Zach loves trash trucks. He hears their loud hissing brakes and squeals to get closer. He waves his arm in time with the truck’s big claw arm as it comes down and grabs the plastic trashcan. His eyes get big as it lifts the trash can up and up and then dumps the contents into its compactor. We walk over as the trashcan comes back down. He talks to me in urgent grunts and squeals as I roll it back into the garage for the week, telling him to be patient, that he will have a chance to wheel the trash cans to the curb for years. I’m not sure he understands.
There were men on the backs of trash trucks when I was a boy. They had sweaty beards and blackened work gloves. Jamie and I would wait on summer Tuesday afternoons in ’82. The trucks were louder then and we knew they were coming before they turned the corner. The driver pulled up and the two men jumped off the back. We had four trash cans, three metal and one brown rubber. The men took the tops off of all four and tossed the contents into the back. They put the lids back on and sometimes waved to us as we ran to bring them in.
We each dragged one metal can into our sideyard. We stopped every few steps to switch hands as the handles burned. Once in the yard, we each took a lid and ran it under the hose to cool the handle. And then we ran to the grassless corner of the backyard.
We had sprinklers that drenched that corner in the mornings. By afternoon, it was all cracked and dried sun-baked mud. We drove our fingers between the cracks and pulled up big blocks of sometimes soft dirt. We made piles of the blocks about ten feet away from each other. When our piles were big enough, we grabbed the garbage can lids, which were getting hot again, and began to count, “One, two, …” we never made it to three.
Jamie started throwing his clods at me as I ducked behind the lid, listening to the ting as the clod first hit it and then the patter of the dirt fall as the clod exploded. We tried to hit each other, but, failing that, we tried to throw the clods hard enough that they left marks on the other’s lid.
We threw and threw until our supply was exhausted and then we counted the marks on the lid. Whoever had the most marks on him or his lid lost. The winner was declared backyard champion and the loser had to run to turn on the sprinklers for a few minutes.
Los Angeles summers were hot and there was a new champion every hour or so.
There are a lot of advantages of today’s trash cans. The old ones were heavy to drag. They had no wheels and burned your hands when you pulled them.
But Zach will never know the sound of a dirt clod hitting his tin shield.