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Gristmill: Dumped

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 15:39
American pickers: Two children sort through the trash at a dump, possibly in Rhode Island, possibly in 1912.
Lewis Wickes Hine / National Child Labor Committee Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

It was as momentous as it was sudden, coming upon us quietly, on a junkyard dog’s sandpaper paws. I mean the change in hours at the town dump.

Southampton Town, that is, where municipal workers no longer have to clock out for a half-hour lunch break, thus shortening the workday. Yes, as croaked Billy Bragg, Labour Party bloke and electric folkie, “There . . . is power . . . in a un-i-on!”

And so a later slinking of the chains off the transfer station gates, opening them wide in welcoming the public’s wastes — as of this month, 8:30 in the a.m., not 8.

I learned this when I pulled up to the Sag Harbor transfer station complete with a load not properly tied down. I took the rebuff personally, too, and then killed off some more of my life’s finite minutes before schlepping west to the land of dirt roads and scraggly pines, the South Fork’s own Appalachia, the true unHampton — North Sea — and there made my carefully sorted drop.

If you don’t have a trash pickup service, dump runs can take up an inordinate amount of psychic space, to say nothing of weekend time. Or rage: “Endless!” is my weekly cry to any family member in earshot as I ready the load.

I do appreciate how the town’s green bag system encourages thrift and eco-mindedness, as you really only pay for carting your own fetid trash, not anything remotely recyclable (regardless of whether or not it ends up in a central Pennsylvania landfill). But I’m still trying to figure out what’s worse, simply tossing the empty jar of Jiffy in the garbage, or taking the time and wasting the resources (water and the energy to warm it) to laboriously clean the persistent peanut paste from the jar’s walls for acceptable recycling.

Sadly, compulsively, whether it’s number 1 PETE or glass, my conscience just won’t free me from the pointlessness.

Back before the big change, back before my son got his driver’s license and started taking the car to school every day, I’d on occasion drop him and his younger sister off in the morning and, before hitting the dump at 8, indulge myself for a spell, parking in view of the breakwater off Long Wharf, paper cup of coffee in one hand, in the other a small bit of baked-goods glory — a Grindstone plain glazed doughnut. Just try finding a better one. 

Oh well, it was good while it lasted. And there’s always Entenmann’s.


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