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I took it upon myself to see to the burial of my father. Each week twenty three tons of trash in and around the city was collected, compacted and delivered to the dump. My father was the man who woke up at four thirty every morning, except Sunday, to dress himself, eat breakfast (two eggs and a single piece of dry toast), drink a quick cup coffee and be out the door by five A.M so that twenty minutes later he was revving the engine of a rear loader just a few blocks from our home.
My father’s name was Hugo Mason and my two brothers, mother and I lived in a three bedroom townhouse in a city full of litter bugs.
The events surrounding my father’s death were not ordinary in the sense that they commonly occur to folks who pass from this life to the next every day. However, they were ordinary enough to not make the local news but they did use a spot of ink in the paper and a few wandering shutter bugs lingered around the porch for a good while after.
A grave mistake we made and soon stopped doing was sitting around the living room watching television. Harmless enough yes, however, my brother Nathan would cast a glance over his shoulder and see one or two men aiming cameras at the house. He’d call to my mom “Some dickhead is out there with a camera ma’!”
This would enrage her so much that my mother would race out onto the porch with a big hay broom, swinging it wildly into the air calling out to the ‘sons a bitches’ and tell them to ‘go harass another grieving family.’ The real killer was when she would taunt them ‘take a picture! It’ll last longer!’ and when they did, of course, this made momma even more angry and as a result I’ve lost count how many times schoolmates have hollered for me to come over to watch viral videos of my mom losing it on the front steps of our house.
I love my dad. We all did. I want you to love him too. I don’t want to just spill the beans and tell you how he died, the way the news papers did, the way any other death is reported. Because, up until you hear ‘so and so died this morning.’ You never knew who they were, I mean like, the name never rang a bell and for all you know this person could have been a real jerk, a total tall tale windbag you’d be glad is now out of the way of the human race. I want the name Hugo Mason, to mean something. I want my dad to mean something because, he wasn’t just a garbage man, he wasn’t just the guy who didn’t give a ‘rat’s ass’ if we didn’t brush our teeth when mom went out and he took care of us and let us stay up late watching ‘Tales from The Crypt’ and calling us pussies if we asked for the hall light to stay on. He wasn’t just the guy who went to work and paid the ‘goddamn electricity bill’. Hugo Mason was a superhero.
I don’t mean superhero as in he wore a cape and cowl and beat up gangsters and was loved and hated by the authorities. And I don’t mean superhero as in some corny way the media drums up when some fireman rescues a baby from a flaming building either. No, my dad was smack dead in the middle because, yeah he did wear a costume. He wore his garbage man uniform and he beat the shit out of bad guys and brought a few weeping women from out of locked closets and violent homesteads. See, let me go back a little.
See, my dad always wanted to be a cop but not just a cop he wanted to be a detective. However, he met my mom real young and as boys will be boys he got her pretty pregnant pretty fast and being in the era where baby equals wedlock, the two got hitched and soon the rest of us came popping out. So, my dad got a job real quick with the city and brushed his dreams under the rug real quick.
Though, as they say, real passion never dies and after about fifteen years of this garbage, garbage, my dad started to take a, let’s call it a deeper look into his work. The way he tells it is, ‘Son, when you’re around stink and trash and the people you work with all stink like trash, talk like trash and you’re pulling bits and pieces of people’s lives into a truck to be tossed into the giant heap a’trash outside the city. You start feeling real shitty about things and maybe your mind starts to bend a bit. But don’t let it get you down. Nope, boy, you listen to me. You find that little thing in your life that makes you happier than a puppy with two peckers and it sorta sticks to you. Even if you leave it be for years and years, it’ll come full force right back at ya and there’s squat shit you can do about it. Trust me, you’ll see. Mine came back to me at the bottom of a stinking tin barrel full of tampons and busted laundry soap boxes. Yup, I saw the light, I touched it and I haven’t shaken it since.”
The blue light of the evening television shining on my blank expression I asked him and I asked him without even blinking. Well, that’s how I remember it anyway, “Light? What light?”
He cracked his knuckles, took in a breath and wiggled his back deep into the recliner like Oprah asked him why he was such a goddamn genius. “Pregnancy test.”
He smiled, nodding his head. “Pregnancy test and bandaids.”
“Uh huh. Bloody bandaids.”
“Gross. What does a chick on the rag need a preggers test for?”
He laughed and wagged a finger at me, “Exactly. See, son, chicks don’t bleed when they’re pregnant and they don’t use bandaids to remedy that shit.”
I sort of just stared at him as he continued, “Figured there was something not quite right with this. But I see shit like that everyday but it didn’t really dawn on me until then. I know this city like the back of my hand so I decided to keep an eye on that place. Few months pass, nothing much happens, bills, empty prenatal vitamin bottles, toothpaste tubes, TV dinner trays…. But the bandaids don’t stop and there’s suddenly bottles and bottles of cover up.”
He waves a hand at me all annoyed like. “Yeah, cover up. Women wear it on their skin so they don’t look so damn ugly covered in zits and shit.”
“Oh. Is that the line on our baby sitters chin and neck?”
“Uh huh. Women just cake that shit on thinking they look good. They look like goddamn clowns if you ask me. Anyways, all this crap is in their garbage and one day after work I get this feeling. I dunno how to describe it son. It just was and I just had to go by that house. I went to the place and I stood outside on the street for a good five, maybe six minutes till I hear this scream. A woman scream. I dunno why but I ran to the front door, it was open and I didn’t even think about it, I just ran in. Found this guy ontop of this pregnant lady just lay’n into her full fists and all. I musta surprised the shit out of them both because even after I pull the son of a bitch off her and pound him half dead, from what you can see of his face, he’s just staring at me like ‘who the fuck are you?’”
He laughs. “Same thing. I had gator ties in my pocket from work, I put them around his wrist and dialed nine one one, told them to come and then left.”
“Yeah Kevin Dower told me he read about a garbage hero in the news paper the next day at school. I didn’t know that was you then dad.”
“Since then, shit son, you think I go to work every day to handle dirty diapers and dripping cling wrap? Hell no, I’m keeping an eye on this place. This city.” A finger circles the roof above his head. “And sometimes that means taking care of not just the trash you see in a can. Sometimes that means the trash inside of people.”
He was extra careful to unstitch the logo of his company from the front and back of his coveralls. So every morning he took on another duty during breakfast, ironing the patches back on. He didn’t want any extra attention and wind up losing his job. For the same reason as removing the patches, he donned a ski mask. The black ones burglars use to rob banks and stick up armored trucks. He was afraid a sketch artist might be able to identify him as quickly as his company logo, so he was careful with that too. Oh, and gloves, yeah he wore his city dump work gloves. He said he liked the fact that every time he pounded some guy flat the stench of years and years of garbage went whistling up through the shattered bones of a wife beaters nose.
He kept this up for a number of years. I was surprised his identity was never discovered, probably because his take downs where only crack heads and lady smackers. His stunts did make it to the local news once or twice in his six year career as a masked garbage man wailing on abusers and the sort.
The whole time, my mom was none the wiser. Dad never let her in on it, just us boys, I don’t know why, maybe he was trying to inspire us to do the same, you know, like follow in his footsteps or whatever. But I think the real reason dad never told mom was because she was a real whistleblower she was. I love my mom, don’t think for a second I don’t but man, I tell ya, that woman has all us boy’s college educations paid for by Crime Stoppers. I mean, she’s called that number so many times it’s the second button on speed dial. The first button belonging to the number of our grandmother who mom chats with non-stop about her vigilance with ‘cleaning up the streets from inside the house.’ She used to joke that dad was cleaning up the garbage out there and she was cleaning up the garbage in here. I swear to God, cross my heart and hope to die, she once declared, “You’re daddy’s out there pick’n up trash after those types a trashy people. I’m the one making the difference here, I’m putting the REAL trash away for good. Hell, if he pulled his head out of his ass and joined me, started bringing home incriminating evidence, we’d be a pair of real superheros him and I.”
And none of us boys squawked on pop because we didn’t want him going to prison. Shit, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that what he was doing was, broken down legally: stalking, break and enter, destruction of property (say he kicked in a door or some shit), assault and battery.
None of us kids wanted our dad to be on the paper the teachers flapped at the front of the class telling us that “If you see this man, don’t talk to him. Run and tell an adult.” Besides, it was cool sort of and I say that it’s cool because one day this real dismal kid Trevor Reid came to class smiling for once. He said his ‘cock sucking step dad got the garbage man last night.’ We all crowded around his desk and for once nobody stuck a finger in one of the holes in his shirt and pinched him, fell to the floor and shrieked “I’ve got the AIDS! I’ve got the SCABIES! I’ve got the PLAUGE! Somebody quick! Get me some SOAP!” Nobody told him to take a bath or ‘close your mouth, your teeth are disgusting.’ No, this time he smiled, all those rotten fucking teeth clashing together, we ignored while he told us what he saw. “He came through the window fellas! He just smashed in, tucked and rolled, my step dad was coming down the hallway drunk as shit, pissing on the doors he passed, his dick out shouting at my mom ‘You better be wet cuz if you aren’t bitch I’m gonna kick the shit out of you.’ Which doesn’t make much sense to me why she’d be wet? I mean, she wasn’t in the shower or anything… anyways, garbage man gets up, glass sticking to his knees and he just kicks my step dad in the dick and he drops his beer and tumbles down the stairs landing by the couch and garbage man jumps off the stair rail, like anything better I’ve ever seen in wrestling and he just lands hard ontop of him all curled up by the couch. Garbage man grabs him by the collar of his shirt…” Trevor, of all people, grabs my shirt collar. “He wails him in the faces five or six times, gator ties his wrists and dials nine one one and leaves out the back door.” Luckily Trevor’s fist stops two inches before my face and he lets go of my shirt when he says nine one one.
I don’t know what you think, and frankly I don’t care what you think because I think my dad is cool. I think Hugo Mason is a legend. Shit, before dad died, I even remember hearing our little neighbor Katie singing skip rope with her friends “one two he hits you, three four get slapped some more, five six mom got hit, seven eight dads got a date, nine ten with the GARBAGE-MEN”
So we never told mom ‘cuz she’d rat. We knew she would. Hell, she even called Crime Stoppers on her older sister because her sister’s husband was growing a few pot plants in his basement. Whatever, so we just left mom out of the loop and watched for the papers to show us dad’s new and exciting after work antics.
One night, late when mom was out at Bingo and dad was watching us, my older brother Tyler asked dad, “You ever… you know the whole damsel in distress thing. Dad, you ever sneak an easy in and out with any of the women? I’m assuming they’d be all over you after rescuing them from their piece a crap cheating, beating boyfrie…”
Dad shook his head, wiggled his back into the recliner and said “No. That’s never crossed my mind once. God to bed Tyler.”
Dad slammed his fist down and orange soda shot across the room and landed in carbonated plops on my sock from across the room on the other couch where I had my feet up, trying to watch ‘Gargoyles’ on TV. “Because Tyler, the last thing a woman, any woman needs after having her door kicked in by a masked stranger who is kicking the shit out of their boyfriend, husband or whatever is another dude trying to fit his dick in her. Especially after just having been slapped around and made to huddle on the floor like a dog.”
Tyler stood there for a few long silent seconds, eyes pointed at the ceiling, his face a blue echo of the television. “Oh.”
Two years later, dad died on a Tuesday.
What few people knew about The Garbage man, fewer people knew about Hugo Mason. He didn’t have heaps of friends to go out and play cards with or gather around the crowded living rooms, floating in nacho chips and beer when the Super Bowl was blasted across every TV screen in America. My dad kept to himself and outside of his job, outside of Garbage man, he was a pretty quirky guy. He collected things. No, he wasn’t a hoarder or anything. What he collected was kept neatly inside tool boxes and Tupperware containers down in the basement. And what he collected was bread tabs. He collected milk bottles, the old kind you don’t see any more let alone find if you ever cared to look. Stamps, bottlecaps, unopened sea monkey packets, bottle rockets, snap pops and tiny dream dolls. Some of these items he found at work, digging them out of the trash and he’d come home, crack a beer and slap a bottlecap hard on the table, eyes gleaming the same way ours did as our tiny bodies gathered around dad’s found treasure. We would ask, “What is it?” pronouncing our ‘R’s’ all wrong as we questioned him, “Where’s it from?” or “What flavor was the pop?” and finally, “Do you have any pop?”
But mostly he just sat in the basement getting drunk and making model airplanes. He claimed to never want to hang out with the guys at work because all they did was cuss and the only reason they kept the job was because they were too stupid to find work any place else. Dad says he got the job ‘cause he was desperate and they upped his wage three seventy five after just eighteen months and he couldn’t afford to toss our medical away. “Having a family will crush your dreams Richie.” He told me one night. Beer cans scattered at the foot of his recliner, “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Just not hopefully for yourself. You pass all that self aimed hopefulness down to your kids. That’s a good dad, that’s what a good dad does. He inspires his boys to be better men than he is and if he’s done that and the Lord calls his number well, he’s done his job and there’s no reason for him to be on this planet anymore. Like your mom always says, ‘idle hands are the Devil’s playground’ or something right?”
So dad sat in his basement, drank beer and built tiny fighter jets that would never fly. He kept bottle caps and dream dolls and played the lotto with the expiry dates on the bread tabs. He drank his coffee, ironed his company logo onto the front and backs of his worn out coveralls and went to work. He beat up wife beaters and child molesters, came home and ate food paid for by Crime Stoppers. He hugged my mom when she was crying and told us boys to stop being pussies when we were sticking out our lips and wiping our eyes from skinned knees and bruises from falling out of trees we were trying to build forts in.
And one day, one shiny bright skied Tuesday morning, dad went to cross the street to buy a chocolate bar and a blue pickup sent him twenty feet forward, smearing him into the concrete every inch of the way.
Dad never wanted to be buried. He used to say, “I don’t care what the hell you do with me when I’m dead but don’t you dare put me in a box and cover it with dirt. I’m not claustrophobic or noth’n and who cares if I was, wouldn’t matter, I won’t be around to be spooked. Way I see it is, Hugo Mason is a lot of things but he’s not worm food. You got that?”
So we had him cremated the following day.
On Friday, we all took a walk then we came home and sat in the kitchen, all around the table, dad’s ashes in the middle of it next to the napkin holder. Mom said, “Richie, what do you wanna do with dad?”
I looked at my brothers, we nodded in unison then I looked back at mom. “Mom, dad is The Garbageman.”
She looked at me puzzled, “Why are you talking about his job? At such a time like this. Richie you…”
I shuffled my chair forward a little and pointed a finger at the urn. “He’s a garbage man mom. He cleaned these streets inside and out. There’s only one place he’s gonna be happy we scatter him to rest forever. The one place he will always be to keep an eye on, as a symbol. The one place he truly belongs”
We drove to the city dump that evening before closing and dumped Hugo Mason’s ashes over a pile of water swelled children’s books and broken soap boxes.