Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Abbot and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Fat Man and Little Boy.
The analogies are endless. But few things symbolize the difference between Mexico and Oregon better than garbage collection.
Every Tuesday evening in Salem, you would believe that a Robert Bly symposium was convening. The deep rhythmic booms of men gathering. But this is no solemn meeting of men trying to find their inner warrior. It is merely husbands taking it the garbage.
Not the garbage of my youth, either. This is garbage sorted into its various components and hidden away in plastic containers.
Yard waste. Glass. Recyclables. General garbage. Each as segregated as a 1950s train station in Montgomery.
Looking down my street early on a Wednesday morning, you might be convinced that an obsessive Swede had constructed some form of environmental art. Garbage containers lined up with more precision than grenadiers on parade.
My garbage routine in Mexico was a bit more -- improvisational.
No special containers in my village. And no sorting. A plastic garbage sack serves as a body bag for anything on the way out of the house.
Instead of Nordic-orderly plastic containers, you will find raised metal baskets to keep the garbage bags off of the sidewalk. When I first saw them, I thought they were some sort of brazier -- a remnant of Aztec culture, perhaps, involving the immolation of entrails. A very practical -- and arty -- solution. For the garbage, not the entrails.
The only things that do go into bags are items that are merely broken. If I set out anything that has a bit of life left in it, someone will pick it up and put it to good use. My neighbors are very practical people.
The same thing goes for aluminum cans. I always put them in a separate bag. There are several men in the village who make a living collecting and reselling such things. Putting it in the separate bag relieves them of the task of digging through the garbage.
But the biggest difference is the frequency of garbage pick up. In Salem, it is every Wednesday morning -- one guy in a mechanized truck. Around 7 AM. As timely as a Mussolini train.
In Melaque, pick up is almost daily. Usually in the morning. Maybe later. And no mechanized truck. The garbage crew is as retro as my past in Powers, where men would jump off the back of the truck, pick up the bags, and toss them into the truck. Always open to a greeting or a brief chat.
I do not prefer either system. Each one seems to be perfectly suited to its particular environment. Americans tend to hide things that they find bothersome. Garbage fits in the same category as death or eccentric relatives that end up in jail.
Mexicans treat garbage as a natural result of life. Not something to hide. It is merely something to process.
Like bad analogies.