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.