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All men must experience landfill, once

March 30, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

I had made it quite a long time without ever visiting a landfill. But with the Washington County Commissioners talking about raising rates, I figured I better enjoy the experience while it is cheap.

Actually, that's not completely true. Fact is, debris had been accumulating around the house to the point it looked like the Homestead after Hurricane Andrew, and there was no way I could deal with it through conventional channels.

Now, I'm not really a landfill kind of guy. Just not my cup of tea. And I love my trash men because they never miss a Tuesday, and they will take anything I might put out there, even - and I recognize the enormity of this statement, but it is a fact - even Richard Simmons.

So if I had lots of abnormal trash - like a plaster wall I'd torn out, I would just grind it down into garbage-bag-sized pieces and set it out a little at a time. It would be exactly like "The Shawshank Redemption," where Tim Robbins empties out an entire 40-foot tunnel into the exercise yard through a hole in his pants. It might take me six months to get rid of, say, a mattress and box springs, but at least I didn't have to load it up and drive it anywhere.

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But seeing as how I had the equivalent of a tree, a bedroom suite and a sidewalk awaiting disposal, it seemed the time had come to break down and make a trip to my friendly landfill.

I must say, I was impressed. The landfill is named "Forty West," so if you don't have advance reconnaissance, you wouldn't know whether they dispose of rubbish or sell shoes. It's located on "Earth Care Road." I'll just let that fact stand there alone without comment.

Near as I can tell, the landfill is sort of divided up into two general parts. There's the hill, and the stuff that goes on up on the hill are sparkling, shining examples of reclamation at its best.

Yard wastes are chipped into mulch that will be sold and placed around flowers. Newspapers are collected to be turned back into paper pulp and large containers are lined up to collect all manner of materials in an environmentally sound manner.

But I didn't go up on the hill. The man in the booth took one look at my unpedigreed collection of nail-riddled scrap and said that I had to go down into - "The Pit." Friendly garbage goes up on the hill. Evil garbage goes to The Pit.

Fragrant place, The Pit.

But in a strange way, I didn't mind it. An unending line of garbage trucks dump their contents there, and the ground is pretty well hacked up, so you need some form of truck to jounce your way across the expanse to an ever-burgeoning wall of refuse.

It felt kind of manly to join the procession of truckers and contractors who were ridding themselves of debris. I was a little self-conscious, because for the first time in my life, my tool kit of profanity seemed inadequately stocked. I tried, but it was a real struggle to keep up with, say, a garbage-truck driver with a jammed compactor.

It's fascinating to watch the heavy equipment operators as they rather artistically work in concert to ram and compress the never-ending loads. Each trip, I would look for evidence of my last load, but by the time I had returned it was long incorporated into the till, never to be seen again.

There are such professions as landfill archaeologists, who say they can tell a lot about society by drilling cores through landfill strata. For example, they can find evidence of meat hoarding back in the shortage-plagued '70s by the number of packs of pork chops that have been tossed, unopened. And they can tell how affluent an era is by the length of the asparagus ends that have been cut off from the bottom of the shoot and discarded. (The more waste, the better the economy.)

I tried to think what they might learn from my two-decade-old mattress, but couldn't come up with anything.

Since I don't use the place regularly, I wouldn't be much affected by what rate they charge, but it seemed to me as if it were a bargain. Four teeming pickup loads cost me $25. And the guys in the booth were friendly and helpful even though I was a complete novice.

By the end of the morning, the novelty had worn off, although the smell of The Pit had not. It sort of stuck with me the rest of the day in a not entirely pleasant sort of way.

Outside of that, it wasn't bad. I have concluded the inner works of a landfill are something every guy like me should see once - but probably not more.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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