“What time did your landlord say your cleaning crew was supposed to get here?” Adam asked. We were sitting on my front porch talking about the book of Acts watching cleaning crew trucks go by.
“Some time between 3:30pm and 5:30pm. Whoa, dude that’s a nice one. They’re a two truck operation.” I was in awe of the cleaning crew pulling up to my neighbor five doors down. Two gleaming white trucks swung into their drive and a crew dressed in matching uniforms jumped out. It was quite a sight to behold. “I hope I get a crew like that one. They look like can do some serious cleaning.”
“Looks like what happened to you happened to the whole block.” Adam reflected. We had been sitting on the porch for a little over an hour and three different cleaning crews had gone by. With each one we stopped our discussion expecting them to pull into my drive way only to be disappointed as they rolled by. “Hope your guys get here soon.”
Friday – 6:30pm
“So here is the problem bro.” The cleaner stood in my side door, not making eye contact, looking at a clip board full of paper work. His “crew” consisted of one guy with dreads in dirty jeans and a torn up tee-shirt advertising a rapper I didn’t recognize. They had only shown up five minutes ago and already the lead guy was telling me what the problem was? “You see this is like a three or four hour job. Ya know. And I got another job around the corner that will take like 30 minutes. Now I could rush your job and only do it half way; but that’s not cool. I want to do it right yo, cause you got kids and sh%$.”
“Listen, we really need this done tonight,” I replied as nicely as I could manage. Part of me wanted to tell him to take his unprofessional attitude and get away from my house; but a late slacker-cleaner trying to scam me is better than no cleaner at all. Also, I was desperately trying not to judge a book by its cover. I talk all the time about accepting others, having hope and humility, not thinking better of yourself than others, and not judging…all of which is hard when your basement is covered in pooh residue and you know you are being played. “Like you said,” I continued, “We’ve got four little kids in the house. If they have to breath this stuff they are going to get sick. So if you are certain you will return tonight to finish the job, I’ll wait for you.”
“Oh yeah. We’ll be back in like 30 minutes tops.”
Friday – 7:30pm
“Hi. This is Jeff.” I usually don’t answer the phone after dinner unless I recognize the number, but I was hoping this call was the cleaner.
“Yo man. Um, is this Mr. Elkins?” He sounded like he was reading my name off his clip board.
“Yep. This is Jeff. How much longer do you think it will be until you guys get out here to clean?” Even though the caller didn’t identify himself, I knew exactly who it was.
“We are on our way man. I’m leaving Annapolis right now and the GPS says we are like 45 minutes away from your house.”
“What are you doing in Annapolis?” As soon as these words came out of my mouth I knew the answer was none of my business, but I was exhausted and loosing control of my emotions.
The cleaner replied laughing, “You know man.”
I didn’t know; nor did I want to know.
Friday – 10:05pm
The cleaners finally arrived around 9pm. After unloading for 30 minutes they began cleaning. The house wreaked of bleach which, believe it or not, was a nice substitute for the sewage smell it had replaced.
“Hey,” I voice called from the basement. “We’re done if you want to come and see the job.” I walked down the stairs. The “crew” was already packing all the equipment up.
“I thought you said this was going to take three hours?” I said as I came to the basement door.
“I didn’t say that. Anyway, let me show you a few things…” The cleaner then began to walk me around the room explaining to me what they couldn’t clean. He explained that there was no need to clean in between the washer and dryer because the sewage couldn’t have gotten in there. Cleaning around the toilet was difficult and “not completely necessary because that is where the stuff came from.” And they didn’t do deep in the cracks between the floor and the walls because, “You’ve got foundation problems bro.” I wasn’t sure what foundation problems had to do with his cleaning or why the source of the mess shouldn’t have been the focus of the cleaning, but I didn’t challenge him because I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. My brain had shut off an hour and a half ago. As he left I noticed he hadn’t cleaned the stairs at all. When I asked he laughed and told me it would be extra.
Thursday – 10:30am
It had been a week since the explosion of sewage in the basement. Clean up was rough. On Saturday morning we discovered the cleaning crew hadn’t cleaned under any of the five shelving units in the basement. We had emptied them but not disassembled them before the cleaners arrived thinking they were light enough to simply scoot over, clean under, and then return. Evidently we were wrong. So Saturday was spent re-cleaning the basement floor. On Sunday and Monday we focused on getting everything we had salvaged out of our kitchen and back into the basement. On Tuesday and Wednesday we cleaned the rest of our house and scrubbed the floors intensely. The final step before heading out of town for vacation on Friday was to get rid of the 45+ trash bags of ruined stuff and the 5 pieces of ruined furniture resting in my driveway.
I pulled into the city dump sub-station in a pick up truck I had rented an hour before from Home Depot. The tailgate was stuffed with four pieces of furniture and 15 bags of trash. As I rolled through the entry gate a tall thin man in a blue-green jump suit and sun glasses sprang from plastic lawn chair 20 yards away and began screaming at me and waving his arms wildly. He screamed all the way to where I had rolled to a stop without breaking to even take a breath. I couldn’t hear a word he was saying at first because he was so far off and my window was rolled up. He looked angry, as if my presence was a personal affront to him. I quickly began rolling down the window of the truck and his screaming became audible.
“…and you can’t bring this here! It doesn’t belong! We are full of crap already. We ain’t got no room for your crap too. Get out. Get out. Take that to the real dump…”
“No! No! No! No non-private trucks here. Go away!”
“This isn’t a…”
“I said no! This is citizen dumping only! Get your truck out! We full! Go away!” By this point he had reached my window but was still screaming at full voice. “And those bags! Stuff in bags is taken by the guys that pick up at your house. You don’t bring that here! I can’t see what is in there! I don’t want it! No bags here! Go away! Take it to the real dump! Go on with ya! Go!…” I didn’t even bother trying to speak to him. I just waved and put my car in reverse. I went back home. Removed the bags from the truck and placed them on my corner for the trash pick up. I also drug the other 30 out from my driveway. Then I loaded up the rest of the furniture and headed off to the main dump off 695.
Thursday – 3:30pm
“Why are those men pointing up here?” Jackson asked me as he stared out our front living room window. Without looking I had a feeling I knew what was going on.
I opened the front door and was greeted by three garbage men fusing over the pile on the corner of my house. Usually they are really pleasant and friendly. Today they were frustrated and confused.
“I’m sorry man. We can’t take all this stuff,” one of them said to me.
I was at the end of my rope. Things hadn’t gone well at the city dump either. I had only gotten home from that trip 30 minutes before. I was tired and frustrated. I hold all of that up as the reasoning behind my poor response. “Oh you’re tak’in it.” I snapped back. “I tried taking it up to the dump and they told me to bring it back here. So you’re tak’in it.”
The garbage man’s confusion turned to aggression. “We can’t take this sh$%! We ain’t got room for all this! You’ve got to take this up yourself.”
“Nope!” I replied.
“We can’t fit this in the truck Mr. Listen just load it into that van there and drive it to the dump yourself.”
“No!” I replied again. “No! No! No!” Upon reflection I bet I sounded a lot like Logan my three year old. “You’re taking it!”
The look on the garbage man’s face said he wanted to punch me; but he took a deep breath and then said patiently and calmly, “Listen sir. We can’t take this. It is to much for our truck. When you have this much stuff you are responsible for getting it to the dump yourself.”
His patience with me broke something in me. I could feel myself starting to cry. “Look. I’ve been dealing with this stuff for a week now and I’m exhausted. I tried taking this up to the dump this morning and they told me I couldn’t because it was in trash bags.”
A new garbage man stepped from the truck laughing and said, “Oh that was Clarence. You can’t listen to Clarence.”
I could feel my blood beginning to boil again. “What?!?”
Realizing he had misstepped the new man stumbled, “Listen, you better get that stuff out of here. We’ll come back here and give you a ticket for excessive dumping.”
“You can’t give tickets. You’re garbage men, not cops. I’m just going to leave it here. You don’t take it this week. You can take it next week!” I said with defiance.
Now an elderly garbage man stepped from the cab of the truck. He spoke calmly. The other two looked at him with relief and respect. I realized that I was in the presence of some sort of garbage man god-father. “Sir. I see that you are frustrated. I’m sorry for what our man at the station told you. He was wrong. You do need to take all this to the dump yourself. If you decide to leave it here you will be ticketed for excessive dumping. I am sorry.” Then turning to his guys he said, “Take 10 of the big bags.” Finally he said sincerely, “I am sorry.”
It felt so good for someone to say he was sorry without an excuse following it. It wasn’t that he was responsible. It was the pure empathy. It washed over me like a gentle rush of water. “Thank you,” I said ashamed of my behavior. Then I began returning the remaining bags to my driveway.
An Amazing Conclusion – There were other classic conversations I had during this adventure that I simply don’t have the time to recall. On Friday Wendy and I left for vacation resigned that the sewage soaked stuff would be there to greet us when we returned home in a week.
Instead we were wonderfully blessed by our friends Adam and Katie. While we were gone they came and took all the trash to the dump. Adam even mowed our lawn. We haven’t felt so loved in a very, very long time. It was amazing to pull up on Wednesday night to see it all gone. There is no way I will ever be able to thank them or convey how much their beautiful act of service meant to us. Adam is a new believer, but he is already a shining light of Jesus’ love. Thank you!