My father posed this vexing question to me the other day: How do you throw out an old garbage can? Immediately I put my epiphanal powers to work, and derived a solution that not only takes care of over-the-hill garbage cans, but all highway trash as we know it.
I’m not used to my father crying. A survival camper and a former college professor, he has both wiped with pine cones and done battle with tenured stick-in-the muds. The man is not easily rattled.
But when he called me the other day, he was whimpering.
“I can’t…I can’t figure out -”
“Steady, old man,” I steadied him. “What’s the ding-dang deal?”
He took a deep breath, then recounted the tale of his crappy old garbage can. Apparently, his trustworthy old Rubbermaid had worn out its welcome. It had become overly stinky and the lid was cracked, so Dad had opted for a new and improved version.
When he tried to throw the old version out, however, he ran into problems. The unknowing garbage men must have thought it was a functional garbage can. They simply emptied the garbage whenever they saw it, but never took the whole beast away.
“Did you put a sign on it?” I asked.
“I did. I wrote, ‘Throw out’ on a piece of paper and stuck it to the can.”
“What did they do?”
“They threw out the sign.”
The old man recalled sharing this story with his fellow retirees. The lot of them had gathered for breakfast, coffee and kvetching, a mandatory activity for any man over the age of 65. His fellow ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Out – seriously) recalled their own personal garbage can disposal nightmares.
“Help us, my son.” He sounded short of breath.
“Dad? DAD? Are you okay?”
“No, I’m here,” he replied. “Just got distracted by that new hottie on the Weather Channel.”
A New Roadside Attraction
The old man’s challenge was daunting, but darned if I wasn’t up to it. An epiphany sprang forth – or more accurately, crossed my path.
I was driving home the next day when a piece of paper tumbled across the highway. It was a wrapper from a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder, and it came to rest on the shoulder of the road amidst all kinds of other roadside trash. Cans, plastic cups, detergent bottles, someone’s brassiere – you name it, someone had thrown it out the window.
Seeing the roadside waste really pissed me off. Hadn’t anyone seen those old PSAs with the crying American Indian? How could you litter with that image in your mind?
Then I recalled my father’s garbage can problem, and my epiphany sprang forth.
I drove down to the old man’s house and loaded up his old garbage can in my Civic. I also stopped by the houses of his retiree buddies, and picked up their garbage cans.
I then placed them along the road where I’d spied the trash, and painted “Two Points” on each can.
People love to litter, but no one can pass up the chance to litter and shoot a basket. Soon people were taking aim at our roadside garbage cans, often veering miles out of their intended route just so they could “swish” a soda can.
We literally rolled out the program nationwide, and soon our highway shoulders were clear of trash, our retirees were no longer bitching at breakfast, and that American Indian guy finally stopped crying.
My dad called me and told me he’d never been more proud. “Now there’s just one more thing,” he said. “Can you come up with an epiphany for clogged gutters?”
(Dedicated to George Mischio – aka DOD – dear old Dad.)