Friday, June 14, 2013

life story: of milk and mildew

            There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I have an overwhelming urge to want to save the world. Those kind of aspirations are admittedly crazy in every way, especially for one person. You'll see what I'm talking about later. The second? I'm one of those people that picks up trash in public spaces... thus, saving the world (debatable, but for all blogging purposes something we'll stick with).
            It's not out of obligation. No, I volunteer to pick up trash. No one tells me I have to, no one tells me I should and nudges me onto the side of a highway; I do it because I think it's fun. At this point, you're probably saying that I have zero friends. After all, who suspects that the person who is walking around with a garbage bag and work gloves on the side of the road has a bunch of people knocking on their door to hang out? You're right! No one. But I assure you, I have friends. They're just extremely busy... seemingly all the time. Hmmmmm... I'll be right back...

            Okay, I'm back! One of my friends answered a phone call from me; it's all good. Back to what I was saying. I'm not crazy. But if someone saw me a few weeks ago, digging through the garbage (which is suspicious in itself) they may have thought I was.

            It was a beautiful spring day, probably the first day of the year where it feels like summer. I had just finished raking and cleaning out gardens in a little downtown park in the small suburban town in which I live and was driving home, sore and aching, yet feeling a sense of accomplishment that I find extremely difficult to attain.
            It was the golden hour of the afternoon, the time of day where the sun is just at the point where it skims the landscape in its dusky glory, just perfect light for bonfires to be lit and mosquitos to venture from wherever they seemingly disappear to during the day. Sunglasses on, driving, radio static breaking through the hum of the car engine. It was pretty great. And that's when I saw it.
            A car wash stands as the gateway to my hometown's small downtown district. Closed down, weeded over, abandoned for all its worth, this little red building had been a hot spot in its heyday. I remember as a little tyke travelling through the little station. It had two long hallways made specifically for cars to cruise through and enable the owners to use the equipment inside to make the car presentable for any occasion. First date, prom, job interview:  what have you, it was always there. But in recent years, the cute little station had undergone an owner change that was for the worst. The doors that once hosted many-a-car were closed and chained with padlocks. The red paint that adorned the concrete brick walls began peeling. The bright yellow letters on the overhead flat roof reading, "Car Wash," (surprisingly) saw much better days. The air pump for tires in the parking lot went into disservice. And, finally, the concrete construction with two holes to contain travelers' McDonald's wrappers and gas station snack recepticles overflowed into the surrounding area.
            Now, while the normal person would be totally fine with the fact that garbage was blowing everywhere, I took it as a personal attack on my goal to save the world on this fine afternoon, and instantly pulled into the abandoned car wash parking lot, ready to settle the score. After all, this hadn't been the first time I noticed the problem. No one had emptied these "garbages" in at least two years. Again, sad story about car wash in disservice...
            I parked my car right next to the concrete trash can-esque center, inspected the problem fully, and fetched three jumbo garbage bags from the trunk of my car. (Yes, I keep garbage bags in my trunk:  deal with it.) I opened up one end of one of the garbage bags, watching it billow in the slight breeze, and first dealt with the garbage scattered throughout the vicinity. Among the trash, there were realtor yard signs, gummy worm package wrappers, and surprisingly, a large cardboard box. Not thinking much of it, I stuffed everything in the bag and headed back to the source of the scattered items.
            The pseudo garbage cans, even at first glance, were a monstrosity of a problem. Garbage of all kinds - plastic, glass, paper - were thrown into the collections with little care. Each time the wind picked up, the bottles at the top of the heaps of trash would rattle, threatening to throw themselves off the pile and onto the asphalt. But even worse was the smell; these open pits were so exposed to the elements - rain, snow, what have you - that the water had not only penetrated, but made the entire pile of forgotten elements soggy and probably something much more disgusting as the trash descended into the concrete hole.
            Proceeding with caution, I started digging through the trash, scooping each and every bit into the first garbage bag, which seemed to fill up faster than I had anticipated. But then again, when people are throwing away (and I'm not kidding here) a 101 Dalmations sleeping bag, shirts, and robotic dogs into a roadside car wash's outside trash can, you know there's going to be a problem. Despite the minor smell issue, as I went along things actually were pretty peachy. Everything seemed to be mostly dry, manageable to handle, and relatively small. There weren't even any personal hygiene items, which are common in places like this. I tied off my first garbage bag with ease, opened up another, and started filling that one as well.
            A couple handfuls into the second bag, that aforementioned problem arose. All of a sudden, I could smell something awful permeating the air around me, even more so than before. It smelled either like puke or my cooking, which coincidentally smell and taste the same. Bile rose in the back of my throat, and I briefly stepped away. A moment passed over me when I thought it may just be a passing stench riding the breeze. But it was not; I knew better than that. I worked up the courage to grab a handful more of garbage, and in clear sight, there was my problem.
            I've heard of soured milk before, but surely there was no preparing me for what I saw. Under the weight of the other garbage, a gallon milk jug had been squished, and its contents spilled over the remaining trash can contents. Curdled, in big chunks like cottage cheese, it had festered in its place for a long time, long enough to be overpowering to the nth degree. "Yuck, yuck, yuck," I tried to suppress as I jumped back, but it was too much.
            I approached the can again and saw the opaque white curdles at the bottom of the bin, and said out loud, "Yeah, about that... I can't." I immediately moved away from there and onto cleaning out the second concrete hole in favor of the first, but I knew it was inevitable I would face the gag-worthy collection just waiting for me feet away. Luckily, for now, I could avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. Then, the second hole was cleaned out. My gloves were a little soggy from the trash at the bottom of that second bin, but it wasn't hard to get over it. I tied off the second bag and then took a deep breath.
            The curdles were still awaiting me at the bottom of the pit, on top of what one could only assume were more disgusting things. But I wasn't going to stop here. I had come so far. Two entire jumbo bags full of garbage. And the car wash looked better when there wasn't trash overflowing the vicinity. Who else will do it if you don't? I asked myself. Unfortunately, I knew the answer:  no one. And it would look SO good if this trash was cleaned out and replaced with dirt and some beautiful flowers. I have to do this, I thought. So I took a deep breath and reached toward the sour milk-stained remains in the bin.
            Sour milk stained my gloves, seeping into the fabric and into my skin, and I felt the bile rise again. I swiftly brought the contents into the bag and continued on. Through moist, damp, disgusting contents that once littered dashboard roadtrips, baseball game concession stands, or gas station shelves - I can only imagine. Through mold and mildew-stained pieces of paper. I cleared it, scraping the bottom, dropping the final bits of trash into the third and final garbage bag, dropping in my soaking work gloves in behind - by this time, they were caked with the curdled milk - and tying the clear plastic tight into itself.
            I walked directly to my car, the smell of sour milk lingering on my body. "That was so gross. Yuck," I audibly proclaimed just to verify how disgusting it was to myself. "I'm never doing that again." The first bag had torn in spots from the pointed wire of the realtor yard sign, but I didn't care. I shuddered as I dropped into the driver's seat of my car and drove as a fast as I could home. I was halfway there when I realized why I could still smell the wretched milk-puke-my cooking smell. Drawing my hand to my nose, I realized it actually had seeped into my skin.
            Within seconds of pulling into my driveway, I was in the shower. I imagine it was a bit like the scene from Baby Mama with Tina Fey washing the dye out of Amy Poehler's hair.

            Yeah, it was exactly like that, except Tina wasn't there, obviously. After the shower, however, I did feel much better, especially after I cleaned the steering wheel of my car and the sour milk smell disappeared from its interior for good. Thank God.

            In the end, for what it's worth, I'm not crazy. Given, I was the person both talking to myself and bent over an abandoned car wash's concrete trash cans in order to clean them out. But while I may have seemed like a crazy person at the time, the garbage bags I filled were taken away within days, and those holes are being filled with topsoil and flowers. So maybe crazy does work.

'Til next time!

1 comment:

  1. BAHAHAHAHA OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS HILARIOUSLY WONDERFUL!!!! I am TOTALLY the kind of person who is picking up trash all over the place and yes, people do give me weird looks. Coincidentally my friends are always busy too... that and they live in another state but hey no one cares about that right? :P

    Awesome post. Awesome story. Keep saving the world one trash bag at a time! XD

    Julia @ That Hapa Chick


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