Coco and Zen

There are people who have money and people who are rich.

Coco Chanel

trash canIf you are like me, you probably never thought of Coco Chanel as being philosophic or Zen or open to multiple interpretations, but there she is. After all, she did create the LBD and Chanel No. 5.

Yesterday was garbage day and, as usual, it felt good to get the trash out of my apartment. Around 8:30 a.m. I carried my two bags to the truck, waited while others there before me were rid of theirs, then lifted my bags to the man standing in the truck,

One of those handing over her small bag was a girl of nine or ten years. She isn’t the first that I’ve seen carry out the trash. The other day on the way back from grocery shopping I was walking up calle Carolina and there were at least three or four girls and perhaps an equal number of boys whose job it was – at least that day – to carry out the trash. I saw no tears, no complaints, no sadness, no bitterness among the children (that drama might have taken place long ago inside their homes!), but I suspect that – given the calm on the children’s faces – that they accepted their task, one of the things to be done as part of a family, and they took some pride in it and they simply did the chore, then talked with their friends, who were in the same situation. It caused me to think back to how difficult it is for so many American children (based on my experience within my family and that of friends) to do anything around the house.

You might wonder why townspeople don’t put their trash bags out the night before. The answer is quite simple:  free-roaming dogs would tear open the bags in search of food. Then you might ask, why don’t people use plastic garbage cans with secure tops? That might work in more affluent neighborhoods where households can afford the cans, but there are many colonias where it’s totally impractical. Why doesn’t the city provide the bins or cans? Read on.

To continue (from yesterday) the theme of “my home town”, I thought back to garbage collection there, which was handled by private companies. Small entrepreneurs for certain (in those days there was nothing like Waste Management Inc.), all Italians, all of whom drove Cadillac automobiles (if not everyday, then at least to Mass on Sunday). Some in my snooty town looked down on these men, some were certainly blissfully unaware of how their garbage disappeared – except perhaps to complain when the truck came to their driveway early in the morning, before dawn, dew on their manicured lawns or snow and ice still in their driveways.

My guess is some descendants of those suburban Connecticut debutante ball-throwers, whether out of necessity or adventure, drove their Hummers across the border and now pay their “gardener to handle that” because “that” – understanding municipal duties in a foreign land – is beyond their ken.

Understanding one’s civic responsibilities in this age of overwhelming packaging can be daunting. I know. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. One poster on reports:

According the the current issue of G[uadalajara] R[eporter], new garbage rules begin Monday March 12 [2012]. Organic waste and yard waste collected M-W-F in a GREEN bag or GREEN waste container. Recyclable paper, plastic, glass, on T-Th in a BLUE bag or waste container. Sanitary materials, medical waste and non-recyclable stuff on Sat only in a YELLOW/ ORANGE bag or waste container. It says that the new colored bags and containers are available at most large grocery stores and hardware stores.

Garbage collection here is performed by the municipality. An article by Alejandro Devesa in Atencion states:

San Miguel produces approximately 95 tons of garbage every day. It is taken to the landfill located on the road to Dolores Hidalgo near the community of Palo Colorado. Just over 50 percent of waste is organic, and the rest is made up of other materials such as plastic, cardboard and tin, among others. … The head of the Public Services Department, Julian Villela, said that “we have 25 three-ton dump trucks; unlike in other cities, compactor trucks cannot be used due to the size of the streets. … The workday for garbage collectors starts at 6am and sometimes lasts until 8pm.

As an indicator of economic conditions, in 2009 a rodeo was sponsored by the Mayor’s office to raise funds for fuel for the sanitation department (it raised $7,000). Needless to say, I doubt any of the workers drive Cadillacs. Please don’t take that comment as any endorsement of capitalism or any other -ism. And please don’t take the previous sentence as a criticism of capitalism or any other -ism. I might get to those topics another day.


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