I just survived what I am pretty sure was my first garbage strike. And I don't mean the non-workings of a stoned roommate or pissed-off spouse. I'm talking about a full-on, citywide work stoppage by garbage collectors and street cleaners, as well as other non-garbage related workers whose jobs fall under the umbrella of whatever union it was that struck. Striked? Struck? Whatever. It's over, thank god.
I think it lasted about a month and some change. I should know more of the facts involved in what's going on around me, but hey, I was away on vacation in Cape Cod (where it rained nine out of ten days, by the way) when the strike began. Plus, I am an American living in Toronto, and it's taking me a while to adjust to being here. Sure, I've been here for a few years, but I'm only now starting to feel like this is my home. What can I say, I am a change-resistant strain. I'm just getting my head around the new faces in the current U.S. Congress. Learning the ins and outs of the Canadian Parliament is going to have to wait. It's still hard for me to use a blue Canadian five-dollar bill without feeling sick because the little portrait of the dude on the back of it bears an uncanny resemblance to Connecticut Independent Senator Joe Lieberman. I can run, but I can't hide.
Speaking of wanting to throw up, a garbage strike in a crowded city in summer is a real treat. (To put it another way, if you've never actually had a yak dead three weeks finally expel — from any given orifice — its rotten inner vapors in your face, don't fret. Just google "current garbage strike," go directly to that place, and start living.) But I guess if you're the garbage collectors' union and you want to turn the screws on the moneymen (which is more often than not a justified thing to do), you stop working when the sun is closest to where the rain-soaked organic waste is. This is especially true in Canada because it gets so cold up here in the winter, and there's so much snow, they could put on a garbage strike in February and no one would even notice until well into May. (Which reminds me of a true and semi-related story. When I used to live in Brooklyn, my roommates and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner. As it was unseasonably cold and we had a tiny fridge, I had the brilliant idea of storing the carcass on the roof of our apartment. Well, let's just say we never got around to making that vat of turkey soup. When Saint Patrick's Day rolled around, my roommates threatened to kill me in my sleep if I didn't go up on the roof and dispose of the evidence. I stood at the edge of the roof and swung the Hefty bag down three floors — direct hit — into the garbage barrel on Fifth Avenue. It was a fantastic shot on my part. Even more amazing was the fact that not a rat had chewed through the cinch sack to the well-preserved forcemeat.)
Speaking of rats, I didn't see a single literal rat during this whole garbage strike. (That's the truth.) That comforted me on one level and alarmed me deeply on another. See, I have come across plenty of literal rats in Toronto in the past, and they scare the living crap out of me. So not seeing any fighting over a dirty cheese Danish in the alleyway behind the bakery was no skin off my nose. But then I started thinking, Where did they all go? A buddy of mine answered that one for me. "Wait till you go dump off your garbage at Moss Park (a nice little park serving as a city-designated temporary garbage dump). They're all there eating and multiplying like rabbits. If they don't nuke them all while they're there in one place, forget about it." (That reminds me of another story. My kid sister knew a woman — let's call her Fran — who was a zoologist or something like that. Fran was hired to work on the Big Dig in Boston. Her job was to figure out how to exterminate the rats all that big digging was going to uncover. The scientists came up with a sick, almost passive, Darwinian solution. They decided to simply systematically eliminate the rats' homes, and the rats would kill each other. In the end apparently all the humans had to do was go in there and slay a small number of rats. Granted, those rats were extremely battle-toughened and hearty; more like cockroaches. Who knows if they ever got their men. I mean their rats.)
Anyway, everyone loses while the garbage strike is on. I suppose that's the point. But all lousy things come to an end too. I woke the other morning to the nearly forgotten sound of a sidewalk street cleaner passing in front of our place. It sounded like a small-engined plane circling the rescue fire of a hobbled hiker. I took my cup of coffee with me to the front stoop. I was so happy I wanted to give it to the guy. Then I really wanted to give it to the guy. Instead I went inside and told my wife the strike was over. Then I spent the rest of the morning explaining over and over to my young son what a garbage strike was exactly. He's only three. He sort of grasped it, which is why I had to tell him over and over. I hope I didn't influence him one way or the other with regards to which side — labor or management — was in the right. Like I said before, I was not up on the particulars. Does that make me a bad parent?