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You Say Rubbish, We Say Opportunity

Illustration by Matt AdamsSo the great Orange County Trash Strike of 2001 is over. How long did the nightmare last? Two, three hours?

Now everyone is congratulating one another on a job well done. "We are appreciative and thankful of our customers who have been so supportive of us throughout this ordeal," said Waste Management vice president Bob Coyle in a press statement issued just after the strike ended on Oct. 5.

But not everyone is happy. Not everyone is thankful.

"There is the issue of rat and insect infestation as trash sits around, waiting to be cleared," wrote the good folks at d-CON Rodenticides just two days before the strike ended. "We would also be happy to instigate d-CON Rodenticides Rapid Rodent Response Team and come in with educational material and hand out traps to the community."

Well, the trash ain't sitting around anymore—it's getting picked up and disposed of in approved landfills. Amid the cheers and backslapping, think of the poor d-CON Rodenticides Rapid Rodent Response Team member who had to go home and tell his little girl she won't be getting Felicity, the American Girl doll, this year because his services won't be needed in Orange County.

Yes, the strike meant big bucks to some powerful interests—home composters, dumpster divers, rat catchers—and after licking their chops for a week during the strike, now they're going to suffer. Some will forever remember where they were on Oct. 5, when they heard the trash strike had been settled. Like Iron Eyes Cody, who in that famous television public-service announcement had a tear running down his cheek after litter was tossed at his feet, those who were set to make a killing off a prolonged trash strike will now weep when they look down and see nothing but their shoes.

HOME COMPOSTING

Had the trash strike gone on for longer than three days, you would've started lugging your own garbage to a landfill. Sure, nothing fills a family with joy like the yearly trip to the dump, but repeated, weekly visits would have led to sore backs, aching feet and that lingering foul odor you usually manage to avoid except for Thanksgiving with smelly Uncle Stu.

Fortunately, as people who don't work for their garbage but make their garbage work for them know, there's a better way. It's called home composting: turning stinking, rotting trash into stinking, rotting fertilizer. And it's really quite simple, according to Eric S. Johnson of the online composting site Rot Web (ahorizon.com/compost).

"Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil," says Johnson. "Composting can even be done, cleanly and unobtrusively, indoors in apartment buildings and condominiums!"

Composting—combined with recycling—would have reduced trash loads, saved our backs and been good for the planet. Whew: good thing that strike was settled. Who would have wanted that? (Anthony Pignataro)

DUMPSTER DIVING

A prolonged trash strike would have been glorious for scumballs like us: you hear "trash strike"; we hear "Free!" Free furniture! Free food! Free scabies! All at your fingertips, providing you've got a good pair of heavy, slime-proof gloves and are all ripe for the harvest! Gourmands have no doubt been fork-deep in the bins behind area health-food stores; not only do operations like Mother's and Trader Joe's offer the best vegan garbage around, but also employees tend to be compassionate hippie-types unlikely to deliberately contaminate discarded food with hot pepper, aging fish or gobs of spit. I've eaten recycled bagels for days, plucked day-old and sealed in plastic from a premature grave, with nary a stomach spasm or unexplained rash to take the perk out of breakfast. Martha Stewart disciples should beware of upholstery rescued from the wild, however: if people didn't die on those mattresses, you can at least bet they leaked out all sorts of noxious fluids, and the list of my friends who've picked up parasites from street-side sofas is as long and winding as a tapeworm in a fat guy—and almost as likely to make you puke. Stick to hardier, non-scabies-related items like wood or metal furniture and consumer electronics (phones, answering machines, lamps and five-disc CD changers have all won a new post-soapy-wipedown life in my apartment). Really, in times as troubled as these, rest assured that nature will provide: there's nothing they sell at the supermarket you can't find on the streets, and it won't cost you anything except a little dignity. (Chris Ziegler)

WHAT OC RESIDENTS CAN LOOK FORWARD TO

From a conversation overheard on the Long Island Railroad between Ronkokoma and Hicksville at the time the OC trash collectors went on strike:

Loud Lady: If that kid keeps picking on my kid, I'll slap him so hard he'll shit his pants.

Garbage Man: You know, people are always asking me to pick up shit, but hey—I'm a garbage man, not a shit man. I hate cleaning up shit.

Loud Lady: Yeah, I'll bet you find a lot of weird stuff.

Garbage Man: Yeah. Sometimes it's pretty good. I've found VCRs. But sometimes I find fingers or an abortion, and that really fucks up my day. (CZ)

KICK HARD AND CARRY A BIG STICK

Out of all the rats he's offed in his quest to rid New York City of its estimated 25 million most unwanted inhabitants, Larry Adams, a professional rat hunter (no joke), says there's one he'll never forget. He came nose to snout with her one day on Manhattan's Lower East Side, during a sanitation workers' strike in the 1970s, when he discovered hundreds of rats gorging on garbage that people had tossed into a damaged building. "There was a mother rat with a new litter, and she jumped up at me about three feet high, and I kicked her—BAM!—into the wall and busted her wide open," Adams told Reuters news service a couple of years back. "I took a stick and started killing them. . . . God knows how many rats were in there. . . . I called in five more men to start killing them."

With the strike resolved, rat hunters will have to save their sticks and iron boots for another day. (Matt Coker)

RUBBISH REWIND

Still want to know what it would have been like to stand on your front lawn knee-deep in your own Hefty bags? Then make it a Blockbuster night!

Next to wars, love affairs, alien encounter or all three, garbage-collection strikes have been a favorite topic for moviemakers. Why, we can think of three off the top of our head . . . after typing "garbage collection strike" and "film" into an Internet search engine. The short film Garbage(1968) has youths from Manhattan's Lower East Side recycling a prolonged municipal garbage strike into a political statement by collecting the rubbish on their streets and dumping it on the grounds of Lincoln Center, "The Establishment's" cultural showcase. In The Out of Towners (1970), everything goes wrong for Jack Lemmon and his wife Sandy Dennis when they arrive in New York City during the height of a garbage strike. And the 1973 garbage collector's strike in Glasgow, Ireland, is the backdrop for Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (2001). Townsfolk are forced to deal with mountains of greasy, black trash bags cluttering yards and the ensuing spread of disease and vermin. It seems as if children are being raised in a landfill, with the occasional house poking out. Sounds like a Hallmark card, no? (MC)


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