In San Francisco, a city ordinance requires us to sort our garbage properly. The S.F. Department Of The Environment isn’t pulling our leg, either. I live in a building where we’ve been threatened with steep fines for putting items into the wrong bins and neglecting to flatten cardboard. The problem is extreme enough the custodial staff can’t handle all of it.
I’ve posted about this before, so please forgive the redundancy. This post is really about a creative person’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which goes hand-in-hand not only with keeping the contents of recycling and compost bins up to code but making the items on top of the pile look beautiful — or at least symbolic. They don’t have to be symbolic of anything worth thinking about, especially when you consider some exhibits that end up at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. But I digress.
I am a proud volunteer, utilizing my crappy mental state to create art. Most artists admit their creative work is a money loser, so I regard them as kindred spirits.
The building custodian gave me some disposable gloves, to help cut my overhead costs. I already had gloves, but he wanted to do something to help. I won’t have to buy new gloves for a long time now.
I buy my own blades for the box cutters, and replace them daily. Never try to cut cardboard with a dull blade because the extra pressure you exert can cause your hand to slip. Needless to say, there’s an almost endless list of precautions to take with any blade, sharp or dull, so use judgment, okay?
The compost bins may be a lost cause where beauty is concerned. I make sure the right items are in there, but I lack the talent for abstract art. When your materials are limited to fast food wrappers, dead leaves, rotting banana peels and such, abstract art is the name of the game. If you don’t have the talent, just try to leave a pizza box on top of the mess so it doesn’t look too bad.
Recycling bins aren’t easy, either, but the right wine bottle or a bag from Bloomingdale’s can make all the difference in the world. Trust me. A lot can be done with recycling bins.
Three times a week, my artwork is destroyed when Recology empties the bins. I don’t take photographs of my creative victories because I prefer not to be reminded of what some oblivious person has selfishly taken away.
In another description of how OCD influences my work, the song Boulevard Of Broken Dreams often repeats in my head while I do the trash equivalent of floral arranging. Not the song by Green Day. I’m talking about the old standard which many young people haven’t heard.
The title of the song is my nickname for the area where we keep the recycling and compost bins. It’s where the neighbors always find me. Also, the joy I experience looking at the top of a neatly arranged stack of glass, plastic, cardboard, etc. is only temporary.
I’ve been careful not to repeat any lyrics verbatim because I can’t afford to pay royalties. If you’re curious about the song, here’s a Puddles Pity Party performance. It was posted on YouTube last September in honor of National Coffee Day.
Helen Christie is the author of the novella Petra, an e-book on Kindle.