough, a sizeable stack of credit card solicitations, grocery flyers and subscription renewals exclaiming “Last Chance! Act Now and Pay Only 3 Cents Per Issue!” await my trembling fingers. Being recycle-savvy, I tear the plastic windows out of every envelope, because, clearly, these would throw a sizable wrench in the entire process. Must be clean, must be thorough! I once had moments of indecision about some items—such as bottle caps—but now am wholly resolute in my discretion. (Are bottle caps recyclable? I say yes.)

After collecting every salvageable scrap, I take stock: Is there anything in the recycling bin that does not belong? Aha! Cardboard beverage cartons! I smile and shake my head, removing the empty “Rice Dream” containers and throwing them in the compost. “Tsk, tsk,” I think, silently admonishing my roommate Amy, “doesn’t she know that Rice Dreams are food-soiled cardboard, not to be mixed with flattened boxes and such?” But it’s OK. Sorting is the second-best part.

I carry the bins out to the alley, carefully setting them about a foot apart from each other and a foot away from the garbage can. After being chided by the garbage man twice for crowding the bins too closely together (which forced him to dismount his lofty throne inside the truck to manually dump them), I now pay utmost attention to placement. Once satisfied, I wipe my hands on my pants and smile beatifically. It is 7:30 a.m.

At noon the garbage man arrives, and I scurry home to witness the harvest of my fruits of labor—the best part. Standing in the kitchen, arms akimbo, I close my eyes and revel in the sounds: the garbage truck’s roar; the clatter of aluminum and glass; the shunk! of newspaper, cardboard and other scraps joining the fray. This is a veritable symphony to my ears. Then the garbage man sets the emptied recycle bins on the grass, one inside the other, like a puzzle.

My eyes slowly open. Bravo! I run to the window to watch the garbage truck pull out of the alley. Until next week, my loyal compatriot!

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