Zach and Jamie and the Evolution of Trash Cans

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.


About Jimmy

The stories herein are about a sentimental 80s child who cried at every showing of ET (the sad part where he was lying in the wash) and his families, then and now. His wife, son, parents, and siblings play their parts well. They have their exits and their entrances. Sometimes their exits are sad, but not as sad as ET.
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11 Responses to Zach and Jamie and the Evolution of Trash Cans

  1. inkline says:

    Thankfully northern MN was at least ten years behind LA, so in spite of our ate difference, I also have the memory of metal trash can lids. I always ran inside, though, when my siblings started throwing things at each other. Usually it was acorns.

  2. dorannrule says:

    Awwww, I’m so sorry that Zach will miss the trash can shields. They still do sell the metal kind though. Maybe you could purchase a few – just for the lids you know. And when Zach gets old enough you initiate one of your backyard wars. Great post as always because even tho I’m a girl I get transported back to your childhood. 🙂

  3. Maxi says:

    Maybe Zach won’t have the lid war, but there can be other games. The men put the lids back on the cans! I can’t get over this. Never happens ’round here.
    Blessings – Maxi

    • Jimmy says:

      There was something awe-ful about those men. They were often short, always dirty in their coveralls, but they jumped off that truck and emptied can after can, doing their duty. In another life, at another time, I’d like to do that job, at least for a day or two.

  4. Dianna says:

    Your post once again reminded me of my son, Marshall’s, childhood. No, he didn’t play with the trash can lids. But, when he was a toddler, he idolized the men who rode on the back of the trash truck. We had rungs on our kitchen chairs, and he would stand on the rungs and pretend that he was riding the trash truck!
    Thanks for reminding me. One day when Zach is your age, you’ll look back and smile at things he’s doing now…

    • Jimmy says:

      That always seemed like an amazing job to me. These men got to be outside all day, plus they got to ride on the outside of a big, noisy truck!

  5. Mom says:

    You brought the trash cans in???

  6. Mud wars with trash-can-lid shields – love it!

    We’ve only had the machine-pick-up bins for about a year or so and just got new ones for recycling, so the memories of dragging the garbage cans to the curb for pick-up are still fresh. When I was young, Dad made a stand by the back lane for the cans so we only needed to take the trash bags out to the cans and never had to drag the cans back into the yard, although there were times when the garbage workers did not return the cans to the stand, so we had to do it.

    Even though Zach won’t have the same memory as you, he’ll still remember watching the garbage pick-up with you. As for the mud wars, I’m sure you could find other things to stand-in for the shields. 🙂

    • Jimmy says:

      Oh, I plan on buying some of those cans just for their shields! Right now, we have big diaper boxes to push around. Sometimes Zach pushes and sometimes he rides. Soon though, when he’s a big brother, those boxes will transform into shields.

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