Imagining a Better Place

After thoughtful consideration, I think I’ve discovered my new dream job. When I grow up, I’d like to be the old man who sits by the trash compactor. I’m not sure what the job qualifications are, but I believe I’d be qualified. Basically, the old man just sits in a lawn chair under a beach umbrella, talks to people as they’re heaving trash bags into the compactor, and presses the compactor button every so often. Sometimes when he tires of talking, he just grunts. This seems like a pleasant way to spend your days if you ask me. I bet when it gets slow, he could just sit under his beach umbrella and read a book, maybe Pride and Prejudice or some other Victorian classic, while swatting flies.

Out in the country, we don’t have roadside trash pickup. Instead, everyone hauls their own household waste to the local dump, where it’s collected, compacted, and sent to the county landfill (which is a major step forward from the olden days when everyone hauled their trash to the local gully and let it wash downstream).

Being the trash-compactor-button-pusher may not seem very ambitious, but growing up my dream job was hobo, so I’ve made some progress.  I grew up in a railroad town, where CSX had a major freight hub, and where hobos were somewhat mythical creatures. Every boy wanted to meet a real life hobo, to pick their brain on the best way to build a campfire and hear about the amenities of freight cars. 

I can truthfully say I’ve not only met, but had lunch with a real life hobo. His name was Mark, and about once a year, he would show up at my dad’s church, having just hopped off a freight train. My dad was a Baptist preacher (still is a Baptist preacher), and he would take Mark to the Hardees not too far from our church to buy him lunch. Once or twice I got to accompany them, and I’d sit in a booth and listen to Mark tell stories of all the places he had been and people he had met. He seemed like a character straight out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  

Perhaps a more apt description, though, would be Otis from the Andy Griffith Show–he even wore suspenders like Otis. Certainly, he had the waft off a major drinking problem, though at the time I thought he just smelled like a hobo. At night, he would sleep in the lobby of the post office until the police would shew him off and he’d hop a freight train and move on to another town down the line, only to show up again a year or so later with more stories to tell. 

Even now, it’s hard for me not to romanticize Mark. I’ve always been susceptible to romanticizing, from trash compacting, to hoboing, to farming. But isn’t it nice to sometimes imagine a place where our fields always yield bumper crops, our hobos are harmless and held in high-esteem, our drunks walk to jail to lock themselves up, and our Sheriff doesn’t carry a gun because the craziest of our crazies, our Earnest T. Basses, merely throw rocks through windows–and don’t storm through them to wave rebel flags in the halls of Congress and plant pipe bombs outside the United States Capitol.

26 thoughts on “Imagining a Better Place

    1. Great minds think a like. I can’t imagine having first dibs on all the swell junk that people want to throw away–that alone would be worth it.

  1. When my parents built the house I live in now, there was no trash collection. My parents read the paper every day, and bundled up a month’s worth to bury.. There was a hose that metered out the “grey water” into the garden that drained from the bathtub and kitchen sink. They had a composting pile where scraps were thrown, they recycled cans, and everything else that didn’t fall into that category was taken to the dump.

    When I moved into the home 15 years later, after mom died (dad passed away first), I was digging in the dirt and found newspaper 10 years old. You could still read the print.

    Now, the dogs can’t run and we have a fenced in yard, where there was once a 4-way stop there’s now a 6 lane highway through the town 3 miles south of us. And, of course, there’s garbage pickup. Life seems to get more complicated, not better.

    1. You’re right about that. Back when our old farmhouse was built in 1897, there was just a dusty wagon road out front. Now there are so many cars going so fast that I sometimes worry if one is going to lose control in the curve and come through our bedroom wall. I wish I could pick the house up and move it back two hundred yards.

      1. When the roads were widened, some people’s homes went from 100 feet from the 2 lane road to 20 feet from the 6 lane highway. That just sucks.

  2. The moral at the end of this post may be all the more effective for the way it sneaks up on the reader, lubricated by humor. Hope it gets thru to some of those who fancy that our democratic traditions being strongER than those of Weimar Germany is as good as them being strong ENOUGH to resist what happened there in the 1930-s.

    1. I doubt many of those people read this blog, but here’s hoping. I kind of got that strategy from Terry Pratchett though. He wrote, “Humor has its uses. Laughter can through the keyhole while seriousness is still hammering on the door. New ideas can ride in on the back of a joke; old ideas can be given an added edge.

  3. As always, I thank you for the much needed smile, along with the stark reminder of what has been happened.

    On a lighter note, I actually had a great uncle who rode the rails during the Depression. We visited him when I was very young, but sadly I don’t recall any stories. My mom told me once he was married several times and seemed always find rich women, though I’ve not found records of that.

    1. Riding the rails and rich women–sounds like the life 😉 Likely, he hid all his wives’ money in the ground somewhere. We have a story of a great uncle who was supposedly a moonshiner during depression and buried a bunch of money but so far nobody has found it.

  4. Season could tell you all about my romanticized dream of being “homeless Steve”, the roaming homeless guy who spends his time wandering the streets, philosophizing about life, and meeting interesting people along the way.

      1. He left out jumping out of the bushes at people using their cell phones. . .the deal is, though, if he gets to be homeless Steve, I get to be hotel Season and have room service, cable, and clean sheets every night.

      2. I’ve tried to make a deal where I could be Amish Stephen and covert an old outbuilding into a humble writer’s abode and we could live the simple life but so far Natalie isn’t taking me up on the offer. Plus, I don’t think I’d be a good Amish person because horses and I mortal enemies.

  5. Yep, rural trash collection is vastly improved from the gully days I remember so well. My dad says that in the 1930s, when he was a child, his goal was to grow up and be a garbage man, because it looked so fun the way they tossed the cans up to a guy on the truck, then he tossed them back. Dad was coordinated. He could do that. Plus you got to ride on the back of the truck. I am glad he took is coordination off to the baseball field and eventually got a job where he got to travel, but in a car.

  6. I want to say something profound about this piece, because I find it to be so profound and well written. But, I’m coming up short with just a thank you.

  7. Earnest T. Bass was a gentleman and a scholar in comparison. The best Hobos were the ones with the best stories to tell, can you imagine how much they witnessed over their lifetimes? I never knew a bonafide hobo personally, growing up in New Zealand, but did hear the stories of theatre people, dance troops and die-hard travelers, growing up. I would hide behind the sofa when I was supposed to be in bed to listen, if we were visited. I always dreamed of a nomadic life, a romanticized existence.

    1. I bet they had some stories to tell to. Sometimes I think the nomad hunter-gathers probably had it made. They could go browse for some berries and do a little hunting then relax for the rest of the time–no 40 hour work week. Of course, there was likely the looming threat of starvation, but life must have been pretty swell otherwise 😉

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