Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Garbage Nazi

The home life of the single person bears very little resemblance to that of the married, the co-habitating or the single parent with kid(s). For one thing, we singles are completely free to institute house rules which are alway obeyed because the author is only complying with his own rules. This freedom allows for a creativity and originality in developing procedures which those whose experience is limited to multiple-person households find hard to understand, let alone obey.

In my home I have a very simple and very common sense rule for kitchen garbage. The rule is thus:

THOU SHALT NOT MIX WET AND DRY GARBAGE TOGETHER.

Now what could be more straightforward than that, I ask you? Has there ever been a rule whose reason for being is more self-evident? Yet it is amazing how many of my friends, relatives and other guests in my home have problems conforming with it.

I have learned a great deal about the way the human mind works from observing people's reactions to this stricture and I find that they generally fall into one of three categories.

The first category includes those who immediately grasp the rule and comply with it unswervingly forever after. Those in this group are a distinct minority. I'm sure the motivation for their compliance varies with some perceiving the advantages of my system and others preferring not to argue with a madman. Either cause is equally acceptable to me as long as the rule is obeyed.

The second category consists of those who are genuinely perplexed by the rule. These need repeated admonishments to comply not because of any innate stubbornness but rather because they have simply never given much thought to the science of garbage-handling before. I tend to be patient with this sort of non-compliance since my experience has been that, once they grasp the fabulously positive benefits of this garbage-segregation regimen, they not only become enthusiastic adherents in my home, but adapt it in theirs and often become proselytizers seeking to spread their enlightenment far and wide.

The third and, unfortunately, the largest group are the willfully non-compliant who display their dysfunctional relationship with authority in reprehensibly passive-aggressive ways. While ostensibly adhering to the rule, they will question its purpose even though it has been explained to them a hundred times.

The challenge to the rule will generally unfold as follows:

The "closet revolutionary" will have an item for disposal in his hands (this type is overwhelmingly male) and will generally stand in front of the kitchen garbage can staring at it pensively for however long it takes to get my attention. Although tempted to ignore this cue for me to inquire into their dilemma, since I know what's about to happen, I will invariably respond simply to get the inevitable over with.

"Something wrong?"

"Well, I was just wondering..."

"Yes?"

"Now promise you won't get pissed."

"I promise."

"I mean it's not that I want to be difficult, but you have to admit that The Garbage Rule is rather vague."

"It's not vague in the least, at least to those who genuinely want to comply with it."

"See, you're getting pissed."

"Not pissed, just worn out from incessant carping. So what's your question?"

"Well... is this wet or dry garbage?"

Here we go again!! These Rebels Without a Cause will never give up. Having been beaten back innumerable times in their frontal assaults on the rule itself, they eventually switch to guerilla tactics that involve undermining the rule by demonstrating that it is unenforceable.

"Now I know this may be too complicated for you to grasp, but the key distinction that you need to make is whether the item in question is actually wet or dry."

The defense attorney cleverly ignores my obvious sarcasm.

"It's wet, of course."

"Correct. And where are we supposed to throw wet garbage?"

"In the bag under the sink."

"Correct again. So what's the problem?"

"Well... you said the reason you separate wet from dry is to prevent garbage from stinking up the kitchen.

"Yes, so??"

"So.... this is a paper towel with just some plain water on it. It's never going to smell so why can't it go with the dry garbage?"

"First of all, the placement of wet garbage in the dry garbage might wet some of the dry residue in the can and cause it to stink. However, even if I conceded that the wet towel would not cause the dry garbage to smell, what's the problem with placing the wet towel in the wet garbage just to keep things simple?"

"Because if there's no reason to put it in the wet garbage, why have the rule at all?"

"OK, how's this for justification: it's MY house, MY kitchen and MY garbage receptacles!!!"

"See, you ARE pissed."

One can never win with a personality disorder of this type. I blame the educational reforms of the 1960s and 1970s which de-emphasized rote memorization of the rules of an academic discipline. Instead students were encouraged to explore why the rules exist in the first place. A wit once noted that people educated in this way aren't able to get the right answer but they can explain how they got it wrong. In kitchens, as in math, one should first master the rules before questioning their legitimacy. The alternative is to almost pass out from the stink emerging from the typical kitchen garbage can whenever it's opened.

NOT IN MY HOUSE!

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE it! The rule would make me CRAZY but I love the piece!
    Considering that I have fallen into all your living categories with the exception of 'single person', I think your rules are beyond my comprehension. For instance, do you think that your plan would alleviate my biggest garbage problem. That would be having to dig through very much unsorted wet food scraps and other dry products to find my silverware, an occasional small dish and sometimes my house keys(?). I doubt it.
    I'm very happy that you have found a creed by which you can live and that makes you happy (albeit, with occasional blips by unknowing or selfish friends). It wouldn't work for me even with an adult partner. However, given the opportunity to visit your home, I would abide by your beliefs and any rules you have in place at the time.
    With love and wishes for a Shana Tovah, Maxine

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