Caught red-handed in gardening gaffe

July 5, 2007

I have brought shame upon my family. I have been stained with a mark as horrible and notorious as a bright scarlet "A." My neighbors look askance when I burst out of my home, unable to cast their eyes on me because my sins have been exposed for all the world to see. I am a bad, bad man.

I overfilled my garbage cart, and the garbage carriers aren't playing my game.

Garbage is a big thing in my life. I have two kids, one of them still in diapers, one of them into messy art projects, so we create a lot of garbage. We try to rein in our garbage creation by reusing plastic bags, recycling everything we can, and coming up with creative uses for the whole apple. (OK, I just sometimes eat the core, too.)

But, at the end of the week, it is no surprise if our green garbage cart is full.

So why, oh why, I thought I could pull a fast one on our savvy garbage men is beyond me. I tried the unthinkable - stuffing my garbage cart with some off-limits yard waste. I now hang my head to cover the tears of embarrassment. I've been schooled, and I know now that "never mix, never worry" isn't just something you tell a frat boy before his first kegger.

Digging up the dirt

It all started innocently enough. We planted a vegetable garden in our backyard. My wife, Paula, daughters, Dorothea and Carmela, and I were going to spend the summer cultivating lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and enough basil to make even the best pesto eater put down the fork and step away from the table. With all this farming came a lot of first steps. And that meant a lot of excavation, which in turn meant a lot of weeds and dirt.

In my Bay View backyard, the soil is good for building an adobe hut, but nothing more. The dirt we started with was nothing more than a pile of concrete waiting for a shoemaking mobster to give it purpose. But I'm not interested in having the cosa nostra start a Florsheim factory in my backyard, so I knew I needed to make some changes before I could start stockpiling tomatoes for oodles of heavy-on-the-bacon BLTs.

The clay had to go, and some rich topsoil had to take its place.

Getting the rich topsoil was no problem, since we live in a world where you can buy anything and have it delivered to your home in a moment's notice. I was initially annoyed because buying dirt seemed like buying air. Then I remembered the clay-stained shirt I had worn while digging out the patch that would be our garden had not only worn, but cracked, so I decided the few bucks it would take to let my baby spinach grow up to be as strong as Popeye was worth it.

I arranged for the topsoil to be delivered and set to work moving the old dirt.

Carting away the clay

The area behind a garage is a beautiful thing. It's a perfect spot for old tires, scraps of lumber, and shovel upon shovel of heavy, nasty, clay soil. There was no need for me to rent a Dumpster and move this patch of land off of my property when I had the perfect out-of-sight, out-of-mind place to stash my bad dirt. I piled it on proudly, thinking I had beaten the system.

But even black holes sometimes get filled.

The area behind my garage was packed with clay so tightly it resembled the graveyard for a really crummy artist testing out a new potter's wheel. One more shovel of clay, and I feared my garage walls would tumble down right on top of my turkey fryer. And nothing comes between me and my turkey fryer.

I looked at the small pile of clay I had left. The thought occurred to me that no one would be the wiser if I snuck it into my green garbage cart. I would be saved the hassle of transporting the mini pile to the dump, and I was certain the good folks who take my garbage on a weekly basis would gladly help me in my efforts to become an urban farmer.

The Greeks might call this kind of thinking hubris. My wise wife labeled me a numbskull.

Feeling like a fool

I should have known as I strained to move my clay-filled garbage cart, that there was a flaw in my plan. I really should have turned back and lessened the load in the cart when I hit the bottom slope of my driveway and was catapulted into coming traffic by the velocity of an overstuffed container of garbage. But something kept me going.

It was like I was asking for the hand slap that was about to come.

After setting the dead weight on my curb, I assumed it would be gone in short order. But when I heard the beep of the garbage truck pass from my house I rushed down to my front yard to be greeted by something different.

There was my garbage cart, still full of clay, but now marked with a bright green notice. I had broken the garbage law, and the garbage carriers had placed a notice on my cart telling the whole world they were not going to take my trash.

Neighbors passed and saw the green sticker attached to my cart, and I could feel their dismissive stares. You don't try to fool sanitation workers; they will always get the best of you.

I was a marked man, and there was only one way out of my mess. I knew I'd be visiting the garbage dump soon with a car full of clay, but not before I was elbow deep in my own garbage can.

As I pinched my nose and dove into my own mess, I prayed that my cucumbers would be crunchy and the brussels sprouts would be bountiful. Who knew the search for a good salad could be so disgusting?

Jonathan West lives in Bay View and he's proud of it. He writes about the neighborhood and the people who live here. Contact him at

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