One afternoon, I took a shortcut through Maywood and found myself stuck behind a garbage truck. For a moment, I didn’t see anyone picking up pails or working around the truck, and then I noticed two men crossing the lawn on the corner lot. Judging by the way they were dressed, I could tell that they were the garbagemen. One of them carried a cardboard tray, like the kind you get at Dunkin’ Donuts, with two cups of coffee in it, and a bag of donuts balanced on top. They were waving to a man who was standing close to the house, and I suddenly realized that he had come out and given them the donuts in appreciation for the hard work they do.
I thought that was a very nice gesture, and remembered similar moments in my past when my father did the same thing, not just for garbagemen, but furniture movers, the postman, anyone whose job deserved a “tip.” It also made me think back to a story he used to tell about my own experience with garbage trucks.
I must not have been in school yet, which would make me somewhere between the age of 4 or 5. One day, I just disappeared. My mother looked all over the yard, and even ventured into the woods, calling out my name, but I was nowhere in sight. Apparently she heard the phone ringing while she was in the backyard. In those days, everyone could hear a phone ringing. It was that loud.
When she got in the house and pickled up the phone, it was Mrs. Buecker calling. Mr. and Mrs. Buecker lived at the top of our block, just a few houses away from Rochelle Avenue, while our house was at the bottom of the hill, and half-way down West Oldis Street.
Mrs. Buecker called to let my mother know that I was following the garbage truck and about to go with it as it made the turn on Rochelle Avenue and headed toward Lodi. I’m not sure if I had picked up any “good” junk along the way, but I know I was fascinated by the idea that everything on the curb was for free, and I’ll admit there have been a few times since then when I actually did bring home a treasure or two. I was always on the lookout for old lawnmowers and machinery of any sort, since I grew to like taking them apart, or trying to get them to run again, and radios and any type of electronic gadget were also at the top of my list. Even an old radio that was worthless to its former owner was a prize worth keeping just for the speakers alone. I was the original inventor of “surround sound,” judging by the number of speakers in my room, all of them wired to the same source, and since it was just an old AM radio—probably made before the creation of the FM band—I was able to listen to broadcasts from as far away as Chicago and Pittsburgh late at night, if the sky was clear.
I probably didn’t have much to show for my efforts the day Mrs. Buecher called. My search was cut short as soon as my mother caught up with me, but it didn’t matter. It was probably the first time I had ventured so far from home, if you don’t count wandering through the woods behind our house, but I never lost the thrill of finding something of value that I could haul back home in later years. “One man’s junk was another man’s treasure, as they say, even to a curious 5 year-old.