Excerpt from Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Garbage Land

On the Secret Trail of Trash

by Elizabeth Royte

Garbage Land
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2005, 320 pages
    Aug 2006, 336 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter One
Dark Angels of Detritus

On a cool October morning, I caught up with John Sullivan and Billy Murphy in the middle of their Park Slope garbage route. I watched them carefully, from a slight distance, but still it took me several long minutes to figure out, in the most rudimentary way, what my san men were doing. They moved quickly, in a blur of trash can dragging, lid tossing, handle cranking, and heaving. Though barrel-chested and muscle-bound, they moved with balletic precision. Sometimes Murphy and Sullivan appeared to be working independently, other times they collaborated. Save for the grunts and squeals of the truck, it all happened in relative silence. While Murphy drove to a gap between parked cars, Sullivan slid barrels up the sidewalk to the waiting truck. Sometimes Murphy jumped down to load, sometimes Sullivan did it on his own. Then they switched. The truck moved in jerks, halting with a screech of brakes. Although most sanitation workers stopped for coffee at eight, Sullivan and Murphy kept loading. Upon their return to the garage at ten-thirty, no one voiced the usual san man's query: "Did you get it up?" Sullivan and Murphy—twenty-year veterans of the Department of Sanitation, each approaching the age of fifty—had, as they always did.

I'd met the team at 6:00 a.m. roll call at the local DSNY (for Department of Sanitation, New York) garage, a low brick structure on the farthest fringe of the neighborhood. It was still dark when I locked up my bike and walked hesitantly into a large, dimly lit room filled with garbage trucks: eleven for household refuse and nine for recycling. I made my way down a cinder-block corridor lined with smoking san men and into the fluorescent-lit office. Like many a high school principal's redoubt, it had a window overlooking a hallway filled with loiterers and humming with paranoia. There were even lockers and a lunchroom down the way.

Waiting for Jerry Terlizzi, the district supervisor, to appear, I took a look around. Every stick of furniture—desks, cabinets, footlockers—appeared to have been plucked from the street and coated with the same brown paint. The walls were crammed with yellowed memoranda and notices but held not a scrap of decoration. A dark roan dog and a dull black cat padded around the building, former strays, but even their names seemed impermanent.

"The dog, the dog. Oh yeah, that's Lupo," said an officer uncertainly when I inquired. And the cat?

"Her name is Meow," answered a clerk.

"No, it's Mami," corrected another.

While I waited for Terlizzi to get off the phone and call roll, I listened to the men.

"It's gonna rain the next three days."

"Oh, man, that garbage is gonna be heavy. You're gonna lose five pounds on Friday alone."

"I hate rain. That's a drag."

"Yeah, well, you're a garbageman."

Behind me, someone said in a mincing tone, "Can I fill out a job application?" That was for my benefit, so I chuckled along with everyone else. Then two men came in from the street, jostling and punching each other's shoulders. One said, "Somebody just stole the wheels off a bike out there!" I sprang for the door, and the guys laughed.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.