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Strangers Stopping Strangers Just To Shake Their Hands

I step onto the front porch just as our mailman is closing the mailbox.


I’ve seen our mailman a few times, but wouldn’t recognize him at the store, or even at a mail jitney that wasn’t on our street. My wife probably knows the mailman because she greets people in her daily life.

There he was, all bearded and official. Stately. The uniform and the whole history of sleet and bravery I will never have. I gather the courage to introduce myself and told him my name. He nods. “Yes of course I know your name, Chris.”

The mailman does not tell me his name but does glance down and to the left like toward his name tag or badge. I was afraid to look.

I return the nod and head down the walkway, wondering how many times this mailman has used that “Yes, of course I know your name” retort. Our mailman tramps right through our yard to the next house and tramps through that front yard. My wife tells me this is how it is done in the mail delivery business and I have not been paying attention. I am not good at paying attention to normal life, like how many crumbs I leave under my kitchen table chair, which is apparently one dog’s meal’s worth even though we do not own a dog.

Regardless whether your mailman walks over your yard, he knows your name. 

Spooky. Every one of us has a stalker – or more than one.

We get less mail now. The mailman is probably delivering fewer copies of Playboy, but your mailman still knows your proclivities. Your mailman knows if you have bad credit. Your mailman knows if you are behind on child support. Your mailman knows your relationship with the IRS. This mailman on your porch is a stranger to you, but you are not a stranger to him.

Even spookier? The men at your rear door know you even better. Your trash bin. Your recycle bin. Your yard waste bin. Each bin has a different team learning about you without your permission.

The green bin is your yard waste bin. You have to pay extra for the green bin, so that says something. Most green bin people are responsible, tending to their property, increasing values all around. But some people are like me – pristine green bins. You could eat from my green bin. I’ve got one and I pay for it, but I’ve never used it. Good intentions, bad execution. Like a gym membership. Or college.

The green bin men people know how responsible you are, or how lazy you are.

Your brown bin tells even more about you. Your trash man knows. 

The brown bin has no rules. Anything you can put in the green bin or in the blue bin you can put in the brown bin. Kind of like how all colors mixed together are brown. The brown bin is a final dismissal. It’s over. I never want to see you again.

The brown bin men know who is cooking and who is living on takeout. The brown bin men know which houses smell the worst inside.

But the blue bin men know you the best. They may not know your name like your mailman, but your blue bin men know your weaknesses. The blue bin men may be the government workers most in tune with the wellbeing of each citizen. Defund the police indeed.

City curbside recycling started with the small bins. Remember those? No plastic. Segregation required. No intermingling of newspaper and aluminum or glass.

There were resisters to those small bins and their rules. Those small blue bins were used for storage or gardening. Aluminum cans went into the trash with the newspapers and glass. But overnight, resistance melted when the giant blue bins arrived. No more fine print. If it was recyclable, toss it in. No segregation. Bottles wrapped in newspaper finished in aluminum foil – toss it in.

Your big blue bin men know everything about everybody. Everything. People who still read the paper. The Amazon junkies. And the more mundane. The blue bin guys can sort their customers by the number of the milk fat consumed in the family. 2% says something. Maybe old people. 1% says something. Maybe poor people. 0% says something. Self-flagellators. Whole milk says something. Hippies, or maybe fat people, depending whether the empty containers are cleaned and flattened.

But the blue bin societal litmus are the bottles and cans. The recycle guys know more about who is an alcoholic than anyone in town.

Ever have a party and fill your blue bin to the top with a nasty variety of bottles and cans? Embarrassing. But some people fill up that blue bin each week without shame.

If you’re home when they pick up the full bottle and can blue bin, it’s twenty seconds of clanking and crashing and breaking as the blue bin machine manhandles its prey. You’ve heard the sound. It’s the clanking and crashing and breaking of your soul into a bottomless pit.

I know a bad mother who somehow consumes 240 bottles of Corona each week. Ten full cases, from Costco, each Sunday, after church. You can hear her car coming – tinkety tink of light sounding Corona bottles free-ranging in the rear footwells.

She may share some of these 240 bottles, but all of them make it to the blue bin. Every one of them includes a recycle-denying lime wedge and a cigarette butt.

But not all career drinkers are filling the bin and suffering the twenty-second tinkety tink of shame.

Some blue bins are entirely empty each week except seven bottles of Stoli. That’s a story – seven bottles of Stoli. The seven bottles of Stoli people run the gamut. Some of you are reading this now. Some are scrubbing up right now in in operating rooms, others are home yelling or crying or barfing. Many of course are dead.

The blue bin men know you all.


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