The Weeping Mattress
There is something captivating about the “Brush and Bulky” pickup in our ‘hood. Chinle has a particular obsession with all of the smells and sights lurking in the piles of well-loved or well-hated waste that dot the streets during the 2 times of year that the city of Tucson picks up trash that is inappropriate (too brushy or too bulky) for regular pickup. The air was tolerable when we began our daily walk, but the mercury is rising steadily. This is July heat...when the 105-110 degree highs are not arid or anything close to the myth about “dry heat” in Arizona. The monsoons have arrived driving up the humidity and dew point - supposedly to create an environment for rain. .05 inches of precipitation is all we have had at our house, and we are a month into the “rainy season.” I only sound bitter, but let’s be real, the presence or lack of humidity isn’t the problem. 105 degrees is hot. No matter what. Chinle knows she has to walk before she can play ball, and she slogs along begrudgingly on most days. But on Brush and Bulky days there are so many things to look at and sniff that the walk seems almost as entertaining as a trip to the park to play fetch.
On the one hand, I find the piles to be overwhelming evidence of a consumerism run amuck. But when I let go of that particular point of obsessive anxiety and really look at what comprises the piles, I am struck by all the stories those items could tell. There’s the recliner that leans nonchalantly to one side - perhaps evidence of one late night bender too many. I can imagine the raucous beer-infused laughter that erupted when the adorably overweight uncle sat down heavily on the chair and broke the spring. The crib that sits outside a house where a 2-year old red-headed little girl chirps daily, regardless of the heat or humidity, as she sways gleefully on her new swingset suggests of the progress of time and the continuing of generations. Two enormous OLD TVs are tossed facedown with their dusty backs indicating a particular disdain for most kinds of ordinary housework.
And then there is the crazy catman’s house. This is a duplex that most neighbors eye with suspicion mostly because of the 8-10 cats that lounge languidly all over the front yard or the porch of the man I fondly call “jackass.” He has deep-seated hatred for dogs and has, on 2 occasions, said very mean things to my pups. Now granted, one time, Chinle pulled the leash out of my hand and proceeded to chase as many of those cats as possible down the street.* But the first time catman was a jackass, we had done nothing but saunter by, and Chinle was guilty of nothing but being canine. His cats routinely have litters of kittens the destiny of which I do not know. On this Brush and Bulky Sunday, though, one of the kittens from a recent contribution to the neighborhood’s feral condition is sitting atop a pile of rubbish that could not possibly all fit inside the small duplex. The kitten is staring at an old, filthy litter box (which is surprising to me since it suggests jackass DOES keep some of his pets’ sewage on his property or at least did...several decades ago). The kitten mews sweetly at Chinle and almost seems as though she is sad about seeing the litter box disappear. I’m sure she will be thrilled to find the sandy dirt in my front yard. As we stand and stare in awe at the immensity of the refuse, the old screen door starts to squeak and in sheer terror we bolt away. The next collection of “Bulky” has a well worn couch laying on its back. It sits in front of the house that has recently been painted bright purple. The women who live inside the house often sit on camping chairs in their barren yard with their 2 small dogs who sprint back and forth barking as we walk by. Chinle thinks about how easy it would be to “exercise” if your legs were that small. 10 feet would be a mile and then fetch time would come so much more quickly. I often stop to chat with the now retired school teachers and have learned that they live with one of their mothers. She is well into her 90s and has recently taken a turn for the worse. The bright purple paint comes courtesy of the mother’s son and the school teacher’s brother and was meant to cheer everyone in the house as they deal with the difficulty of saying goodbye to a loved one. The couch is being discarded to make room for the mother’s hospital bed.
No brush and bulky would be complete without the mattresses. The joke around town is that we have a mattress store on every corner in Tucson. When I was bemoaning the fact, a friend of mine suggested this Freakonomics podcast as a way to explain the phenomena. I was still skeptical that the cold, personalityless shops were actually selling mattresses. I mean how many mattresses can one community buy?? Bubble economics be darned - there just can’t be demand for that many mattresses. But on Brush and Bulky day, I start to believe that the mattress stores aren’t just fronts for drug smuggling operations but are actual mattress stores. In a 7 block radius, we counted 25 discarded (and clearly well used) mattresses. My favorite one is bright pink with lime green roses on it. When it was new, it was probably almost too pretty to put sheets on. The mattress sits forlornly, and I can almost hear it sniffling quietly as it reminisces about the hope it had for its life and retirement when it was first purchased, in 1954. Back then, it pictured a long and happy life in a bedroom with fragrant parfumes and a beautiful starlet who laid down each night in flowing white lace nightgown with powder on her face and an eye mask to keep the wrinkles at bay. Each morning, the mattress dreamed it would be carefully tucked into a fluffy, pale blue feather comforter that did just that, comforted. It’s not at all that the mattress thought it would be the center of the starlet’s world forever. But it sort of expected to be moved to the plush guest room and covered with cream colored pillows and a maroon duvet in its later years. Of course, it would be used less frequently, but its importance to the aesthetics of the starlet’s household would be undiminished. But alas! Here it sits - gathering dust from the dirty streets of a dry July in Tucson. A dove perches just where the starlet’s head once lay and, as the mattress fears, it does exactly what pigeons do. And so the mattress weeps.
But that’s just the Bulky part of Brush and Bulky. The Brush includes piles of palm tree fronds that reach as high as a basketball hoop. Some residents very carefully put the weeds in bags, presumably to keep it all from blowing away in the monsoons. Others just toss all kinds of organic detritus waiting for the huge trucks to come and haul it away. The amount of plant debris along the streets is mind boggling, especially this time of year when it seems it must be much too hot for anything to survive. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise - the sheer volume of waste in the neighborhood. The Washington Post (who has been reporting pretty consistently on the globe's trash problems since at least 2012) cites World Bank data to explain that the world produces at least 3.5 million tons of solid waste every DAY and that is 10 times the amount it did a century ago. In the US, each person averages 4.4 pounds of trash daily and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 34% of that is recycled. (1) In Tucson, much of the solid waste will be dumped into the Los Reales landfill (pictured below). It was first built in 1967 and is over a 1000-acre site (although the refuse doesn’t cover all that space). Over the years its expansion and upgrades have been controversial and celebrated almost simultaneously. Landfills are fascinating places. If you’ve never visited one, you should. It may even inspire you to buy (or at least discard) less stuff. It is humbling to stand and look over the diversity of excess. It all seems so pointless, but if you happen to be on a tour, you will learn that not all of the waste is unproductive. At Los Reales, for example, the surfeit of trash and vegetation is doing some work as it decays and releases methane gas that Tucson Electric Power captures and uses to create electricity for some of Tucson’s residents. In its first 10 years of operation, the methane helped to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 1,257 tons. This meant that there was also a “savings” of more than 239,159 tons of carbon dioxide (the really nasty greenhouse gas). Moisture is required to facilitate the decay, so the output of methane (and thus of available power for TEP) varies from year to year. So that depressed pink mattress that’s on its way to the landfill? It might very well light up this computer screen someday...if it ever rains.
Of course, we have a choice of whether to contribute to the ever expanding landfill or choose to recycle or reuse. During Brush and Bulky Week, reusing happens, well, organically. I often purposely put out things we no longer need or want and think would be a burden to charities. For example, a broken lamp that I can’t figure out how to fix goes to the curb several days before pickup. The “pickers” arrive in the wee hours of the morning or night and scavenge the best things. If you happen upon them, you quickly realize these pickers are professionals. With big trailers and a sense of expertise they cruise by the piles with eagle eyes and fill their haulers with treasure. As Chinle and I turn toward home, we see a fall hatchling lizard and a teenaged cottontail hanging out near a pile of mesquite branches and an old tire so worn that it is as grey as the dirt upon which it sits. It seems the wildlife, too, is enticed by the phenomenon that is Brush and Bulky week. The lizard is learning to do pushups on the tire and the cottontail is nibbling at the mesquite. Just as we pause to look at the strange combination of animation and abandonment, it begins to rain.
*She has since learned to live in peace with the feline kind and even sorta likes her brother, Zinfandel (who we call Zindy for short).
1) The EPA’s website has made finding statistics such as these infinitely more difficult - thus the use of the archive rather than the current site.
10/6/2022 02:37:35 pm
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