Excerpt of Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte
(Page 3 of 13)
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"No, I'm getting these guys straightened out." Burrafato went out,
came in, went out.
"Okay, the coffee's done. You want a cup?" Burrafato was talking to
"No, thanks," I said, wanting only to get out of there. Burrafato
went into a small room and poured himself coffee. By now I was reading
the sports section. Then I read the ancient memos on the walls and
studied the maps, trying to figure out my district, garage, section, and
route. New York's roughly 320 square miles are broken into fifty-nine
sanitation districts, where about 7,600 workers clean the streets
twenty-four hours a day, six days a week. (In comparison, Los Angeles
has about 580 workers tidying up 450 square miles, but its population is
less than half of New York's eight million, and its trucks host just one
worker instead of two. Chicago, with a population of 2.9 million
spreading over 228 square miles, relies on 3,300 sanitation workers.)
Brooklyn's districts are divided into zones North and South. Here in
South, there are eleven other garages besides my own, which is called
the Six. The territory covered by the Six is in turn broken into five
sections: my street is part of Section 65, which is divided into three
routes cleaned by three different trucks. When I was satisfied with my
triangulations, I poked my head into the side room to ask Burrafato a
question. He was watching TV and sipping a second cup of coffee.
I retreated to my footlocker. Terlizzi was now on the phone with "the
borough," his bosses at the Brooklyn headquarters, ordering up an FEL,
or front-end loader. "Someone just dumped the contents of the first
floor of his house onto the street," he said to me. "Happens all the
time." As soon as he got off, the phone rang. It was the cat lady on
Fifth Street, complaining yet again that the san men hadn't collected
her garbage. A clerk named Scooter handled the call, which meant he held
the receiver at arm's length so the entire room could hear the woman's
litany of grief. When it was over, he told her soberly, "I'll make sure
this information gets to the right people." He hung up, and the
assembled burst out laughing. Everyone knew about the cat lady; she
owned twenty animals. "It's not against the law to dump your litter box
onto your garbage, but it's common courtesy to put it in a bag," Scooter
At last, Burrafato unlocked his sedan and drove me uphill. By now,
Murphy and Sullivan were halfway through their route and lightly
sweating. The men seemed dour and angry to me, and I was afraid to ask
them questions. On foot, I watched and I followed. Soon I realized they
seemed sour only because they were concentrating. In constant motion,
lifting heavy barrels, they could get hurt if they didn't pay attention.
Metal cans banged against their legs; trailer hitches poked from high
SUV bumpers. Drivers honked, urging the men to hustle it up, to get
their truck out of the way. Double-parked delivery vans blocked their
progress. There was also a surprising amount of dog shit near the
garbage cans, and many plastic bags were shiny with urine. Had I never
noticed this before?
After a few minutes, I began dragging together barrels from
neighboring houses to form a group, but the guys didn't want me lifting
anything into the truck. "You're gonna be sore tomorrow," Murphy said.
He was rounder than Sullivan, and he had a stiff, loping walk, not quite
a run. He kept his head mulishly down, his eyes trained on the ground.
His palms were thick-skinned and yellow, with deep crevices near the
nails. Around the garage, he was known as Daddy. Sullivan had an angular
face softened by a narrow strip of beard. His hair was a wiry brown and
gray, cut into a mullet. A black belt in karate, he was more agile than
Murphy. I found him soft-spoken but intense.
From Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Royte. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.