The Summer that Trash Took Over

It looked like a perfectly fine couch—a little outdated, plaid in cream and brown tones—but because of its proximity to the dumpster, one felt that there must be something inherently undesirable about it, not to mention it had rained earlier in the day and so it was probably soaked. The couch had been left in front of the dumpster and the cushions had been tossed in the dumpster, on a bed of trash bags.

This trash dumpster was stationed behind an apartment building in Ohio, and that was the summer that trash reigned supreme. It was a blue dumpster, and beside it was a similar-looking blue dumpster with a giant recycling sticker posted on it and the types of materials that could be recycled. These vestibules of refuse were at the back of the parking lot, a stone’s throw from the tree-line and a small patch of forest. Some of the apartment’s residents felt that it was too long of a walk to the dumpsters, especially in the summer, across the large gravel lot. Others didn’t mind, and would bring their trash out with them as they were leaving for work or errands, tossing it in their back seat and driving up to the dumpster on their way out.

After that first fateful couch, it was a dresser—without drawers. This white dresser was left beside the dumpster. These appeared in June, and remained untouched while the dumpsters were emptied weekly, the furniture left behind for the animals.

By July, a few more pieces were added to the new summertime outdoor trash furniture collection “Slightly Dilapidated”: a nightstand painted dark blue, a kitchen chair with a missing leg, and a floor lamp lay scattered around the dumpster, which was brimming with garbage bags. The dumpster had been piled high for many several days, and the tenants wondered when the garbage collectors would empty it.

“They should empty this more often,” residents sneered, upset with the horrible “they.” “They really need to do something,” people commented on the walk from their car to their apartment. “They haven’t taken care of that yet?” A thousand different blamable “they”s were cursed in the tenants’ minds.

But that was only the beginning. Trash must go somewhere, right? In July, leases were ending, and in addition to the furniture that had been stationed by the dumpster all summer, there was now a red love seat with dark stains on it, a bookshelf with no shelves, an upturned round kitchen table, a black recliner on its side, a twin-sized mattress, the wooden frame for a futon, some stained-yellow throw pillows, and an air-conditioning unit strewn about. The dumpster was overflowing with black and white trash bags, some of which had been ripped open and oozed trash contents out of the dumpster and onto the ground. The recycling dumpster was also overflowing, and the distinction between recyclable trash and trash trash had been obliterated, and now they were both full of whatever contents they could fit.

Residents watched the trash monster grow and swell each day. “Wow,” they would comment, passing by in their cars. “Why hasn’t anyone taken care of that yet?” Glancing out their apartments’ back windows, they’d say, “What an eyesore. We should complain to someone.” Trash bags began accumulating in kitchens, being left on residents’ back porches—there was nowhere to put them, lest contribute to the trash conglomerate.

Now there was another couch stacked on the rubble, and more mattresses. Even if the garbage collectors arrived, they would have to fight through a barricade of furniture just to unearth the overflowing dumpster. One day a couple random men in pickup trucks showed up and scouted the trash heap, picking through the pieces in their muddy boots, ultimately leaving with a couple disposed items. Other residents checked out the daily additions from afar, always feeling some reserve about claiming any of the furniture—it must have been thrown away for a reason, right? A cat probably peed on the couch, or who knows what people have done on that recliner, and that desk is nice but has a big scrape on the side…

People still had to move, though, and with moving comes purging. As tenants emptied their units, they paid penance to the trash gods, giving up their bed frames and end tables and TV stands; coffee tables, plastic storage shelves, actual trash cans that were filled and left for whatever fate beheld them—even eternal trash purgatory. Among it all, the commonfolk trash: tiny trash debris littered the area, such as flattened cardboard boxes, water bottles, plastic grocery bags, rotting fruit, Styrofoam packing peanuts, beer bottles, fast food bags, a microwave, notebooks, clothes, pet waste, milk cartons, spray bottles, and so on, so on… The tenants kept their windows shut, prayed for days without a breeze…

Trash blew around the parking lot like tumbleweeds. By any given parked car, there could be a Polar Pop cup, or a flattened pack of Swisher Sweets, or a torn patch of cellophane wrapping, a tissue, someone’s key card, an old parking pass from the university, a single hoop earring. The trash lord’s tentacles stretched farther and farther, gaining power (and trash).

Between the tenants who were moving out and had bid “good riddance” to the apartment, and the incoming tenants who were too preoccupied with moving, no one had contacted a “them” concerning the trash problem. Tenants watched eagerly each day for new results. One day a new dumpster appeared, a long yellow one that was dropped off behind the blue dumpsters. It was immediately filled with the furniture, topped off with several layers of queen-sized mattresses. Now that the large trash was slightly more consolidated, the abundance of trash debris was revealed, scattered about in the wake. Recycling bins full of recyclable products sat near the recycling dumpster, in a clear effort to salvage some semblance of recyclable order. Heaps of cardboard lay off to the side in a mound. Squirrels could make it across the width of the apartment’s property by hopping on trash alone.

August offered no relief. “Why does everyone have so much shit!” residents would curse, as they lobbed their own trash bag into the sea of waste. “It smells so bad! We should build a fence around it!” It was bordering on landfill status, perhaps too far gone to recover. The dumpsters remained full. Would they keep bringing new dumpsters to fill, never taking away the old? Some people swore they saw a man living in one of the dumpsters. Tenants began running their dryers more frequently to fill the air with the scent of dryer sheets and detergent to mask the odor.

Trashland was officially its own region; it became the talk of the townspeople. “Yeah you can expect that when Trashland gets cleaned out,” locals would comment about unlikely events. None of the residents wanted to admit they lived in the apartment building that birthed the town’s own landfill. It became a tourist destination for visitors, and new students to the university heard legendary speak of it. The leasing office of the apartment building was embarrassed to be known as the company that created the trash utopia. They had been in contact with the garbage collectors, but between all the move-outs and managing various properties, they were drowning in other problems and couldn’t sort that out yet. The shame of the Trash-bonanza caused morale to take a hit in the already under-staffed office. The garbage collectors had other fish to fry, also–Trashland was too cumbersome of a project for them at the moment.

And then, out of nowhere, one very late August day, Trashland was just… land. All that remained were two blue trash dumpsters and a blue recycling dumpster and the footprint of what was once Trashland: yellowed grass, random flattened scraps of cardboard or plastic, a distraught community of wildlife that now wondered where it was going to acquire food and drugs now. The man who lived in the dumpsters disappeared with the trash, too. The residents wandered, dazed-like, out of their apartments in swarms, shocked at what they beheld–or didn’t behold, rather–looking around at each other as though searching for reassurance that this was not a dream. The trash was gone! Some, secretly, felt in their hearts a little melancholy; a few missed the twisted beauty of Trashland. But the residents were so delighted that they returned to their apartments, collecting all the trash they had saved up during the reign of trash, and looking for anything else they could throw away, simply because now, they could…

Yes, it was a glorious day of trash celebration the day that Trashland was abolished. Or rather, relocated.

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