Waste Management: Stories From Higley Hill

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

We’ve been dealing in waste management lately. My husband and I work together on Mondays. It’s not easy, he and I working together. We have more in common than not but when it comes to work habits we live on different planets. I am a bookkeeper by trade, a “numbers person”. I like to get things done in an orderly fashion. Debits equal credits. Everything balances. No gray areas, no wasting time. Let’s get in, get it done, and get out.

He is easily distracted. He grew up in an era when no one even knew what ADD was. I still have issues about whether it’s a real problem or it’s an excuse for people who have bad habits. I apologize in advance if you happen to take this the wrong way, but honestly I can’t tell you how many times I have told my husband to just pay attention and get his shit together.


One of the elderly gentlemen who work as crossing guards in Brattleboro, VT

The world is on edge. Maybe not the entire world. A few people seem to be happy with the outcome of the election. Putin is one of them. Others have moved on. They are out there posting happy pictures of perfect lives to share with us, as if nothing happened and everyday life will go on as usual. Really? Haven’t they been paying attention to Trump’s cabinet appointments?

I post pictures on social media, too. I have books to sell. I am struggling with how I present myself in a time when I believe not just artists but all of us need to speak up. An author friend of mine posted a comment on a piece I shared about a McCarthyesque questionnaire targeting the climate change opinions of workers at the Energy Department. A few brave employees leaked the survey to the New York Times.  In her comment, my friend said she was finding it hard to be brave. When she recently refuted a right-wing Facebook claim, she was blasted to the point that she was worried for her safety (someone looked her up and mentioned her husband by name). She also admitted she was selfishly concerned that these people would then go to her Amazon page and trash her novel. “The first concern is ok,” she said. “The second makes me rather ashamed of myself, but at least I will admit that I felt that way.”

I reassured her I have those same thoughts every time I post or write something. Am I annoying people? Am I turning them off from buying my books? But there’s a fiery, rebellious side of me that says if they can’t be open-minded they aren’t the audience I’m looking for. If you’re pleasing everyone, you’re doing something wrong. Despite my bravura, anytime I get a nasty, aggressive response my heart beats faster and my hands shake. But if we allow ourselves to be bullied, what happens next? That’s what I ask myself and then I try to be brave. It’s awful it’s come to this, the fact that freedom of speech – civil discourse – requires bravery. But then again, I believe it always has.


ARIA Event at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston, RI

I was in Rhode Island to attend two book events during the first week of December. The first was a fundraiser for World Aids Day at Barnes & Noble in Warwick. The purpose seemed more important than ever and I dedicated the day to my cousin, Andy Morrisroe, who we lost to this awful epidemic. As Donald Trump’s potential cabinet nominees file through Trump Tower and make the headlines, I am reminded of this on a daily basis.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services has a trillion dollar budget and oversees Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Health Care Act, the Centers for Disease Control, and regulations over the nation’s food and drugs. Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia, has been nominated for the job. He is regarded as the leading voice against the Affordable Healthcare Act. He is also staunchly pro-life, opposes funding for groups like Planned Parenthood, is against the healthcare mandate that insurance provide birth control, and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

I sat at a table with two other Rhode Island writers and we became fast friends. I also met Oz and Jay. Jay rides a van for 211RI.org  that through the United Way provides services to homeless shelters, needy families, addiction counselors, senior services, elder abuse, and so much more. He has been politically active since the 60’s. In his day job as a benefits counselor he helps people applying for Medicare and Medicaid. On some days he calls himself a wise, sage elder and other days a cranky old guy. Oz was using Jay’s van that day to provide Free Fast Anonymous HIV Tests. In the coming days, we are going to need more heroes like Jay and Oz to help make the world a better place.


Oz and Jay helping out on World Aids Day at Barnes & Noble in Warwick, RI

But let’s get back to waste management. In September, my husband met a property management guy while playing golf. This guy was a friend of a friend and needed someone to check ski condos on a weekly basis. Things like making sure windows aren’t left open, a toilet or a skylight isn’t leaking, the heat is set at fifty so the pipes don’t freeze. If smoke detector batteries are beeping, Rich replaces them. It also includes stocking the woodpiles and picking up the trash.


The view from a ski condo at Mount Snow, Vermont

A lot of units were occupied over Columbus Day weekend, but other than that it was pretty quiet and the owner of the management company started sending a lot of work Rich’s way; a bathroom remodel, painting an entire condo, renovating a family room that was flooded from a burst pipe, and in one condo setting up wall mounts for flat screen TVs in all the rooms. (Shouldn’t families getting away for the weekend play Scrabble instead of heading to their separate quarters to watch TV? Or am I revealing my age?). The checks were getting in the way of other work better suited to Rich’s expertise, so I  started helping for a couple of months while the manager looked for someone else to do the checks. We’d drive around the neighborhood lined with duplexes, hop out of the truck, and Rich would inspect the A unit while I did the B unit.


A short order cook at the No Name Saloon in Park City, Utah

Monday was our last day. It had snowed on Friday so a lot of people came up for the weekend. They created an enormous amount of trash. The bags were packed full, including bottles that weren’t separated for recycling. They were heavy and hard to remove from the trashcans. Sometimes a last minute pizza or beef stew or open take-out container was tossed on top of the tied up trash bags. It was a mess. My hands smelled like spaghetti sauce and lo-mein. One condo had six full bags. In three days these people filled six large black bags with trash! Another unit had water bottles in a recycling bucket, most of them almost full, like someone just took a sip or two then tossed the bottle. Another family brought trash from home -an old stereo system, a box of cassette tapes, and about fifty old magazines in a bag that weighed a ton. It got me thinking about the environment, the careless waste, and how thoughtless some people can be regarding the people who do their dirty work. We’re a disposable society and we have little regard for people who do the necessary jobs that pay little and often lack dignity. When people talk about the minimum wage (full disclosure here, we were making a lot more than minimum wage) they say these low income workers should have got an education, they should have gone to college or acquired better skills. But then who mows your lawn, picks up your trash, plows your driveway?


Getting ready to plow at a lumber yard in Wilmington, VT

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my lifetime from crunching numbers to running the brake on a roller coaster at Rocky Point Amusement Park  but I’ll admit Rich and I were both pretty cranky at the end of the day. We got a late start because of an overnight snowstorm. It was 3:30 in the afternoon by the time we emptied the truck bed of trash and tossed it all in the dumpster. “Boozy late lunch?” he asked when we climbed back in the truck.

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes.” So we drove to The Saloon in West Dover where we got a reuben and the special of the day, a personal mini-pitcher of any beer on tap for five dollars. The place was crowded with skiers just off the mountain and locals who like those individual pitchers. Some of them didn’t even use a beer mug, they just drank straight out of the pitcher.


“Well, that wasn’t all that bad,” Rich said. “Helping out when they needed it earned me some goodwill and now I’ve got a lot of good work coming out of it.”

“Another one for the resume,” I laughed. We started bouncing back and forth names for our job title. Garbage Man? Waste Manager? Sanitation Engineer? Yes! That sounds right.

“It’s not like we haven’t done it before,” I said. “Remember those rooms at the Inn? The bridal parties who left cases of empty beer bottles and dirty champagne glasses? Cleaning the whirlpool tubs and the toilets? The laundry?

“Ugh, a thankless job.” I knew he was thinking about the owners of the inn, not the majority of guests we met. I didn’t go there because we can get off on that subject for quite some time. Instead I nodded my head but it got me thinking how maybe everyone should once in awhile spend a day walking in someone else’s shoes. Maybe then people would have more of something that is sorely lacking these days. Empathy. Maybe if more people knew what someone’s else’s work was like they’d be more sympathetic to an increase in the minimum wage. Spend a day behind a fast food counter slinging burgers, tend bar, plow driveways, pick up trash. Maybe they’d recycle their bottles and think about how much trash they make in a weekend.


The Secretary of Labor enforces and proposes laws involving unions and the workplace, including safety conditions, hours and wages, and unemployment benefits. Trump’s nominee for the job is Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees fast food chains. He was also an advisor and contributor to Trump’s campaign. He has argued against raising the minimum wage over $9 an hour and opposes an Obama administration rule that would expand access to overtime pay. 


A late night cubicle dweller. Friday night in Providence, RI

“Great Spirit – Maker of Men – Forbid that I judge any man until I have walked for two moons in his moccasins.” ~ Indian Prayer

In 1980, researchers found someone in the top 1 percent earned on average the equivalent of $428,200 a year in 2014 dollars — about 27 times more than the typical person in the bottom half, whose annual income equaled $16,000. By 2014, the average income of half of American adults had barely budged, remaining around $16,000, while members of the top 1 percent brought home, on average, $1,304,800 or 81 times as much.

That ratio, the authors point out,  “is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world’s poorest countries, the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Burundi.” ~ The New York Times


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