Friday, August 19, 2011

Let Someone Else Pay

Need a quick way to save some cash during these tough economic times? Just cancel your garbage service, and instead, dump your trash at the nearest apartment complex.

Starting not very long after the collapse of the housing bubble, I started seeing spikes in the amounts of material in the trash compactor and recycling dumpsters. Whereas before it would be rare for either to ever completely fill up, they'd go from empty to completely full in sometimes less than 72 hours. Or you'd drive by in the morning, and there would be a huge amount of stuff that hadn't been there the night before. Sometimes, you'd find a bed or a desk stuffed into the trash compactor in the middle of the month.

The head of maintanance was a fellow expat Chicagoan, and we'd chat whenever we got the chance, and he told me that it was people from the local neighborhood, driving into the complex at night to dump their trash. "Go look out in the area on trash day a few times," he told me. "See which houses don't have garbage cans out." So I did, and lo and behold there were a few houses that never had garbage cans out. Once, you could chalk up to them just forgetting it was trash day. But when I went through for the third time in as many months, and the same houses still didn't have trash cans out when everyone else did, I started to grow just a bit suspicious.

Then I started to pay more attention. Every so often, I'd come home late, as in after 9 pm or so, once it had gotten dark, and there would be a someone, a couple, or maybe even a family unloading a remarkable number of bags and boxes from a car or large pickup truck. And they'd watch me, as I went to the mailbox, or dropped something in the recycling bin. Sometimes, you could tell that they didn't belong there - they were quiet, and hostile to being addressed in any way. Other times, they'd try to be friendlier about it. They'd explain, unasked, that they were moving out, and just finishing cleaning up. On the 10th of the month. Possible, but not likely. Espcially where no moving trucks or piled-high pickups had ben seen recently. One time, I saw another resident confront someone, and be threatened with bodily harm if they didn't back off. The threatening man and his wife dumped some furniture, climbed back into their pickup truck and quickly fled the scene as more residents began to arrive.

I can't say that I'm surprised by this, given that trying to get something for nothing is almost a large a part of the American Dream as home ownership. It's a large part of the reason that we're in the state that we're in right now. Large sections of the country aren't densely enough populated for any reasonable level of taxation to pay for the infrastructure and services needed for the place to viable, and so the rest of us end up funding it, either through direct infusions of tax money or by paying off the bonds that the federal government has floated to borrow the money needed. But it's smaller things as well, Anyone who works in an office environment likely knows at least one person whose idea of shopping for school supplies is to raid the copy room for pens, notebooks and binders.

One of the things that I find many Americans to be remarkable good at is pleading poverty, regardless of their circumstances. I've known people in steady jobs with salaries that reach nearly six figures, and who have enough money that they don't keep it all in one bank because of the limits of deposit insurance who still think of themselves as being on the verge of living on the streets. It's this sort of constant insecurity that drives people to see themselves as needing to "share" in the things that other people have. It won't be until we start seeing ourselves as at least secure, if not affluent, that we'll stop casting our eyes on what others around have.

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