With the One True Tami (blessed be Her name) sailing off on vacation, I shall take this time to annoy you with some distressing news from the home front. My normal, carefully regulated, increasingly agoraphobic home routine has been upset to a distressing level. For those of you who don't know, as the years go by I have become more and more like Nero Wolfe, homebound through a combination of fear and antipathy toward open, public spaces or crowds of the great, unwashed masses. My work as a private marketing consultant and occasional freelance writer allows me to conduct virtually all of my business from my home.
For those of you who have routinely worked away from your residence, you might not imagine or appreciate the strange daily rituals and relationships which develop for the homebound. If you spend your days off at some office, factory or mall, you miss out on all of the activities which occur during your absence. The mail arrives six days per week, (at least for now) usually around the same time. You may know this only because it's waiting for you when you get home. I actually see the mailman - or mail woman, in my case - on an almost daily business and get to chat with her. Retirees often walk their dogs around the block on a regular schedule. I know them by name and occasionally join them with my Basset Hound. Meter readers, delivery vans, surveyors and political campaign workers prowl the suburban landscape and I inevitably run into them all.
One of the most regular events is the weekly pickup of trash and recycling materials by the municipal workers. As the appointed day arrives, I generally fret over whether to put the trash out the night before or wait until early the next morning. (The truck comes by at an obscenely early hour, but get up around 5:30 a.m. and keep my advantage in the battle.) During weeks when there is a government holiday on Monday the pickup is delayed by one day. On these occasions I wallow in a particularly morose pleasure generally available only to the homebound - I chuckle at the stupidity of my neighbors who lug their cans out on the usual evening, dooming them to sit at the curb for 36 hours, while I stand smugly on my porch secure in the knowledge that I'll catch them the next day.
I like the guys who work on the garbage truck. They all look somewhat like myself, except for being more muscular, weatherbeaten and scruffy, clad in overalls and carrying themselves with the bearing of those who get up early to do hard, often dirty work, braving the elements and performing an under appreciated service, without which society quickly grinds to a halt. They also differ from the stereotypical perception some people have of uneducated losers in the game show of life. They have government jobs which actually pay pretty well and carry full benefits. The hours aren't bad and a decent retirement program is provided. As I said, I've come to like these guys. At least until the last few weeks.
One of the scruffy, weather beaten and - most importantly - Caucasian guys who ride the truck has disappeared. I've not managed to work up the nerve to ask where he is or how he's getting on, but he's been replaced... by a black man. This is nothing short of a disaster. In the past I have been completely comfortable stepping out on my front porch with a cup of coffee and waiting for the trash truck to go by. I could give a cheery wave to the workers, ask how things were going, and promptly bring my newly emptied garbage and recycling bins back to the house long before any of my gainfully employed neighbors could manage to do so. No more!
You see, I too am white. (Or should that have read, "I am too white?" Well, white enough to pass muster for most people anyway. I'm certainly not going to be mistaken for any of the boys in the "hood.") Call it a case of deeply set, generational white guilt, latent racist tendencies or stark, glaring stupidity. Frankly, I don't know nor will I pretend to have some brilliant psychoanalytical explanation. What I do know, however, is that my routine is shattered. My coffee cup and I are out on the porch as usual, but at the sound of the approaching truck I turn and flee back inside. I peer through the curtains and wait for the vehicle to disappear around the corner before furtively sneaking out to retrieve the cans.
Why? The answer is both unfortunate and obvious. It seems that I'm perfectly fine with the idea of a white man showing up to haul off my refuse, but when an African-American shows up being paid to perform the same task, I fold up like cardboard boots in a rainstorm. Rather than an average homeowner greeting another hard working member of the community, in my mind's eye I have suddenly become a sneering, plantation era taskmaster, tossing his buggy whip from hand to hand as he oversees the non-voluntary labor. "Say there, boy! Make sure you get all of those shrimp shells from my luxurious dinner last Monday that are scattered by the curb. And don't let me catch you eating any of the scraps or it's the lash for you! Do a good job and there'll be an extra portion of gruel for you on Sunday." It's simply too much to bear.
What's to be done? The solution is clear. I'll give it a few more weeks to see if the regular guy was just off on holiday and returns to work. If not, I'll need to figure out a way to explain to my wife why we're moving.