Shortly after I moved to Hawaii I learned that residents of the Big Island are responsible for taking their own trash to the dump. At first I was enchanted by this. The thought of being my own garabage woman was somehow thrilling, but after some consideration, I quickly realized that being a garbage woman only seemed inticing to me because of my curiosity to see what’s in other people’s garbage. The damning reality is I don’t want to dispose my own garbage, I just want the authority and opportunity to snoop through people’s trash in hopes of finding something shocking and interesting, like discarded dental records.
Gathering up your trash every week is like being forced to go to therapy. You are constantly confronting truths about your continued survival that you have tried to literally throw away from the rest of humanity. Chicken skins, three empty pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a dozen Q-tips full of ear wax. Used tissues, old lettuce and empty yogurt cups. Bacon grease, leftover spagetti thats gone bad, expired milk, and eggshells. On the mainland all your unusable remains or byproducts of something are just thrown in a bin and wheeled to the end of the sidewalk, privately concelead and lugged away to disappear forever by someone who more closey shares the qualities and descriptions of a knight, rather than a person employed by a public or private enterprise to collect waste. The whole experience leaving you with the peace of mind that you do not create any sort of debris or bad smell in the air. But out here on the island where most people own a machete, you have to shove your trash into the back of your car and drive it all the way to the dump. You sit with your trash, you know what you’ve created, and you can’t help but feel like some sort of monster. This.. odor that repulses me, my own existence smells foul and is making me dry heave, you think as you drive. How do I give up, but keep going?
I go to the dump a lot with Dakota. Living on the island means that at some point in a new relationship, or friendship, you will consalidate all your garbage and sit with it, together, for however long it takes for you to drive it to the dump. A type of horrifying intamicy that I don’t think even my parents, who have been married thirty two years have ever expirienced with one another. We will be driving down the road, the back of his Jeep full of grabage bags with mysterious brown liquid seeping out from the bottom. “Turn the air off it doesn’t help,” I’ll whine, my eyes watering. Dakota will look at me, his face pained, hunched over the steering wheel, and begin unrolling the window and trying to hold his breath. In LA I used to notice all the women doing their makeup in their car while driving, poking themselves in the eye while trying to change lanes, and dusting their face with concelar while stopped at a red light. Here in Hawaii, I notice all the people on their way to the dump, casually gagging inside their car or hanging their head out the window as they drive above the speed limit.
Because everyone has to dispose of their trash, the dump is a really busy, happening place on the island. There’s always a line of frantic looking people waiting in their car with heaps of garbage. I envy people with trucks, sitting in their seperate fresh air conditioned space, their trash in a pile in the back safely away from them. Trucks are hard to buy or find on this island and really, the reason must be because people want to create that important boundary from their waste every dump run. When it is your turn to fling your trash into a large metal chute gleefuly realeasing it from your responsibility, you back your car up for easy access and get out as quickly as possible. I will fall out, my face streaked with tears from my eyes watering and Dakota will jump out on the other side, sucking in air because he’s been holding his breath the whole time. We will run around opposite sides of the car and join up at the back and swiftly begin to throw trash into the air together.
The last time we were there, we had shuttled the trash in my Mazda, and we were parked next to an old man in a pick up truck who was throwing away chopped up wood. He was eyeing my trunk and as he flung what looked like a table leg into the abyss of trash he said, “That’s a nice sized trunk you got there.” I looked in my trunk, and back at the old man, who was really just a pile of bones held together by a bandana around his neck. “Thank you,” I said trying to be polite. “You could take a nice bath in that size of a trunk,” he continued, and I thought I saw a twinkle in his left eye. I peered in my trunk and imagined it full of soapy bubbles, the old man in the middle, covered in suds except for his foot which he was scrubbing with a loofa. I cringed. Once after having a conversation with a midget who was inside of a frozen pizza freezer in the Ralphs on Sunset Blvd (it was summertime, he was hot, and conviently fit inside the freezer. I was hungry and buying a Digorno and that is the story of how we met), I asked my father if things like this happen to him and he very calmy replied, “some people just attract these things.” I felt complimented and insulted at the same time and now at the dump in Hawaii, I realized this was simply just another lucky moment in my life. I looked at six foot six inch Dakota and my brow furrowed. “An elementary school sized child could absolutely take a bath in my trunk but,” I said, patting Dakota on the back, “not all of us could.” The old man’s mouth kind of sagged open but the silence that ensued signified there was nothing left to say about bathing in the trunk of my car. I looked behind us at the man as we drove away. “That looked like nice mahaugony he was tossing,” Dakota commented. “I would love to dig through his garbage” I said. Dakota looked disturbed. “I bet it’s so spooky,” I tried to explain. “I bet that wood used to be something scary, like a rocking chair he chopped up.”
People sometimes ask me what it’s like to live on an island and I usually brag about how it’s paradise, but now I tell them it’s only paradise as long as you have a secret dumpster. When they look confused I have to explain that sometimes the dump will surprise you and be closed for no apparent reason and you will be left sitting outside of it with all your trash. In that instance you can’t just simply bring it home, what a cruel and merciless defeat. It benefits you to keep your eye out for dumpsters around town that you could possibly dump all your trash into inconspicuously and without being arrested. Dakota actually taught this to me and it’s been one of the most benefical pieces of knowledge I have gained since moving here. This being said, sometimes I find myself in the middle of the night, throwing my garbage away in an unmarked dumpster behind a nail salon owned by a family of Thai immigrants.
When I grocery shop now, I only think of the waste it will leave behind and what might end up dribbling out into my car. Lucky for me, Mac and Cheese is acceptable because all that is left behind is an empty clean cardboard box and a sprinkle of odorless cheese dust. The benefit of living in a jungle is that if I find forgotten parsley in my fridge I can toss it’s slimy, pungent remains, guilt free into a compost pile behind some palms and feed the earth.
Da dump is not advertised often about local Big Island life, it often gets lost in the stoke of da waves, da jungle and da Poke shack. But da dump is one of the things that makes me feel like a real islander. I’ve experienced it enough times to tell my grandchildren I truly lived on an island. Instead of heckling them about walking nine miles in the snow to school, I will heckle them about trash. “You see that package of six sausages you just bought? You think you’ll just eat those up but what if you dont? What if you tire of them and one goes left uneaten only to be forgotten in the fridge? Back when I lived on an island you had better eat all of those within the expiration date. Not unless you wanted to personally transport that rotten weiner to da dump, which is what I used to have to do. Respect me.“