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Monday, Apr. 25, 2005 - 12:09 p.m.

~ Styrofoam -- it can take a beating ~

My town has a pretty good recycling program. It lets us jumble our glass, plastic and aluminum together and it doesn't get too picky about how we sort our paper. It does ask that boxes get broken down and that styrofoam be discarded rather than recycled. Easy enough. Right?

Our downstairs neighbors don't always follow the rules when it comes to things like trash and recycling. Our landlords are awesome about regularly providing all the tenants with updated and very informative recycling pamphlets and we have loads of extra trash pails and recycling bins kept easily available for the building's use. But maybe the downstairs neighbors are careless, or maybe they think someone else will take care of it, or maybe they are truly and profoundly clueless. Based on their decision to turn up their stereo's volume after 11pm on weeknights, their knack of parking on a wide slant away from the curb while their rear bumper overhangs driveways by two feet, and the pile of attractively mud-clodded boots left next to their door year-round, I'll go with the "profoundly clueless" choice.

The downstairs neighbors got a Dell delivery two weeks ago. The computer box was left in the first-floor stairwell for everyone in the building to navigate around for three days before they got around to bringing up to their apartment. On trash day, the box reappeared, slashed open across the top with a mess of styrofoam, smaller boxes, twist ties, plastic baggies and cardboard dividers left within. The huge box was left out on the curb jammed between the neatly lidded trash pails and the carefully sorted recycling bins that Mr. Man and I had hauled around front the night before. (We began helping out with recycling and trash to be good and helpful tenants. Our helpfulness has since translated into a small but well-received reduction in our rent from our somewhat-crunchy and grateful carpal-tunneled landlords.) On principle, Mr. Man and I did not tackle the box and its contents. We've witnessed the downstairs neighbors deposit crust-filled pizza boxes in the blue bins -- pizza boxes are trash and not recycling in our town -- and leave straining bags of garbage slumped against the spindly curbside tree instead of actually unlidding a trash pail and placing the garbage securely inside despite frequent raccoon and skunk sightings. We've stumbled over the downstairs neighbors' umbrellas left open and sopping on the landing and we've answered the doorbell at midnight when friends of the downstairs neighbors have tipsily opted to press all the bells in hopes of gaining a faster entry into the building. Mr. Man and I really did not want to take care of the downstairs neighbors' recycling.

Unsurprisingly, the box was not taken by the trash men since it had trash in it but was not trash; nor was it taken by the recycling men since it was filled with trash and none of the boxes, big or small, were broken down. The big box sat out by its lonesome for two days until Mr. Man dragged it up from the curb mid-week. He put it on the porch to one side of the front door in the hope that the downstairs neighbors would see it, feel immediately and crushingly repentant, and thus scurry to sort, fold and stow.

The box stayed on our porch all week. Untouched. It has added a delightful tenement-housing feel to the otherwise architecturally pleasing and garden-flanked facade of our building. Mr. Man and I briefly discussed the possibility of stringing up our laundry on twine from one front window to another to further add to the ambiance and maybe installing on the front stoop an oversized rusted coffee can into which guests could spit their chaw. Of course, that meant we'd have to make friends who actually chewed chaw, and we just don't have that kind of time to devote to such an undertaking, so we ditched the entire plan.

This morning, I had a few minutes to spare before heading to work since the Parking Pep Squad had boosted me from my warm slumber this morning with their rousing chants of, "Street cleaning! Please move all cars from the even-numbered side of the street. Street cleaning! Please remove all cars from the even-numbered side of the street." In my dreams, these megaphoned, droning announcements have translated into K-Mart blue-light specials for Matchbox cars, Dick Van Dyke dancing on my rooftop with a broom, and Colonel Klink hollering for me to get out of my cot. By the time I got outside this morning, the trash truck was idling up the street behind a tow truck attaching chains to a car whose owner must've been a very deep sleeper. The big box was still on the front porch, looking a little worse for wear due to the rain we had last night.

"I'm a good tenant," I reminded myself and I set down my little mesh bag of crocheting that I carry to work. Had I been wearing long sleeves, I would've pushed them up. I yanked out the long styrofoam pieces from the big, damp box and made a neat blue-speckled white pile near the steps on the porch to bring down to the trash. I scooped out the assorted twist ties and baggies and I dug out several small, narrow boxes which I promptly flattened. A medium-sized box was wedged into the large box and it resisted my efforts to pull it free. I finally upended the big box and scraped loose a corner of tape to open the bottom of the box. I pushed and punched at the medium box inside the big box, but it would not budge. So, I gripped the sides of the box and inserted one of my feet into the box, hoping to be able to exert enough counter-pressure to extricate the medium box.

The sides of the big box, left outside for a week through several rainstorms, gave way.

I lost my balance. Badly and fast. I was a Tilt-A-Whirl fat girl with Scrambler arms on a Himalaya oblong orbit. I hopped backwards, foot stuck in the huge box, arms flailing. My ankle turned and I sailed backwards toward the edge of the porch. My knee buckled and I fell and landed on the teetering stack of styrofoam. Bless the 'foam, people, bless it every time you drink a cup of tepid conference coffee or open an oversized package containing forty-thousand and sixty three pink peanuts cushioning one tiny purchase. Styrofoam is my savior. There was definitely a CRACK! when I landed on the styrofoam, but I actually bounced up and off the pile and for a fleeting moment I thought it was over and I was safe. And then the momentum of the tilting bounce carried me back down in an arc, box still attached to my foot, back, back, back toward the concrete steps with their sharp edges and unyielding surfaces.

My wrist saved me. Arms windmilling, I caught the porch pillar with a sharp wrench from my my right wrist and I somehow channeled everything I had in me into that poor wristbone to stop my fall. Frozen, my back arched out over the steps, my foot twisted in the box, cardboard and styrofoam everywhere, I felt grateful and stupidly lucky and rather relieved that the tow truck and the trash truck were up the street and not positioned with a full view of my scary fat girl Fear Factor morning acrobatics.

So, I'm fine. The adrenaline rush stayed with me throughout the morning and I'm a little achy in the tailbone and wristbone. I'm thrilled that neither my skull or my spine have intimate knowledge of what it feels like to be catapulted onto our stone steps. And when the tow truck hauled away our downstairs neighbors' poorly parked car, I might have smiled a bit gleefully as I handed the styrofoam to the trash men before hobbling off to work.

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