“Well, sigh, here we go again with “Wanda,” I thought. Now what on Earth will it be this time?
You see, it wasn’t that long ago when she grumbled about a “ghetto-like” (her word) Dollar General store that opened in town. But this time I figured that the target of her ire had to be as deadly serious as that Dollar General – perhaps a Starbucks that opened five minutes late, poop on her lawn compliments of a neighbor’s dog, a missing can of peas in her grocery bag, or a toenail she cracked in an airport stairwell. With “Wanda” one can never know with certainty.
Now here’s a recent message I received from her a few days after Thanksgiving; mind you when late trash collections are not at all that unusual:
“Hey Howard, as a follower of your articles in the paper, I hope you will write something on the incompetence of our local trash collectors. Many times this year they have been late for pickups. Clearly they are not only incompetent, they’re also just lazy and really don’t want to work. Plus, when they do pick up, often it’s early in the morning and their trucks interrupt my sleep.”
Really “Wanda,” really?
I mean we’re dealing with inflation; rampant gun shootings, antisemitic nitwits dining on hundred-dollar steaks, salmon caviar and sipping Sauvignon Blanc with an ex-president at Mar-a-Lago, and you want me to address…. garbage collection in your neighborhood?
Really “Wanda,” really?
Well okay, I decided to accept your kind offer because, well, after thinking about it further, you’ve given me an opportunity to broaden some perspectives; yours with any luck and maybe others.
However, a fair warning “Wanda.” If you read this piece, you may not be pleased with what I have to say to you. But hang with me please because you opened a door to an opportunity and being the nice fella that I am, I’m obliged to walk in.
To begin “Wanda,” I fit the definition of the proverbial “early riser,” in that I’m awake and out of the house every morning, often before daybreak. So it’s not unusual for me to encounter the men, and an occasional woman, emptying my trash cans on the curb in the morning.
And if they are a day or two late, so be it, I won’t go into cardiac arrest. And I don’t complain since I don’t know the circumstances behind their tardiness, and neither do you “Wanda.” Look, I seriously doubt that they wake up in the wee hours of the morning when you are sound asleep asking themself, “should I be late this morning to pick up “Ms. Wanda’s” trash?”
Now when I see my collectors in the morning, I roll down my window and warmly greet them. And they return my greeting. You see, when I see them, I see images of those Black trash collectors who collected trash on Sunnyside Street in my old neighborhood in Virginia. I don’t look down, away or past them. No. I look at them as my brothers and my sisters.
When I see them “Wanda,” I see images of those mostly African American trash collectors who went on strike against deplorable working conditions in Memphis in 1968 that resulted in Dr. Martin Luther King’s appearance in that city that ultimately led to his assassination.
So “Wanda,” as I watch them loading their truck with my trash, I see the faces of human beings, each one with a personal history, one that I (or you) may never know. And no, I haven’t the foggiest idea whether their collection job is their single source of income or one of two (or three) jobs they’re holding down just to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Are you still with me “Wanda?”
But this much I know – now hear me clearly – each one of them is someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, aunt or uncle, each deserving to be treated with dignity and respect, not scorned for life circumstances about them we may not know.
Now to broaden your perspective I ask for your forgiveness in advance if I’m about to offend you by bringing your attention to images that you and probably millions of others would rather not see; the reality of life as it is for human beings – I repeat, human beings – living (no, “existing” is a better word) in Haiti as I write this.
So “Wanda,” I urge you to Google and sift through those many gut-wrenching pictures of Haitian people walking through blocks of rodent-infested trash piled up on their crumbling sidewalks. I’m willing to wager that they, like you, would love nothing better than to have their garbage picked up, even if it’s a day or two later.
Oh, and while I’m at it, I seriously doubt if they’d object to a few Dollar Generals being built in their neighborhoods in Port au Prince, Cap-Haitien, Port Margot or other cities and towns across the island.
Now going forward “Wanda,” if your early morning slumber is interrupted by hard-working folks loading your garbage, wipe sleep from your eyes, look the person in the mirror and ask her if she would want to trade places with those human beings wading through piles of trash in Port au Prince.
So, before you send me another complaint, next time about lukewarm French Fries you got from MacDonalds, I want you to think…wait, wait, wait… are you still with me “Wanda?”
Humm, well, I guess not!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.