David Bouchier: Comforting Routine

Jan 14, 2019

My life, like yours, is made up of routines. They begin in childhood with feeding routines, play routines, and then the unforgiving timetable of school. By the time we grow up, if we do, we are thoroughly accustomed to the idea that certain ritual activities are repeated every day, week, and year. We live, quite literally from cradle to grave, in a world of routines. It’s what keeps us sane. These are not just the habits of life; they are actually life itself, and we get very upset when they are interrupted.

Out here in the suburbs where we live, one of our most important routines has to do with garbage. We produce a lot of it, and we want it to go away, on schedule.

So Monday has always been one of the high points of my week: garbage collection day, a ritual of cleansing and purification when all the excesses of the past few days are swept away and out of sight.  Everything is potential garbage to me, as I hunt through the house with my all-consuming extra-heavy 30-gallon drawstring trash bag. When the bag is out at the end of the driveway in the big green bin, I feel a solid sense of achievement. As long as I keep putting out the garbage, I postpone the inevitable moment when I become garbage myself. I like to listen to the truck growling in the distance like a hungry dinosaur, getting closer and closer. Sometimes it stops for a while, as if amazed by the quantity and quality of the offering, and digesting it noisily.

America has the biggest, most impressive garbage trucks in the world, and the most garbage – 230 million tons a year. In some profound sense, garbage is the gross national product, and we produce our share.

It's a bit of a mystery where it all goes, once the truck vanishes around the corner of the street. Most of the landfills near New York have long since been closed down, so I suppose it gets carried off to Oklahoma or somewhere they still have a few square feet of empty space. That would explain why the trucks so often arrive in our neighborhood later than scheduled, and why the drivers look so tired. The main thing is: the garbage goes away. Those distant landfills work like the Freudian subconscious, where we dump all the things we don't particularly want to remember.

We have recently suffered a shocking upset in our garbage routine. Our local pickup schedule has been arbitrarily changed from Mondays and Thursdays to Tuesdays and Fridays, with recycling squeezed in on Wednesdays. This upsets the whole pattern of our week. It’s already hard enough for us older folks to remember what day it is and what we ought to be doing.  

It just goes to show how easily our lives can be thrown into confusion by distant bureaucrats. Routines are stability, routines are civilization. When garbage pickup day can be changed anything can be changed, and this may be just a forewarning of the anarchy to come. What anarchy means, as any political scientist will tell you, is the end of all reasonable and rational government. But it may already be too late to worry about that.

Copyright: David Bouchier