Monday, July 9, 2018

Behind the Scenes: The Unabridged StoryCorps Interview

In case you have the time and interest, here is the full version of Charlie and me in the StoryCorps interview I shared a few blogs ago. Warning: it is nearly an hour and 45 minutes. But I added random photos of Charlie, and/or me that even sometimes fit with the story. Please let me know if you listen to the whole thing! By the way, the edited version that aired on NPR was less than 3 minutes. They did an amazing job. I like saying that this aired on January 21st, 2017, and garnered a larger audience than President Trump's inauguration. Please don't tell him, or we will surely get an angry tweet...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bullet Point

I keep this live round as a souvenir on my bookshelf. I found it in the trash, of course.
 It's a Bernaul (Russian made) 7.62 X54R shell. It's pretty close to deer rifle ammo, but is manufactured for military weapons, primarily sniper rifles or machine guns. Researching to identify it brought me to some websites that gave me as much of a shudder as finding the live round in the first place (had I crushed this thing, it could have blown).

Circumstances lately have got me thinking about my own relationship with guns. I have two in my basement. One is my dad's 22 caliber we used for target practice and rabbit/squirrel hunting. Single shot, bolt action. The other is my Springfield 20 gauge shotgun, pump action, used for all kinds of bird hunting in my youth.

I will admit that I did use my shotgun for self defense once. We had a pretty mentally deranged neighbor, who got verbally violent when high. One evening he was making threats to my family from his upstairs window. I called the police AND I grabbed my shotgun after sending everyone inside. I sat outside with that shotgun, thinking to scare the crap out of him if he came over. The gun was empty. I didn't have any shells. He stayed put, and the police took him to jail.

Speaking of that gun, it still has a "plug" in it. A plug is required in a pump action shotgun when hunting ducks. Typically, pump-actions can hold six shells. However, the law requires a plug for duck hunters so that one can only hold three shells. If we were checked out by the game warden (often enough), he would insert a thing into our guns to make sure they were plugged. If they were not, the penalty would be severe. We could have our guns, our vehicle, our boat, decoys, and anything else used for hunting, confiscated. No trial, no jury. AND THIS WAS TO PROTECT THE DUCK POPULATION. We all accepted that. Gun control.

This was the hunting culture I grew up with. The NRA was all about gun safety and responsible gun use. I received a national gun safety patch after passing a course sponsored by the NRA. The old NRA supported and helped draft the nation's first gun control laws.

I was trained to freak out when I saw someone holding a gun not pointed to the ground or to the sky. A high school acquaintance blew his hand apart when he used his gun to lean on and it discharged. You would not hunt with someone like that. Nor would you hang out with someone who was a gun "enthusiast." To my mentors in my hunting days, that would be like someone who was a poison "enthusiast." Guns were tools, very dangerous tools. You took care of them, used them for a purpose, and put them away.

There's a website called It boasts 300,000 members. That's all I have to say about that.

I know that boys love their toys. I have two motorcycles. But the nobility and responsibility I grew up associating with gun ownership has gone begging. Now it is an absolute right, "based in the second amendment." Sounds like boys who like their toys to me. The 2nd amendment argument sounds a lot like the survivalist rationale: If we stockpile weapons and food, we can survive the coming apocalypse... for at least 60 more days.

Absurd. If you are fearful of government infringement on your liberties and want to prepare to defend yourself, you might want a Hellfire missile--or 400. Nothing less will do. The second amendment argument is goofy.

We are in the realm of fear, I fear.  I can appreciate those who geek out over guns, who know all the kinds, and capabilities, just like car enthusiasts. And I know that most of these are safe and responsible people.

I get the argument that the AR-15, and other so-called "assault rifles" are only different in style from weapons that are designed for hunting. Oh, but style matters. We know this in our commercial-cultural bones. Tuggs are not Uggs. Merona is not Patagonia. Kia is not Lexus. And a military-looking rifle stirs the imagination differently than something else. Why else do these young men go for the "assault-looking" rifles? It's a nexus with the elite killers. Commandos, Seals, Green Berets.  The pros who are expert killers. It's a weak ego that wants to be strong. Inadequacy bent on super-power.

Psychologically, style matters big-time. It has become deadly. Dead straight. Dead straight shooter. I don't think any of my hunting mentors would want to be part of this fearful, selfish, goofy, insistence on the "right" to unlimited access to kill-people-weapons. Nope, they would give up their own firearms if it would save children. They were all teachers who loved children more than their own guns.

We all agreed that a shotgun that held six shells was illegal, to protect the ducks. Still the law.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Christmas: The Tenderloin and the Trash

Christmas is a special time in garbage.

I had a bit of a Blue Christmas this year. It was the first Christmas season in seven years that I was not out hauling. I would miss it more if was not gizzard-frosting cold out there right now.

Forced retirement from hauling came to me a couple months ago when the small local company I worked for sold to a very large company. Happens all the time. It's a bit of a sad tale, but one perhaps for another time. The point is I'm on the sidelines now, though with a trove of experiences and friends in the garbage business. An old-timer said to me, "Once a garbageman, always a garbageman." I'll keep on writing as "always a garbageman."

But back to Christmas in trash. I think it was my fourth post or so that described finding plastic baby Jesus in the trash. Every Christmas brings something special. This year it came vicariously. My friend Wes found this and posted the picture from the post-Christmas trash:

Another friend and former partner-in-trash commented: "I'm curious about the Ball Holder." The potty humor proceeded to stream forth, so to speak.

Last year we (Wes and I) found a whole beef tenderloin in a bin, perched on top of the rest of the trash. It was uncooked, still in its vacuum sealed package, unfrozen but kept cold in 25 degree weather. The label showed this four pound chunk of meat had been purchased at Costco for $24.99 per pound. The use-by date was over a month away.

"I suppose Kari would not be interested in this?" I asked, knowing well his wife has a zero tolerance policy on rescue-food. There was sadness in his eyes. Or was it fear?

Clearly, the beef was not meant as a Christmas tip for the trash guys. I suspect, though, it may have had something to do with some Christmas sadness in that family. Plans for a joyful celebration gone to trash. I imagine that someone in frustration, or exasperation, or sadness, or rage--threw that tenderloin away.

The biblical stories around Christmas are as tragic as they are hopeful. An unexpected pregnancy, suspicions and domestic strife, homelessness and genocide. Christmas has a long shadow.

I ate it with a few friends at our annual winter reunion. Roasted it in blazing coals, wrapped in salt and a cotton cloth--an old Colombian method called Lomo al Trapo, tenderloin in cloth.

It was amazing.

An unexpected gift, born, perhaps, of trauma. Wrapped in cloths. To me, Christmas is a good time to wonder about the human condition: the splendor and the horror. Angelic choirs sing of a miraculous, yet troubled birth. Divine and all too human. Tenderloin and trash.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


A friend's recent fascination with cryptocurrency has me thinking about money, real money. What is money, really?

This is a photo of real money. I know it is real money, because my buddy Wes found it there, in the bottom of the hopper, coated with a film of trash-slurry. At Wes' house there is a strict rule that nothing from the trash comes into the house. An exception was made for this item, however. So we know it's real.

We will never find cryptocurrency in the slurry. We find lots of coins, but will never come across a Bitcoin. I wish we could, since one "coin" is apparently worth several thousand dollars. Bitcoins cannot be tossed, flipped, or found. But they can be spent, traded, saved, or invested. They are virtual money, and only "exist" in computer code.

They're not like real money. Not like hard cash, or money in the bank or in a safe, or your mattress. You can't hold it, feel it, smell it (eeew, butt-sweat and leather).

There was a time, however, when paper money was an idea people did not trust:

It had been justly stated by a British writer that the power to make a small piece of paper, not worth one cent, by the inscribing of a few names, to be worth a thousand dollars, was a power too high to be entrusted to the hands of mortal man. [John C. Calhoun, speech, U.S. Senate, Dec. 29, 1841] 

But they got over it...

I am not interested in money but in the things of which money is the symbol. [Henry Ford]

In 1971 under Nixon, the U.S. departed from the gold standard, and our slooshable money became completely symbolic. I can't any longer claim the gold my money represents. My money does not represent any-thing. It is a fluctuating number among currencies, and only has the value people agree that it has--at the moment. That means at base, money is a form of relationship and trust. 

Our words for money betray both the reality of it's 
a) fluidity ("shlooshiness"), and 
b) our (false) hope to find security in it. 

a) "Currency." A moment's thought, and one realizes the root is "current," from the Latin currens--to flow. Good ol' John Locke seems to be the first to have applied it to the circulation of money. As with any relationship, there needs to be flow; circulation; movement; fluctuations. 

b) "Cash," on the other hand, comes from the same Latin word as "case." It means "box," or "money box." Or if you are Al Gore, "lock-box." Which I think everyone understood by then was only as secure as the internet. On the internet, it was said Gore claimed to have invented the internet; which he did not actually claim. Security is elusive.

We want security! Rock-solid, like Prudential...(oops, not like that.) Like a Chevy pickup truck! 

The root of "security" is to be care-free. Yet striving for security is anything but care-free. Hoarding, stockpiling, and building up defenses easily becomes an obsessive-compulsion rooted in insatiable fear.

Not, however, that there is nothing to fear. It's likely that the word money comes from a surname of the strict and exacting goddess Juno, sometimes called Juno Moneta, the one who warns or advises. As both divine queen and mother, she monitors the affairs of the divine oikos (Greek for household), from whence: economy.

In other words, money has value that commands respect--even though it is only perceived value. Money works because of trust--even though the trust is only as sturdy as the agreement. Perhaps Bitcoin and similar virtual currencies are just the natural evolution of the creation of money in the first place. 

But while we still have paper money, please feel care-free enough to throw some away---so we trash haulers can find it.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Broken Hallelujah--The Prequel: Leonard Cohen's Loving Brokenness

In my last blog, I confessed that I had set out to share a eulogy to the great poet and song writer, Leonard Cohen, who died not long ago. I felt moved instead to speak with my own voice. Thus came a meditation on broken, discarded toys under the title of perhaps Cohen's most famous song, (Broken) "Hallelujah."

I invite you now to consider the words of Cohen's close friend, Leon Wieseltier, for a flavor of this earthy-mystic; this joyful pilgrim on the pain-full path.

Here then, is that eulogy that moved me so. A worthy Lenten meditation (links to music at the end):

My Friend Leonard Cohen: Darkness and Praise

“Dear Uncle Leonard,” the email from the boy began. “Did anything inspire you to create ‘Hallelujah’”? Later that same winter day the reply arrived: “I wanted to stand with those who clearly see G-d’s holy broken world for what it is, and still find the courage or the heart to praise it. You don’t always get what you want. You’re not always up for the challenge. But in this case — it was given to me. For which I am deeply grateful.”

The question came from my son, who was preparing to present the most irresistible hymn of our time to his fifth-grade class and required a clarification about its meaning. The answer came from the author of the song, who was for 25 years my precious friend and comrade of the spirit. Leonard Cohen was the most beautiful man I have ever known.

His company was quickening in every way. The elegance and the seductiveness were the least of it. The example of his poise was overwhelming, more an achievement than a disposition, and much more than an affair of style.

He lived in a weather of wisdom, which he created by seeking it rather than by finding it. He swam in beauty, because in its transience he aspired to discern a glimpse of eternity: There was always a trace of philosophy in his sensuality. He managed to combine a sense of absurdity with a sense of significance, a genuine feat. He was hospitable and strict, sweet and deep, humble and grand, probing and tender, a friend of melancholy but an enemy of gloom, a voluptuary with religion, a renegade enamored of tradition.

Leonard was, above all, in his music and in his poems and in his tone of life, the lyrical advocate of the finite and the flawed. As he wrote to my son, who was mercifully too young to understand, he was possessed by a lasting sensation of brokenness. He was broken, love was broken, the world was broken.

But “Famous Blue Raincoat” notwithstanding, this was not the usual literary abjection, or any sort of bargain-basement Baudelaireanism. Leonard’s reputation for bleakness is very imprecise. His work documents a long and successful war with despair.  The shattering of love has the effect of proliferating it.

Leonard had an unusual inflection for darkness: He found in it an occasion for uplift. His work is animated by a laudatory impulse, an unexpected and profoundly moving hunger to praise the world in full view of it. His attitude of acceptance was not founded on anything as cheap as happiness.
Leonard sang always as a sinner. He refused to describe sin as a failure or a disqualification. Sin was a condition of creatureliness, and his feeling for our creatureliness was boundless. “Even though it all went wrong/ I’ll stand before the Lord of song/ With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!”

The singer’s faults do not expel him from the divine presence. Instead they confer a mortal integrity upon his exclamation of praise. He is the inadequate man, the lowly man, the hurt man who has given hurt, insisting modestly but stubbornly (except in “I’m Your Man,” when he merrily mocked himself) upon his right to a sacred exaltation.

Leonard wrote and sung often about God, but I am not sure what he meant by it. Whatever it was, it inspired “If It Be Your Will,” his most exquisite song. He sought recognition for his fallenness, not rescue from it. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” He once told an interviewer that those words were the closest he came to a credo. The teaching could not be more plain: fix the crack, lose the light.

All this gave Leonard’s laughter an uncommon credibility. He put punch lines into some of his most lugubrious songs. He delighted in expressing serious notions in comically homely ways. (On ephemerality, from an unreleased early version of a song: “They oughta hand the night a ticket/ for speeding. It’s a crime.”) We laughed all the time. At the small wooden table in his kitchen the jokes flew, usually as he prepared a meal. While he was genuinely in earnest about the pursuit of truth, Leonard had a supremely unsanctimonious temperament. Whether or not darkness was to be relieved by light, it was to be relieved by lightness. Before Passover, which commemorates the biblical exodus, he sent this: “Dear bro, happy Pesach. I miss Egypt! Love and blessings, Eliezer.” Before Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah in the desert, he sent this: “Dear bro, See you at Sinai. I’ll be wearing headphones! Love and blessings, Eliezer.” The laughter of the disabused was yet another of his gifts.

Eliezer was his Hebrew name. We sometimes read and studied together, Lorca and midrash and Eluard and Buddhist scriptures and Cavafy. We could get quite Talmudic, especially with wine. In Judaism there is a custom to honor the dead by pondering a text in their memory. Here, in memory of Eliezer ben Nisan ha’Cohen, is a passage on frivolity by a great rabbi in Prague at the end of the 16th century. “Man was born for toil, since his perfection is always being actualized but is never actual,” he observed in an essay on frivolity. “And insofar as he attains perfection, something is missing in him.

In such a being, perfection is a shortcoming and a lack.” Leonard Cohen was the poet laureate of the
the lack, the psalmist of the privation, who made imperfection gorgeous.

- from the New York Times

(Leon Wieseltier is the Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Kaddish.”)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Broken Hallelujah

Broken and discarded toys can get to me. We see them every day in the trash. Most of the time I don't think much of it--headless Barbies, a trike without a wheel, stuffed animals--but once in a while the images speak to me of almost impossible joy and loss.

Little children imagine the world differently from most grown-ups. More truly, I think. They don't distinguish between an animate and inanimate world. Everything around them is alive.

When Charlie was six, we bought a newer car. When she was at school, we sold the green station wagon--HER car. The one she knew from her beginning.

The one that took her places while she had important phone meetings.

Cars, animals, stuffed animals, people, trees--all live together in the living world that children experience. So when Charlie heard on the way home from kindergarten that her beloved green car had been sold, she burst into tears: "I DIDN'T GET TO SAY GOODBYE!"

But she did get to. The new owners had not yet picked up the car. Still moist with tears, Charlie erupted with joy to see her beloved green car in front of the house. When the time came for her car to leave with its new people, Charlie tenderly walked up and patted the hood. "Goodbye," she said. Quite similar to the way in which she had said "Goodbye Nana." at my mother's casket the summer before.

My tears are too often sentimental. But children don't feel sorry enough for themselves yet to be sentimental. Their tears are direct, immediate and relational. As is their joy and wonder. This changes as we get older. Therefore the world, as we see it, changes. It can become a world of "things" for which we have little feeling. People can become things--useful or not--to us too.

Sometimes, when I look at a discarded Teddy Bear, it overwhelms me.  The hallelujah and the brokenness of our being-here. That which children are vulnerable to feeling unguardedly. That which mystics of any religion (or non-religion) see. About which poets write.

Jesus is said to have said, in response to his young men arguing over who was greatest among them, "Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. For to such it belongs." Jesus' "kingdom" was a satirical inversion of the Roman kingdom. Fearless love over fearful power.

"And a little child shall lead them," declares Isaiah's vision of a peaceful kingdom. It's about unquestioned belonging, where everyone and everything is included. Exquisitely painful. I guess we are too afraid for that. Or are we?

(Note: I intended this blog to be a eulogy of Leonard Cohen. Thus the title. But I think his spirit overtook my hands. Maybe something more directly about him later...)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Few Minutes of Fame

 To my surprise and delight, StoryCorps picked up on Rev. Dr. Garbage Man, and thought my daughter, Charlie might interview him (Dad, Silly Old Man) for a segment. Thanks to my colleagues at Wisdom Ways who turned them on to this in the first place, Barbara Lund and Sonja Ausen-Anafrani.

My daughter, Charlie and I recorded for over an hour. They assured us that less than one percent of their interviews reach the weekly national radio broadcast. I was surprised then, when I got a call on Thursday, January 19th saying we were going to be broadcast on NPR the next morning. It was inauguration day. Our audience was huge. Bigger than any ever before, or ever after. Enjoy...

Listen to StoryCorps Interview Here