Thursday, December 04, 2003

Life in The People’s Republic…

I have a bone to pick with the Sanitation Department of the City of New York. Don’t get me wrong, I have known quite a few sanitation workers in my lifetime and have found most, that’s most, to be wonderful people, regular Joes, just like me. There is one Sanitation person, however, that I would like to meet in a dark alley one evening. I will not use the…ahem…gentleman’s name, because I have a feeling that he’s “just doing his job” and there was nothing personal in it, so I will not smear his potentially-good name here.

Here in the People’s Republic of New York, we labor under some of the strictest sanitation codes to be found anywhere in the country. There are two reasons for this; the City is perpetually short of cash and invents stupid rules constantly in order to fine people for doing that which they normally would, and second, because we have a lot of transplanted idiots here (who all seem to live in Manhattan) and who are “environmentally conscious”. Let me translate that term for you – in any other setting, and if they could get away with it, these people would be charter members of your local Communist collective.

The Greenie Meanines here decided that recycling one’s garbage would be a good thing. There are materials that can be reclaimed and reused and it helps alleviate the problems of overflowing landfills (which eventually become prime land for housing developments here in New York City). What this means is that the typical New Yorker must take pains to ensure that his/her trash is properly separated – white paper and colored paper go in separate bags, glass, plastic and aluminum in another, cardboard must be dissected and wrapped or tied with a certain grade of twine in order for the garbage men to collect it. Finally, all of this refuse must be put out either in a specially-marked can or placed by the curb in clear, plastic bags so that it might be easily inspected.

The labor involved, in my opinion, far outweigh the benefits.

We have a situation here where the squeaky wheel got the grease again. Folks who are “concerned” about landfills went ahead and got the politicians to pass legislation that addresses their pet peeve. Normally, this would be a good thing – government responding to the wants and needs of the governed. In this case, the same folks who want everyone else to recycle didn’t want to have to make the trip to the recycling center with all this trash, so by default, the Sanitation Department picks it up. In order for the Sanitation Department to save time, money and effort, you, the citizen (kulak), must do the job of “pre-processing” your trash. And if you don’t, you get fined. Government passing along its expenses to the taxpayer in one form or another is nothing new, but this is ridiculous.

Now, what on Earth did I do to deserve a fine, you ask? I committed the cardinal sin of not cutting up my Cheerios box before I stuffed it into a garbage bag. I further sinned in the eyes of the Sanitation Gods because said box was mixed in with “common, household trash” (as if I were also generating uncommon, industrial-strength trash, like toxic waste) and was placed at the curb in a WHITE plastic garbage bag, and not a clear one. Which seems to make no difference since the guy who wrote the ticket obviously had no trouble seeing a Cheerios box through it. For this, I must be fined $25.

Now $25 is not the end of the world and it isn’t as if I were about to retire on that money and desperately need it. The problem is how one goes about paying the fine. I cannot, apparently, just send a $25 check, be pardoned and sent forth to sin again. No, I must make an appearance at “Sanitation Court”.
Now, considering I only got the summons five (5) days ago, and the City has already seen fit to schedule me for an appearance in court, I’m quite pissed off. They took the opportunity to inconvenience me just in case I decided NOT to pay the fine. How nice of them!

Well, if this is a court, it’s a pretty poor excuse for one. To begin with, do we adhere to the same rules of evidence that prevail in a criminal case (technically, since I was fined for breaking the law, this IS a criminal case)? Where is the evidence that will prove my guilt or sustain my innocence? Well, last time I saw it, it was on the curb and then it was gone. Unless the guy who wrote the summons is keeping my garbage on file somewhere, I will assume that it has been placed in a landfill, incinerated or is still sitting and rotting in the back of a truck somewhere. We have no physical evidence that I have committed a crime.

But, you will say, the inspector who wrote the summons SAW my trash in such a sorry state, and presumably, so did the trash collectors. There are WITNESSES to my crime! Well, how many garbage bags a day do you think these guys see? Could they identify mine in a line-up? Did they dust for fingerprints and send for Quincy to gain forensic evidence? I doubt it, so how does an eyewitness account of the tragic saga of my garbage cut any ice here? Am I presumed innocent, until proven guilty? Well, no. I was given a summons, which arrived in the mail. I had no chance to confront my accuser, and there was no opportunity for him to correct me on the spot or save me from myself, so to speak. Besides, this is New York City, and if there’s a fine, pay it and shut up, what’s the big deal?

The Big Deal is that I have a problem with someone inspecting my garbage. People are going nuts about John Ashcroft and his plans for a national system of concentration camps and the Garbage Nazis are out here making sure I don’t throw garbage into the garbage, or at least, throw it into the right garbage. I did not vote for recycling, and there was no vote for it. I could give a rat’s ass about a full landfill – that’s what they’re for. I don’t care two turds that incinerators are polluting, stinky things – I live in New York, and if you’ve ever been trapped on a subway car here with a filthy, flea-infested, drunken vagrant with cheap, bourbon-induced diarrhea, then a smelly incinerator seems more like perfume.

These kinds of things take on a life of their own, and right now, while we separate paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and cardboard, we don’t take pains with fabrics, rubber, batteries, oils or chemicals. I’m sure if I threw a plastic bottle of paint thinner out with the “common household trash”, no one would notice, provided it was in the proper bag. It’s only a matter of time before coffee grounds will require their own separate pail (and only after someone has verified that you’ve used them at least twice), our pails will become color coded so that people who can’t read have no excuse for fucking up the trash, and finally, daily trash pick ups for individual kinds of trash; paper on Monday, cardboard on Tuesday, your Sanitation Summons on Wednesday.

The nitpicking regulations that one has to put up with here are bad enough – alternate side parking, no right turn on red (unless a sign tells you that you can), no left turns on certain streets between certain hours, and now, no smoking in bars, restaurants and public buildings, even outdoors. Do we have to put up with someone looking in our trash to make sure we don’t put a box of Cheerios out with “common household trash” when it belongs with shredded cardboard? The KGB probably never went through anyone’s trash with the vigor and ruthlessness that the sanitation inspectors here do.

At least in Soviet Russia you could EXPECT someone to be tearing through your garbage with a fine-toothed comb, but here, in America? Oh, I forgot, this is the People’s Republic of New York, and if there is a buck in it somehow, someone would probably go through your stool looking for undigested corn.

The only thing missing from Comrade Bloomberg’s modern New York is the hammer and sickle.

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