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Dumpster Dilemma

By John Addyman


I looked at the dumpster.

“This is going to be ugly,” I said to myself.

I had been cleaning my office, running the vacuum cleaner. As the editor of a small-town newspaper, you get to enjoy all the pleasures of small-business life. Yes, I deliver papers. Yes, I lay out pages. Yes, I write stories. Yes, I empty the garbage and the dust the furniture. Yes, I shoot photos.

And yes, I run into situations where I wish I were someone else.

I’d taken the vacuum cleaner out back to the dumpster, to empty the canister, which was way beyond full. I popped the top off, and shook the canister so all the dust and dirt went into the dumpster.

And just at the last minute, the filter for the vacuum cleaner followed the dirt and dust into the bottom of the dumpster.

I stood on my tip-toes to look over the edge of the dumpster down to the bottom, down into the corner where the filter was looking back at me.

“Now what?” I said to myself.

Did I need that filter? Yes, I did.

Could I reach the filter by leaning down into the dumpster and grabbing it? No I could not. I’m 5-7. The dumpster was about 5-2. I couldn’t reach half-way down the dumpster.

I walked around it. Was there someplace where I could get a foothold, climb up and jump down into the dumpster, like you see in movies? Thank God, there wasn’t, because I rapidly realized that even if I could jump down into the dumpster, there was no way I was going to be able to climb out of the thing. The sides were smooth.

That meant I might get into the dumpster, but would have to stand in it, yelling for help, for who knows how long.

And that provided a flashback to 40 years ago.

Back then, in the 1970s, my wife and I lived in West Whiteland Township, PA, near the Exton Mall. I was a reporter for the local paper, and I covered the goings-on in West Whiteland. I knew lots of people, particularly emergency responders.

One pleasant Saturday morning I decided to fix the flashing around the chimney of our two-story Colonial house, which meant climbing up my 24-foot ladder, getting onto the roof, and effecting the repair.

As I announced my plan to my wife, who was already well beyond her marriage-years in wisdom, she quietly said, “John, you’re afraid of heights.”

That, of course, was wrong: I am terrified of heights.

“I’m going up,” I said, sounding a lot like your normal neighborhood hero.

“This is going to be good,” she muttered.

I got up the ladder. Stepping onto the roof would have been easier if my legs hadn’t been shaking so much, but I got the flashing fixed and was really satisfied with myself.

Then I looked down that ladder, and there was no way I was getting back on it, even though my wife was holding onto it way down there at the bottom. Going UP the ladder I hadn’t looked at the ground. Going DOWN the ladder meant I had to look at the ground and face my fear.

I sat down and told my wife, “I can’t do it. I can’t get back on the ladder.”

My sweet wife and I talked for some time, her at the bottom of the ladder and me hanging onto the top of the ladder while I sat on the roof. We talked about our love for one another, what a nice day it was and how nice our neighbor’s lawn looked, and what I wanted to bequeath to the kids when I got killed falling off the ladder…stuff like that.

After she finally had heard enough, she started to gnaw at my psyche. She told me she was going to call 911 and the fire department would have to come over and raise a ladder and send guys up to pluck me off my own roof. She told me I probably knew every firefighter who would arrive and all the police officers. She told me for years to come every time I saw one of them in public they’d snicker. She told me on this day I would become a West Whiteland Legend.

“You’ll never live it down,” she said, sneaking a look up the ladder to see what I was doing.

What I was doing was getting back onto the ladder.

At that point, I didn’t care if I came down head-first like a lawn dart, I was getting off that roof. And I did. And I scurried to the bottom of the ladder.

“See?” I told my wife. “There!”

My sweet wife gave me a kiss on the forehead. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. Then she went into the house, smiling.

I sat on the porch for some time, trying to decide if breakfast was going to stay in my stomach or join the lawn.

But that was then, many years ago.

Here I was now, looking at the dumpster, picturing the Williamson Fire Dept. getting a call for a man stuck in a dumpster, and all of Wayne County listening on the EMS radios, and trying to figure out how a grown man gets stuck in a dumpster. I did not want to be a Williamson legend.

So I walked away from the dumpster. I looked for a grabber device, like the ones grocers used to have so you could reach a can on the top shelf. Couldn’t find one. I found a snow shovel I thought might help me scoop up the filter, but I still had the height problem. I thought about putting one ladder on the outside and one on the inside of the dumpster.

But I couldn’t find another ladder.

While I was thinking, our neighbor from the upstairs apartment, AJ, happened by the office, wondering why al the furniture was out in the hall. I told him about the vacuum and the filter.

“Oh,” he said, and walked off.

Finally, I decided to try the snow shovel and if that didn’t work, look for another ladder, although something told me I could still end up stuck in the dumpster.

When I went out to the dumpster, I got a surprise – AJ was climbing out of it, with my filter in his hand. He’s about 25 and had just sort of vaulted in and bounced out.

I was very grateful, and very embarrassed…and I told that to my wife that night.

“Honey, AJ is 50 years younger than you are,” she said, and kissed me on the forehead again. And she walked away, smiling.

I felt better with the kiss…but I really wanted to get that filter out myself…