I hate taking out the trash at home, but when I’m at Starbucks, I absolutely love it. It’s my favorite thing to do. On any given day I’ll clock in and then immediately approach the supervisor and start trash talking.
“Can’s lookin’ pretty full,” I’ll start nonchalantly. If they don’t ask me to take the trash out, I give them a little nudge. “It’s going to overflow soon, probably. Big mess. I’d hate to be the one to have to clean that up. Could attract rats.”
That usually works. If it doesn’t, then I can wait. Someone’s going to have to take it out at some point, and I’ve already planted my seed.
The reason I love taking out the trash so much is that it’s like a mini break. Since I work at a Starbucks in the mall, the dumpster we dump our trash into is a few hundred meters away. Maybe a two or three minute walk. Getting the bags in the dumpster takes another few minutes, and, before you know it, your coming back eight minutes later, feeling refreshed.
Eight blessed minutes without having to talk to another human being.
If only it were that simple.
By it’s very nature, a mall is a communal institution, the dumpster pit doubly so. Everyone in the mall uses the dumpsters. Sometimes you have to make small talk. Dumpster small talk.
It’s as uncomfortable as it is banal.
“Oh, hi! How are you? Yep, just taking out the trash! Yes, I know. Can’t wait for winter! Work sucks, right? Yeah, we’ll get better jobs one day!”
How I hate it.
It was night, and I had was bringing a bunch of cardboard boxes to the recycling dumpster, which is right next to the trash one. I wheeled my cart up the ramp and threw a box in.
“Ow! Hey! Stop it! Somebody’s in here!”
My heart seized up. There was someone in there. There was someone in there! Both the dumpster have pneumatic trash compactors that could easily, easily crush anything left inside. To death.
“Sorry?” I asked. I stared into the dumpster.
A head popped over the inside ledge. A pretty head. A woman’s head.
There was a woman inside the dumpster.
Meeting women by the dumpsters is not uncommon in my line of work, though most of them are pale, thin, and utterly unresponsive.
This one was different. She wasn’t a mannequin.
So I asked the obvious question.
“Oh, you know,” she replied, “just looking for stuff.”
Stuff? “This dumpster is for recycling only. It’s mostly just cardboard boxes.”
“Well, that’s great. You can never have too many cardboard boxes,” she said with a smile, and the disappeared again.
I looked over at the big, green button on the railing. The one that started the compactor. The one that would compresses her to a pulp. The one that literally any unknowing passerby could press.
It’s loud. The pneumatics would drown out her screams.
“They’re all squished!” she lamented
“That’s because you’re inside a trash compactor.”
The head popped up again. “Really?
“Yeah. You could die.”
“Huh,” was all she said. She looked at my boxes. “Are you gonna use those?”
I shook my head, and the woman climbed out of the dumpster.
I don’t know what I expected, but It wasn’t what I saw. Here, crawling out of a dumpster, was a gorgeous twenty something woman in very chic clothing and, I kid you not, high heels. Her hair was perfect. Her nails divine. She even had makeup on.
I stared. She noticed.
“Sorry,” I said, “I just thought that someone… of the dumpster… wouldn’t look like…” I took a breath. “Aren’t you nervous someone might see you? Someone you know?”
“Hey,” she said, “everyone needs boxes.”
Again with the boxes. Who was this woman? Did she live in a box? Did she and her lumberjack, rugged, cover of Men’s Fitness husband construct a house out of used cardboard? Do they sleep on a cardboard bed? Eat cereal out of cardboard bowls? Did she send a lot of packages?
“I guess…” I said, as the woman picked up all of my cardboard and carried it to an infiniti CRV not too far away.
She left me alone with my thoughts.
Why? Why would someone who didn’t have to climb inside a dumpster? Who would do that?
She stayed on my mind as I walked back to the store.
I was mopping the floor when my friends showed up. Nate and Britt had just graduated from the same graduate film program I had, and had made the move to LA less than a week ago. Nate has two internships and film production companies. Britt has some set jobs lined up.
I was in a green apron, mopping the floor, and I’d been here for a year.
Time flies. When I first moved out here, lived in a beach house thanks to a mix up with the apartment I would rent. I stayed there for a week. I was interning at a production company, the same one Nate was interning at now. I was living the dream.
And now I’m mopping floors in a mall, taking trash to dumpsters, talking to strange women who dwell within.
At this point, I thought I’d be writing for TV show.
“There he is,” Nate said as I walked around the bar, “Looking good in that apron. Has it been a good day?”
“Sure, it was busy earlier, but it slowed down now.”
Nate looked around, smiling. “So do you like it here?”
I looked at my mop. I thought about Starbucks. I thought about the customers. I thought about bills, and paychecks, and rent. I thought about student loans. I thought about fixing my car. I thought about my health insurance, and my free coffee, and my computer, and my writing, and the industry, and movies and TV and socks and money and beer and people and friends and life and death.
Most importantly, though, I thought about a woman in a trash compactor stealing cardboard.
Hey, everybody needs boxes.
“Yeah, I do.” I finally said. “What can I get for you guys?”
He got a very berry hibiscus. Just like I knew he would.