Holding his coffee in both hands, Adam stared out his bay window. Trash bags, bins and cardboard boxes full of garbage lined the sidewalk along the two lane road, shaded by the maples full of summer growth. Before his brownstone, the black plastic lumps from the past week were squished between the previous week, and the week before that. His pile peaked between the neighbors’ rubbish, an Everest of trash among the foothills. Bottles overflowed from one bin, some standing on the curb like kids lined up for a school bus while others lay drunk on their sides.
From down the block the rumbling of the nearing truck shook the collection of empties, the window’s panes and the sugared coffee in Adam’s mug. The truck’s brakes squealed and hissed with its stop down by the Mason’s in number 119.
“Stand strong,” whispered Adam, “you’ve done nothing wrong.”
Setting his mug on the windowsill, he tightened the terrycloth cord of his evergreen bathrobe and headed outside in his leather-soled slippers. He descended his stoop, the robe’s hem flapping around the knees of his sweats like his fuzzy-wrapped feet on the half a dozen brick steps. Pocketing his hands, Adam loomed in the cleared parking spot beside the Everest mound and the “towing every first and third Friday” sign.
Once the Mason’s and adjoining trash had been plucked, the garbage truck trundled from the curb and started along the block again. Through the bug-spattered window Adam spied a smirk on the driver’s lips when he looked down the road and spotted where he stood. Gunning the engine, the driver picked up speed, then surged to a stop, the deceleration casting a soured breeze over Adam’s face.
He smothered his nose with the crook of his arm to ward off the stench while two men, one beefy the other slim, wearing matching sanitation uniforms with reflective stripes alternating with the dank grey jumped off the back and started pitching the neighbors bags and the contents of bins into the crusher. The unit smashed the added contents and the two workers muttered to one another.
Adam frowned when Beefy thumbed in his direction and said something lost beneath the pop of plastic that caused Slim to snicker. Neither touched Everest or even attempted to stop its slide when they picked up the surrounding garbage. Once they’d cleared the sidewalk to either side, they shared a harsh chuckle, slapped the side of the truck and hopped onto the back. The driver grinned and the engine roared to life.
Not today, reasoned Adam.
Raising both hands he positioned himself at the truck’s vibrating front bumper.
The driver scowled and then beeped the horn.
Shaking his head, Adam planted his slippers on the asphalt.
The driver stuck his head out the window, his receding pate gleaming, and angled his shout down the length of the truck. “We got trouble boys.”
You do indeed, thought Adam.
Lowering his hands, he balled one into a fist while the two workers rounded the truck, Beefy in the lead.
“You’re going to have to move, sir.”
“Not until you pick up my garbage,” said Adam, sweeping an opened hand at the remaining trash.
“So you’re 233?”
Adam grimaced at the known detail, but held his ground. “Yeah, so?”
“You were right,” said Slim, “a pencil pusher.”
“Had to be,” said Beefy. “No one who knows how to work for a living’s going to do something like that.”
“Something like what?” Adam glanced between the two but both men crossed their arms and peered at him like an annoying speck marring an otherwise polished surface.
“Doesn’t even remember,” said Slim with a disapproving cluck of his tongue.
Beefy snorted his agreement. “Why should he? Mr. High and Mighty wouldn’t have time to waste thinking about the likes of us.”
“Unless he wants to save his own skin.”
“Save his own pennies is more like it.”
“Listen,” said Adam, bowling into their snowballing diatribe. “I’ve obviously done something you fellas think is wrong. What is it? I’m sure we can work something out.”
The driver beeped and Beefy called over his shoulder. “He wants to work something out.”
What sounded like a Rottweiler’s bark and then a line of curses shot from the cabin.
“I hear you.” Beefy popped the knuckles on both of his gloved hands. “We’re going to make this quick Mr. 233.”
“Okay…,” said Adam, his heart beginning to sprint while he eyed the sturdy leather covering Beefy’s softball-sized fists.
“You were the one who opposed Ordinance 449.”
Adam swallowed his lurching stomach. “Is that what this is about?”
“You kept them from voting,” said Slim, pointing a bony finger. “You kept it from passing.”
“Because it was a stupid law,” said Adam. “There’s no reason to regulate the garbage union.”
“No reason for us to collaborate for our basic rights?” asked Beefy. “To argue for better wages? To work together to improve our situation as a team? You’re calling that stupid?”
“No, no.” Adam shuffled backwards, holding up both hands while the pair encroached, one steel-toed step at a time. “I’m just saying you don’t have to have something special…ah something new put into the books. You…you already have those rights.”
Hitting the tow sign’s pole, he cringed and waited for the first strike to land.
Both men, however, stopped. They shared a glance Adam felt certain divided his body for punching, then swiveled back, a frown on Beefy’s wide brow.
“What do you mean?”
“Ah…um.” Adam fought his tongue and his primal urges to flee, making way for the seed of rational conversation. “There’s a law, a right to work law or a union law…I don’t remember it right now, but talk to the local AFL-CIO office, I bet they’ll get all the information you want. You have all those rights, I swear.”
“Really.” When Beefy’s frown faded, Adam released some of the tension his shoulders. “I opposed your Ordinance because I didn’t think we needed another law made when there’s basically a law already covering the issue. More red tape doesn’t usually help anyone, you know?”
Slim nodded, his head wobbling like a bobble head doll.
“I hear you,” said Beefy, He glanced at the Everest of trash for a moment, then wiped his palm on his uniform’s slacks and stuck out his hand.
Adam flinched, but then realizing his kidneys and nose were safe he seized Beefy’s grimy paw.
“Thanks man,” said Beefy.
Grinning, Adam tried not to wilt under the other man’s tight grip. “No problem.”
After a friendly thump on his shoulder Adam suspected might leave a bruise, Beefy then thumbed at Everest. “We better get back to work.”
“Sure, don’t let me stop you.” Stepping onto the curb, Adam drifted to the stoop.
Beefy meanwhile started whistling and hefted the rubbish into the back in time with his tune. Seizing the bins, Slim added the last into the compressor. With a pat on the truck’s flank, they took their posts at the bumper and the engine rumbled. The driver beeped again, and all three waved.
Adam lifted his own hand in farewell. Once they’d rounded the block, he stared at the exposed concrete. Puddles remained where the contents of one bag had leaked, but otherwise the curb looked untouched.
And so am I, he thought.
With a laugh tinge with relief, he gave his shoulder a massage and headed inside, bent on his waiting cup of coffee and the next encounter of the day.