childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

When Your Waste Management is Garbage

Bloomington Minnesota, the city that I call home took over managing the coordination of residential trash and recycling collection last year. For some in the community there was passion over who got to take away their empty yogurt containers and used tissues. There were the folks who hated to give any more power to their government and those who were concerned over the wear and tear on our roads caused by multiple providers covering the same routes and the inherent risk that goes with increased traffic. I was in a third group. I’m the fiscal conservative who had used three different services during our fifteen years in the community. I had most recently selected the newest and most affordable option, that allowed me to downsize my trash container after my kids had moved out and was the first service that could accommodate my desire to have recycling picked up on a weekly basis (my previous providers were on a biweekly cycle).

As a household that entertains often, we frequently called upon our guests to take a bag of recycling when they departed or utilized our neighbor’s bin when possible. I also had arranged with my last two providers to drop off waste and recycling bins for our annual block party and pick them up the following morning, free of charge. I enjoyed negotiating the deals and knew that the hauler’s incentive to provide good service resulted from the very real possibility that I could change services to a competitor were their performance not satisfactory. When local politicians insisted that “nothing would change” and offered reassurances that the price would be what I’d been paying and the service available equal as well, it sounded like an empty promise that someone makes when trying to sell you on something inferior.

As with most political offerings, some were pleased with the decision to standardize collection, while others were frustrated and angry that their service provider was being dictated to them. I took more of a “wait and see” approach, hopeful that the plan would work, yet skeptical that the promises made would be promises kept.

As a little kid I remember loving to see the Garbage Man come. At that time Minneapolis permitted residents to contract with haulers of their own choosing. My family had the Wellers. You knew a Weller truck because they could hardly stand to watch a stuffed animal go to a landfill, they were prominently displayed on their trucks, my earliest exposure to animal rescue. Their trucks looked like the cross between a gypsy caravan and a carnival game-of-chance booth. The Wellers were our haulers because at least one of the Weller men was a veteran my father knew through his membership at James Ballantine VFW post 246. A man fit to serve our country was certainly worthy of collecting our refuse.

My childhood was an era where  garbage haulers typically had a driver and two collectors who appeared choreographed like circus performers, swinging onto and off of the stuck, swooping up cans and gracefully dumping their contents into the rear of the truck. There were no automated arms that lifted and dumped the bins under the direction of a driver in a climate-controlled cab. These men worked. It was a physical labor. Cans were not uniform, though most were  galvanized steel, with lids kids often used as a shield during snowball fights or play military maneuvers. Those cans were noisy and easily dented. Ours were plain, my best friend’s family had cans that had been painted with various Peanuts cartoon characters by one of her sisters. Sometime during the 1970’s plastic cans became the vogue. The plastic barrels were much larger, not as heavy, more durable and less noisy, though lacking in charm.

Garbage was different back in the day. My brothers were in elementary school when they took charge of the “burner”. Most homes had a can that was allocated as a burn barrel, perforated to allow air in, often perched on a pair of cinder blocks. The burner was where cereal boxes, paper plates and Dixie cups were disposed of. Eventually the ashes from the burn barrel had to be disposed of and the Wellers would pull off a work glove and let the ashes fall through their fingers, feeling for any embers before dumping it into the truck. Their thick-skinned, nearly leather hands being somewhat immune to the heat, occasionally you’d see a Weller truck or one of their competitors with the back end smoldering. I don’t recall exactly when burn barrels went away or when giving kids matches was deemed a bad idea but perhaps it coincided with when trash cans grew larger.

Recycling for me as a child was carrying an 8-pack of soda bottles back to the store or returning a milk jug to get a deposit back. Newspapers were bundled and tied with twine and saved for youth events called “paper drives” or “paper sales” that schools or organizations sponsored to raise money. I was in college before I heard of people saving aluminum cans and recycling them for money. That whole process changed to a system where we now are required to collect the newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. Then we pay a service to take it from us, so they may be compensated for what we bought, collected, stored and wheeled out to the curb. It’s sort of like if we paid Goodwill, ARC or DAV to take our donations of clothing and household goods which they later sell. Difficult to determine which is more environmentally friendly; having trucks roll up and down the streets and transport the goods to facilities that had to be built and process the waste or letting a kid take it out back and incinerate it.

Our new trash collection for the city of Bloomington began on October 3rd. As predicted, the rate that I currently pay is substantially more than the rate I had negotiated with my last provider. I am sad to acknowledge that my service is in fact not the same quality that I previously had. My recycling is full on a weekly basis and in theory they pick it up biweekly, just like the plan I had dropped last go-round. I say “in theory” because in addition to paying more, I also do more work with our new provider. Today I had to call them (yet again) to tell them they had not picked up my recycling yesterday morning and they assured me it would be picked up by the end of the day tomorrow (they did manage to get it this afternoon). I have no real recourse, as they know they have my business whether they do a good job or not. My leverage and freedom to choose has been eliminated, as apparently so has their incentive to take pride in their work.

While I’m all in favor of measures that improve the environment, increase recycling and reduce what goes into landfills, there are times I grow a little nostalgic. I miss workers in a family business who don’t take my business for granted. I long for the simplicity of reuse efforts like attaching a giant purple bear to the grill of a garbage truck. Finally, there is a little piece of me that admired the bravery of men hanging onto the back of a slightly smoldering truck.

Despite the many changes in the industry over the years since my own childhood, there seems to be one thing that remains the same. Kids are fascinated and enamored with the big trucks that take our trash away and the men (and women too) who work on them.

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Blogging, childhood, Politics, Uncategorized

That Added a Whole New Meaning to “Lip Service”

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Merriam – Webster                                                                                                                    Definition of Lip Service: an avowal or advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds – usually used with pay

Our country inaugurated a new president a week ago today. The following day there were Women’s Marches from Washington DC to communities and campuses around the United States and in different locations all over the globe. The following are some of my thoughts and observations.

I found the Pussyhat Project to be a well orchestrated and unifying gesture for the women who chose to attend marches or supported the concept of showing solidarity around the topic of women’s rights, through the creation and wearing of pink hats. I was in no way inspired by the numerous march attendees who opted to individually or in groups dress as enormous vaginas, appearing to be birthing full-grown adults. Though I imagine Hobby Lobby appreciated the high sales of varying shades of pink and lavender fabrics. If you’re feeling like being crafty for a cause I have a friend who’s looking for 300 baby blankets to take with her to Africa this spring and I also have a neighbor who can hook you up with a pillowcase pattern to make fun pillowcases for critically ill hospitalized children. Your local high school theater or show choir could also benefit from your handiwork.

In terms of not wanting to objectify women, I’m unclear as to how dressing like genitalia somehow takes the focus off of that. I will say that it was easy to divide the age of the costumed women by those who opted to crown their costumes with yarn and those who opted for a clean V. Though my own children are now adults, my personal litmus for politics is “will this be awkward to explain to a child?”. Before I had children, I gave little thought to such things but I have in a previous blog told the story of my son questioning why the show he was watching was interrupted and me needing to explain that the President was apologizing to the nation. His questions led to me having to further explain that he had previously lied to the country during a similar appearance. That was followed up by my “white lie” of “he kissed someone who wasn’t his wife”. My son was three in 1998 and I have never regretted not getting into the oral sex infidelities of the Commander in Chief at that time.We did discuss that childhood memory during a conversation from college earlier this week.

While pink hats convey a message which might be easily explained as  simply as “they are part of the same team”. The tawdry costumes sort of defy explanation. Most parents have taught their children to some degree that there are private parts of their body. Having grown adults parade around publicly dressed cartoon-like as those private parts seems to have no real benefit. Clearly these were not the marchers who were there because they were concerned about the environment, as I’m envisioning most of those are headed for landfills. Perhaps some will be sold on eBay “One slightly used Cooter. Best offer.” why not just use the same description from their online dating profile? Then there are also the proud women who think that these marches have the same significance as the marching of the suffragettes and will hang onto it for future generations. Fast-forward to 2110 “Mom, what is this?” and then the thoughtful explanation “That’s your great-grandmothers vagina that she packed in moth balls. She fondly talked about the importance of her work with fellow women at the time.” then the poor kid will be looking around for great-grandfather’s penis costume, because after all if the entire objective is equality, that only makes sense.

I have on occasion while writing my blog posted a bold prediction. My crystal ball is telling me that a college student or group of college students, perhaps even those participating in a Greek Life organization (fraternity/sorority) will be kicked out of school, placed on probation or summoned to the Dean’s Office after wearing the very same costume(s) on Halloween next year. It will be deemed as vulgar, inappropriate, objectifying. They will come back with the explanation that they were supporting women’s rights and likely they will be ridiculed and ostracized by various groups on campus. My crystal ball is getting foggy but some people after seeing fellow students in those costumes may need to seek out a safe place. If anything, the costumes struck me as a distraction from what many sincerely wanted to communicate. If all I have in common with you is shared anatomy, that’s not much to base a movement upon. Especially knowing that people of all genders, orientations, melanin content, faiths, abilities and education don’t necessarily share the same political views. When you are encouraging participation by people wearing hijabs for modesty, it seems downright intentionally offensive.

My political activism began as a 17-year-old high school student who was trained by the Minnesota Secretary of State to register voters. The first campaign I worked on was while in college during a fellow students failed attempt to win a seat on the City Council. During caucuses I typically am either the convener or the secretary for my precinct. I serve as an Assistant Head Election Judge in the county where I live. I get one vote, just like everyone else.

I’ll be the first to admit that this most recent presidential election was unlike any other I have witnessed in my lifetime. While the Bush vs Gore election left us wondering who our president would be for an extended period of time, I think the most shocking election result while I’ve been politically active was the Minnesota Governor’s race where former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s son Skip ran against the party switching St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and they were both defeated by former Navy Seal and All-Star Wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Minnesota is politically fickle, consistently liberal and is the only state who garnered electoral college votes for favorite son, former Vice President Walter Mondale who was soundly defeated by Ronald Reagan.

Something that I think has changed within my lifetime is how voters respond to a loss by their candidate. I feel that perhaps we are reaping the results of a generation raised to not compete (not keeping score during childhood games) and unable to graciously concede. There is an art to losing gracefully, it has to be developed.  West St. Paul native Harold Stassen serves as a fine example of a Minnesotan who recognized that one does not have to quit simply because they don’t achieve what they desire. Politically successful as the Governor of Minnesota and the only person to ever hold the title Director of the US Foreign Operations Administration (a post that existed during a portion of the Eisenhower administration) his efforts to win his party’s endorsement as a Presidential candidate failed nine times. From 1944 when my father was in junior high and my mother was in elementary school and every four years all the way up until 1992 when I was a parent myself, he threw his hat in the ring.

As I’ve blogged about before, I am a political junky. I watch the conventions of both major parties. I enjoy the debates. I watch news programs and enjoy reading the paper. I love discussions and will call into question a social media post of a friend if I’m unclear on what their point is. I made a discovery only recently when taking a CareerCode Inventory (a job-focused version of the Holland Code) that identified me with a trait most do not have. A skill of my type is the capacity to “See every side of a story”.  Seeing this in my detailed code description, I realized that my friends aren’t intentionally being obtuse, they actually don’t possess the ability necessary to easily see something from a perspective other than the one they identify with. While fiscally conservative and socially more centrist in a liberal state, I am accustomed to having my opinions vilified. Minnesota prides itself on high voter turnout, I have often said that it’s more important for informed voters to vote. As my own children began voting, I recommended they select a few offices and learn about those candidates and choose based on their values who to support and if they didn’t want to learn about the judges, or school board or council members that was okay. Other than when casting a straw vote during caucuses, or during a primary to determine who is on the ticket, I have never felt an obligation to vote a straight party ticket.

Over the years I have had many friends tell me that they “aren’t interested in politics” as though they are picking an interest like sports or theater. One can live without attending a play or following an athletic franchise. Politics are more like oxygen, they impact your quality of life. While this most recent presidential election pulled some people into political activism, it seems that the aftermath is what has really mobilized people who had perhaps not engaged in politics much before. So an election which most Americans were looking forward to getting over and done with has polarized citizens in the aftermath more than during the campaign itself. If that can be done in a respectful way, that strikes me as a win. Having citizens engage may be something that had been set aside with the increase of more couples both working, a greater number of single parents and perhaps a more mobile citizenry. Perhaps it’s the result of taking Civics classes out of schools and people not fully grasping the concept of a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”.

Many of my friends participated in the Women’s March the day following the Trump inauguration. Friends from elementary school showed up in my Facebook feed, some marching with their husbands, others marching with their daughters. Due to the turnouts, most weren’t actually marching at all but were gathered with others, some in the pink hats, others holding signs. There were friends I attended high school and college with. Still more proudly sharing where their college-aged students were marching. A former supervisor of mine posted locations across the country where various members of her family were peacefully participating. My favorite was a college friend who posted a picture of his daughter, a high school senior who organized the “Girl Up Women’s Walk” before school at the American School of Doha that drew 250 participants. I watched portions of the DC event via CNN.

In nearly every post that I saw and every video that I watched the participants appeared to be having a great time. They looked happy, much like people look when attending a music festival or large sporting event. The two exceptions were the arrest of a moronic counter-protester in St. Paul and a video of a Trump supporter having her hair lit on fire at one of the rally locations. Both appeared to be isolated incidents that did not reflect the congenial attitudes of most of the participants.

The messages and reason for participation seemed as varied as the participants. Some stated they were there because they were anti-Trump. Others expressed concern for the environment. Some were asking who the Democrats would have running in 2020, having me hope that EITHER party put forth legislation with some limitation on campaign length, as financially and emotionally these two-year campaigns are not helping the country! There were people concerned about health care, others about LGBTQ issues. Scarlett Johansson and others spoke about Planned Parenthood.

I chose not to go, because despite the name Women’s March there were clearly opinions and values held by many women that were not welcome. I have never thought that an aspect of my anatomy informs my opinions on topics. While I am much more in favor of being “for” something than “anti” something I didn’t feel any real compelling reason to engage on that particular day, in that format. I am someone who has always volunteered, financially supported and contributed to causes and ideals that I believe in. I was pleased to see the freedoms of Americans being exercised, as they are protected. There are many things that I personally oppose, that I have no issue with others being in favor of, that’s what makes America a great country and unlike many others. I think the benefit of such large-scale gathering is that a percentage of those participating may follow-through and engage in supporting causes in their communities. Others admittedly were there simply to get a look at it, or feared they would be missing out on what might be an historic event if they did not attend, or succumbed to the peer pressure of others. Some felt angry and scared and wanted to be enveloped by a group of like-minded individuals. The reasons people chose to participate are as legitimate as the reasons other chose not to.

Many of my friends who participated are educators, nonprofit workers, attorneys and others in positions that are committed to the care of people of all ages and capabilities. Whether through their work, religious activities or simply in their own homes I would estimate that everyone that I personally know who participated or supported the efforts of the Marches is a compassionate person who has legitimate concerns. I would also describe the people I know who avoided the events in the same way.

I found most of the signs to be sincere, clever (“I’m with Her” with arrows pointing in all directions was a popular one) and legible. I will admit the ones that caught my eyes were the ones that can best be described as vulgar, distasteful and some that were just outright confusing. Seriously, if your “menstrual blood is going to flow through the streets” for any cause, you need to see a physician. To put little girls in Hello Kitty costumes and put signs on their backs about not touching their pussies, is about as appropriate as having the same girls dress as pole dancers for Halloween. I’m never in favor of using ones children to further a cause. It’s like putting a tattoo on a child, that’s a personal choice that they should be mature enough to make an informed decision about. One should never make assumptions about their child’s sexuality or political affiliation being the same as their own.

Those are my thoughts. I could have put them on a sign and met up with my friends to share some of them. With social media, there are much easier methods of conveying our messages to people throughout the country and around the world. A luxury the women who fought for our right to vote did not have. One of the great parts of being an American is that we don’t have to agree, with each other, with the president, with our neighbor. We’re not a homogeneous nation. We never have been and it’s doubtful we ever will be. I am mindful that many don’t agree with me and I respect and defend the right of others to peacefully share their message as well. In regards to “Lip Service”, time will be the measure as to if the words are backed by deeds.

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