It was a good day at the dump.
People came with pickup trucks sagging under the weight of household refuse. Some hauled trailers overflowing with stuff they've been meaning to get rid of for years.
Battered refrigerators, grimy stoves, rusty bicycles, coffee tables with broken legs, decrepit barbecue grills with bits of burned beef still clinging to the grills, burned-out air conditioners that have been hogging space in the basement since the heat wave of 1984.
So many people came, there were lines at the drop-off bays. While waiting your turn, you could walk around the pits, staring at the busted relics of other people's lives.
Trash is ugly — a nasty little metaphor for our own memories. Seeing so much of it in one place is like gazing upon our collective conscience, one that stinks and that will give you tetanus if you get close enough for its metal teeth to bite. Hideous stuff.
Old mattresses soaked with urine; moldering easy chairs crawling with bugs; old toilets slick with germs that would look like cartoon monsters if you got them under a microscope.
Just looking at it, you wanted to soak your eyes in Purell. You felt contagions stalking you like jungle beasts.
Plastic bags stuffed with maggoty trash. Diapers filled months ago. Damp rolls of carpet where microbes were mutating by the minute.
I could go on fouling your breakfast, but you get the idea. Trash is grotesque and inherently dangerous. And it sure was good seeing it all funneled into the right place for once.
For that two-week grace period.
You see where I'm going with this, right?
I see a lot of garbage over the course of my days, but most of it isn't anywhere near the landfill. It's on the banks of the little stream that rolls beneath Lewiston's Main Street and trickles into the Androscoggin. It's up and down the railroad tracks between Tall Pines and Great Falls. There's so much of it in the fields behind the Promenade Mall, it looks like a plane carrying household garbage crashed there and exploded.
Pick a tote road, any tote road. Walk a few feet in and there you have it — somebody's old dishwasher with its lower tray poking out like a tongue. A half-dozen balding tires leaking their poisons into the ground. Six more bags of trash that have been ripped open by raccoons, who ultimately ran back into the forest because even scavengers want nothing to do with those rancid offerings.
Remember the sad Native American who wept a solitary tear at the sight of all the litter along the highways? He's still crying, I imagine, and probably wants to kick somebody's butt, as well.
People go to significant lengths to drive out into the country, back down badly rutted tote roads and into the woods just so they can heave that piece of crap Kenmore off the back. They do it, not because it's easy, but because that trash has to go somewhere and they don't want to clean out their wallets to get it gone.
You see my point? Give folks free access to the dump and they will come, like Iowans into the cornfield for some old-time baseball.
Right now, if you live in Lewiston — pay property taxes and everything — you still have to get your butt over to City Hall during business hours and fork over a fair amount of cash just to use the dump once or twice.
The wording looks like this: The city issues a punch pass through the Treasurer's Office for a fee, as described in the solid waste fee schedule (section 62-14). Punch passes are only sold through the Treasurer’s Office. They cannot be obtained at the Solid Waste Facility. A Residential Punch pass is $20 for the first pass, which is good for one year from date of purchase, and $40 for a second pass. There is a limit of two punch passes, per property owner, per year.
I know the landfill doesn't operate itself. Money to pay the people who work there has to come from somewhere. I know that $20 or $40 won't break the bank for most.
But I also know that the majority of people prefer the course of least resistance. A ride out to the countryside, a bouncing jaunt down an unused road, and heave ho! A lifetime of junk dumped in the woods for the squirrels and birds to worry about. If these people are nagged by feelings of guilt, it's mitigated by the 10s and 20s that still populate their wallets.
In Auburn, a resident pays per item when he takes his junk to the waste facility. That can be good or bad, depending on whether you have two tires to contribute to the mounds or a basement full of stuff.
In some towns, a person will fork over two bucks for a dump pass when he or she goes in to register the car. Two measly clams and they can clear out the basement and the garage to boot, hauling that stinky stuff to the dump and leaving the woods to nature.
Is the $2 deal the perfect solution? Beats me. If I knew how to manage things like the dump, I'd run for something. Mayor, perhaps, or Lord of the Landfill. But I don't, so I just offer my observations, for what they're worth.
Now, if you'll pardon me, I have things to do. Specifically, I have to sand down and paint this spiffy new coffee table I ... well, let's just say I picked it up somewhere.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can talk trash with him at email@example.com.