Wednesday, January 2, 2019

"A Charitable Odyssey"

Written on December the Twenty-First, 2018. 

It is our family tradition that on the last “Pick-up Day” before Christmas, we present boxes of See’s candy to all of our trash collectors.  That’s “collectors” plural, because we now have three of them:  One for “Reclying”, one for, what they politely call, “Yard Scraps” and one for “Trash Only.”  (En Espanol, “Basura Solamente.”)

It’s Friday morning, the last “Pick-Up Day” of the year before Christmas.  It is my job to deliver the candy.   And I am determined to do so.

Here’s how determined to do so I have been in the past.

Last year, I belatedly heard a trash truck arriving, I raced outside and I chased the departing trash truck down the street, running faster than I have perhaps ever run in my life, risking my cardiacal wellbeing in the process.  Headlines flashed in my head:

“Man Dies Running With Candy”

I finally got there.  Breathing heavily, but I got there.

This year, I decided to be more proactive.  I would wait outside, till all the trash trucks have arrived.

6:45 A.M. 

I have woken up early.  I am not sure when the trucks will show up, but am determined to be there with candy when they do.

As a precaution, in case of “Early Arrival”, I dismiss cold cereal as a breakfast alternative, fearing its crackling in my ears when I chewed would obscure hearing the arrival of the trash trucks.  I instead eat leftover, virtually silent, brown rice, and an equally noiseless morsel of chicken.

I head outside around seven, my gift boxes of candy nestled in a signature See’s Candy shopping bag.  I find a spot on a low concrete wall near the awaiting full trashcans, I sit down there, and I wait.

The sky is a flat, morning gray, the air, uncomfortably chilly.  But I am not complaining.

Because I am doing a good thing.

Perhaps not as good a thing as they do in Hawaii.  There, the traditional trash collector Christmas-presents-of-choice are “Happy Holiday” cases of beer.  Since government vehicles are not legally permitted to transport alcohol, the trash collectors have selected friends follow directly behind them, and the appreciative customers entrust the gift beer cases to them.

For us, it’s just candy.  And there I am sitting by the curb, waiting to dispense its chocolaty goodness to our regular trash collectors.

And I wait.

And I wait. 

And I…

Not complaining, of course. 

Because I am doing a good thing.

Forty-five minutes later, the “Recycling” truck arrives. 

I pass the box of candy through the driver’s side window – on trash trucks, the drivers sit on the right – receive a genuine “Thank you so much”, and head back to the low wall, where I sit, waiting for the other two trash trucks to arrive. 

Peering down the street in both directions, I notice I am the only one out there offering presents to our hard-working trash collectors, making me, demonstrably, the nicest person on our block.  Not that I thought about that.

It’s enough to be doing a good thing.

Twenty minutes later, “Yard Scraps” pulls up.  I hear, “Hello, Young Man.”  I hand the driver the candy.  He says “Thank you” and a following “Don’t work too hard.”

And I am back, sitting on the wall.

The time is passing, and I am starting to get bored.  I get up and move to an unused “planter platform” next to our front steps, and I sit there and wait.  The platform feels damp, but I am not complaining.

Because I am doing a good thing.

I sit patiently, a kid waiting for Santa to arrive.  Except in this case, I’m Santa… I guess, waiting for the children to arrive.  I go to the curb and look up the road. 

“Garbage Only” is nowhere in sight.

With diminishing patience, I relocate to a bench on our front porch.  I then return to the low concrete wall, then, once again, to the unused “planter platform.”  It’s been an hour since the arrival of “Trash Truck Number 2”, and “Basura Solamente” is getting on my nerves.

I know I shouldn’t complain… because I am doing a good thing.  But what can I tell you?  My “Christmas Spirit” is beginning to wane.

I weigh my alternatives.  If I give up, I have a telltale residual box of candy to explain.  I could secrete the giveaway “evidence” into the trashcan - no one’s the wiser - and it also works because it’s the appropriate “Garbage” trashcan. 

After setting a “Time limit” – and then exceeding it by twenty minutes; it is now almost a quarter to ten – I go over and set the remaining box of See’s candy on top of the last trash can, hoping a passing homeless person does not pilfer it, or that the late-arriving trash collector, unaware of the gift’s presence, does not scoop it up in his truck’s mechanical arms along with the trash bin and empty both into the truck.   

I decide it’s the best I can do.  I place the candy on the trash bin and I head inside.  To start writing this post.

Five minutes later, I hear the sound of an arriving trash truck outside the front of our house.

Looks like I’ll be running again.

Fortunately, however, one of the painters, currently working on our house, stepped up and delivered the candy.  He said the driver said “Thank you.”

Final Tally:  I had done a good thing… up to a point.  But was it not the great Gandhi himself who said, “There are reasonable limits, even to kindness”?

It was not.

I believe that was me.

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