I was told I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be, so when I was 11 I wanted to be a garbage man.
In the summer of 1991 I turned eleven years old. It was around this time that I started to understand how things worked in the world and I knew that I would need some job stability in the coming years. No longer could I waste my time dreaming that I would be the third basemen for the Oakland A’s; only one person had that job at a time and I was still struggling to hit a curveball. It was time to get serious. I needed to get realistic and set the bar just a little bit lower. Actually, a lot lower. I wanted to be a garbage man.
One day while playing with my Transformers I had overheard my parents having a discussion about how garbage men were paid more than teachers. Since I was still young and naïve I assumed teachers were paid astronomical amounts of money due to their importance in society, so therefore garbage men must be living in giant mansions in the hills. I had planned on owning my own mansion complete with a drawbridge, a Baskin Robbins and 7 red Ferrari Testarossas so I decided if I was going to make those dreams a reality I needed to get in on the trash game.
As I struggled to figure out exactly what it would take to become a garbage man I came across one of cinema’s great masterpieces, Men at Work. I was a huge Charlie Sheen fan (almost entirely because he was the most famous Charlie who wasn’t a cartoon tuna) so I would have loved Men at Work even if it didn’t portray the life of a garbage man as idyllic. Sheen and his brother Emilio Estevez spent all their time pulling pranks involving poop, shooting their pellet gun at stuff, and finding the occasional dead body. It looked like so much fun. Did you see the way they high-fived each other with the garbage lids? EPIC.
The more I thought about being a garbage man the more I liked the idea of it. More than anything I liked the idea of the truck. I would daydream about being behind the wheel of that behemoth careening down alleys at breakneck speeds plowing into anything that dare get in my way before slamming on the brakes and fishtailing to a stop right in front of a dumpster that needed emptying. As amazing as this all seemed I figured that driving the truck was the crappy job, it was the job you had to do if you were the last guy to show up to work. The real action was hanging on to the back; hanging on for dear life as you sped around town, high fiving strangers, getting to jump off while still moving and kicking at cars that show disrespect.
I was a curious kid and I wanted to know what was in everything, including the garbage of strangers. Bob, our neighbor next door, was constantly doing remodeling on his home so his garbage was far more plentiful and interesting than ours ever was, thus I spent a great deal of time rummaging through it. Eventually I drew the connection that garbage men get to travel around town to rummage through everyone’s garbage. How cool is that? I had found so much interesting stuff in Bob’s garbage and he was just one fairly boring old guy, imagine the bounty being thrown out by all the far more interesting people out there. My eyes would get wide just thinking about it.
I wasn’t under any delusions that everything I found in the garbage would be amazing (like a cracked bowling ball or a black and white television that only gets the even numbered channels); I understood that most of it would be useless trash. Wonderful, glorious, breakable, useless trash. Bottles, light bulbs, and furniture just sitting there waiting for me to smash them into oblivion. There is only one thing that an eleven year old boy enjoys more than breaking things and that would be getting paid to cause all kinds of destruction.
As far as I was concerned being a garbage man offered all that I really needed in life; a ton of cash, the opportunity to drive a bad ass truck, the even more bad ass prospect of hanging off that truck, finding treasure, and getting to obliterate objects on a daily basis. I would spend my days in a trash filled wonderland. My parents were slightly less enthused than I was. As incredibly supportive people they never shot down my rationale for wanting to pursue a job in sanitation, they just tried to subtly suggest I aim a little higher.
“Maybe you can be the guy who designs and builds the garbage truck,” my mom suggested.
“That sounds boring. Why would I want to sit in an office and draw pictures of trucks when I can hang off the back while speeding on the highway?” was my retort.
In retrospect I’m sure my parents had to fight the urge to blurt out, “You will smell like crap. I don’t mean that to say that you will smell badly, I mean you will literally smell like crap. Forever.” Instead they quietly waited for me to grow out of this phase as I inevitably did after a few months. The job lost most of it’s luster once I grew out of digging through garbage and breaking stuff. From a career standpoint I was starting to figure out that curveball so my fall back job as a major leaguer was still a viable option. My phase of wanting to be a garbage man was not without some reward, it did allow me to embarrass my dad at his job.
My dad was a nuclear engineer. At that year’s Christmas party I was surrounded by many of his co-workers when his boss asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ll never forget the look of sheer horror on my dad’s face when I announced to his boss that I wanted to be a garbage man, it was the same look he would give me when I told him I wanted to be a writer.