Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to my elderly great aunt’s house to clean up the debris in her front yard. I pulled weeds, trimmed hedges and pruned branches, then mowed the front lawn and shoveled off the poop deposited by the neighboring dogs.
Only I guess I should have shoveled off the poop first, and then mowed the lawn, as I discovered to my dismay when I went to clean the lawnmower blade afterwards.
“At least he’s a well-fed dog,” I said to myself. “Clearly.”
As I raked the debris into a pile, an old man hobbled onto the front porch.
“Hey!” he screamed. “The hell you doing in my yard?”
I leaned on my rake, wiping some sweat from my brow. “Isn’t this Elvira Colane’s house?”
“No,” he said, holding his gut. “Her house is across the street.”
I turned to look at the house across the street. Its yard was choked with a dense collage of overgrown bushes, trees and a lawn that looked like a cornfield.
“Oh,” I said.
The man glared at me, frowning. “Why are there dog-poop footprints all over my front lawn?”
I grabbed my shovel, rake, and other implements of destruction, then dragged them across the street.
“Hey!” the man said, calling from his front porch. “You forgot to deadhead my tulips!”
As I unloaded all my tools across the street, my great aunt hobbled out of the house and bopped me on the head with a rolling pin. “The hell have you been?”
“Easy, Aunt Elvira!” I said. “I forgot what house you lived in.”
She put her hands on her hips. “If you visited me more often, Turkey Brain, you wouldn’t forget! Now get working, you lazy bum! If you want your turkey roll, you’re going to have to earn it. I’m not going to tolerate no freeloading comic-book writer ransacking my pantry unless he puts in an honest day’s work.”
“I’m a comedy writer, Aunt Elvira, not a comic-book writer,” I said.
“The hell you are. The only comedy around here is your pathetic work ethic, you useless sack of turkey giblets.” She bopped me on the head again with the rolling pin. “Now get moving!”
So I got to work pulling weeds, trimming hedges and pruning branches. This time, however, I made sure to shovel off the dog poop before mowing the lawn. I raked it into a pile, then scooped it into a bag.
Aunt Elvira stuck her head out the window. “Make sure you edge the lawn, too, you stupid sack of sprouted potatoes! Last time you didn’t edge the lawn and it grew over the curb. If you’re not going to do your job right, then you can stick your pumpkin pie where the sun don’t shine!”
As much as I appreciated her Thanksgiving-themed insults — corny though many of them were — I silently picked up the bag of dog poop and set it in the backseat of Aunt Elvira’s car. Then I mowed the lawn and shoveled all of the debris into my pickup truck. After storing my tools, I climbed into the cab and fired up the engine.
“Hey!” Aunt Elvira said, hobbling onto the front porch. “Hey! You stupid bastard with the gravy-stained pants! Where do you think you’re going?”
“I got to go to the dump, Aunt Elvira,” I said. “And I got to hurry. They close in a half-hour.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll dunk your head in cranberry sauce if you’re not home for dinner in time! I’m not cooking all this for nothing!”
My aunt’s dog, Catheter, tore out of the house and bounded into the yard. Giving me a defiant smile, he squatted and pooped atop the freshly mowed lawn.
“Seriously?” I said.
“Good boy,” Aunt Elvira said, patting him on the head. “And you—” she said, waving her rolling pin at me — “you better have your butt back here in an hour, or the only joke in your arsenal will be your rearranged face.”
“I love you, too, Aunt Elvira,” I said. “Be back soon.”
I slammed on the gas and tore out of the driveway at 110 mph, littering branches and leaves down the neighborhood street.
When I arrived at the dump, I pulled alongside the shack at the guarded entrance.
A heavyset man with a thick mustache ambled out, glancing at my load. He hitched his belt and rocked back and forth on his feet. “What’s in the truck?”
“Garbage,” I said.
“I can see that!” he snapped.
“OK,” I said, looking at him.
He glared back.
I shrugged. “So … now that we’ve established that I have garbage, can I, like, proceed through the gate?”
“I want to know what-all is in the truck,” the guy said, motioning to the load.
“I just told you!” I said. “Garbage! Why else would I come to the dump? I’m not here for the holiday door-buster sale!”
“You and I ain’t communicating,” the man said. “At this here dump, we have different sections. We have a wood section, where you dump wood. We have a metal section, where you dump metal. We have a construction-debris section, where you dump—”
“As impressed as I am by your astonishing mastery of the Landfill Classification System,” I said, “all I want is to dump this load and get home to dinner.”
The man gritted his teeth. “And I want to know what’s in the truck!”
“You can see for yourself!” I said. “It’s garbage! Crap! Refuse! Trash! Litter! For Pete’s sake, man! What do you want from me?”
The man hooked his thumbs into his belt. “I want to know just what it is you’re bringing into my landfill.”
“It’s trash!” I said. “Honestly! It’s not like I’m trying to get away with anything, here. There’s not a bucketful of mercury stashed under the seat, or a CRT television deceitfully concealed beneath the lawn clippings! I’m not a criminal mastermind who can concoct such a clever and dastardly scheme! I’m just an aspiring comedy writer who’s trying to help out his aunt on Thanksgiving.”
The man extracted a baton and nudged me through the open window. “I’m going to ask you one more time. What’s in the truck?”
I threw my arms in the air. “It’s dead organic material. You happy?”
The man walked around the truck and rummaged through the load, then returned to my window. “Looks like a bunch of plants and branches to me.”
“That would be the aforementioned organic material,” I said.
“What are you — some kind of comedian?” he growled.
“An aspiring one, yes,” I said. “I thought we just established that?”
The man nudged me again with his baton. “I want you to take this load to the debris section at the top of the hill. Follow the signs. And hurry up, because we’re closing in 20 minutes.”
“Your navigational prowess is appreciated,” I said. Then I barreled through the open gate at 110 mph.
A signpost stood alongside the road with arrows pointing in several directions. It looked like the misplaced creation of either Dr. Seuss or a scatterbrained city bureaucrat.
So of course I got lost. I rumbled 17 miles through twists and turns and dips and curves, trying to figure out which dirt path led to what pile. Then I somehow ended up going down a hill instead of up, and I found myself in the metal section. Shards and scraps of twisted, metallic detritus lay everywhere — as if human survivors had obliterated an army of Terminators in a post-apocalyptic war.
I backed up to turn around and ran over a metal rod, which popped my tire.
I closed my eyes and tilted my head skyward. “I couldn’t have ended up in the wood section. Nope. It had to be here. I’ve got nothing to be thankful for this year. Nothing.”
I checked the spare, but in keeping with my recent stream of luck, it of course was also flat. So I got out of my truck and walked the 17 miles back to the gate. By the time I got there, it was pitch black and the gate was locked. I climbed over the strands of barbed wire, ripping my pants and cutting a deep gouge through my leg.
“Nothing to be thankful for,” I said again, holding a palm to my leg in a pathetic attempt to stop the blood flow. “Nothing.”
I dug out my cell phone and called my aunt.
“The hell are you?” she screamed, with Catheter yapping in the background. “Dinner’s getting cold! I ought to knock the stuffing out of you!”
I explained the situation, including my popped tire, the rude gate attendant and the gash in my leg that was gushing gallons of blood as we spoke.
“You mushy pile of green beans!” my aunt screamed. “You can just spend the night there!”
“I don’t want to stay here all night!” I said. “People will think I’m camping out for the holiday door-buster sale!”
So after spewing a stream of curses and more Thanksgiving-themed insults (“I should have shoved your head up the turkey’s backside, along with the stuffing!”), my aunt barreled to the dump in her luxurious sedan to pick me up.
I opened the passenger door to step inside.
“No,” Aunt Elvira said, waving her dented rolling pin at me. “Get in the back!”
“Why do I have to get in the back?” I said.
“Because you’re dirty and you stink from working all day. I don’t want you up here with me. Get in the back where you belong, you useless, no-good comic-book writer!”
I slammed the door and opened the back. Letting out an exhausted sigh, I plopped down and landed on a sack filled with mushy gunk, which squirted through a tear in the sack.
“Oh no,” I said, my eyes widening.
“What?” Aunt Elvira asked.
I looked at the mess in my seat, then stared at the ceiling.
“Nothing to be thankful for this year,” I said. “Nothing.”
“You really stink,” Aunt Elvira said, as we putted home at 10 mph. “You need to head straight for the shower when we get home. And you’re not getting any dinner, either. As far as I’m concerned, Catheter can have your share.”
“Well, at least he’s a well-fed dog,” I said. “Clearly.”