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*'Twas the Day Before the Night Before Christmas

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A slightly rambling story about garbage men, a bunch of links, and most of all, a place to hang out and chat on this Christmas Eve day. Enjoy!

My ornaments are more colourful, but that's the exact tree I have in my living room right now.
My ornaments are more colourful, but that's the exact tree I have in my living room right now.

This post might be a little late, in spite of it boasting very little of the content I would normally strive to deliver with one of my weekly drop-ins. The reason? I forgot it was Wednesday. It doesn't feel like Wednesday, in that way that holidays always always ruin your sense of schedule.

For the last couple years, I've had the same garbage man. His name is Jeff, he works for Waste Management, and Jeff is just the best. I've tried over the years to get away from WM; half a dozen times, it seems like, I've gone with another, smaller, start-up sort of trash service provider. Each and every time, said small local start-up trash provider has been absorbed by Waste Management. It would be exceedingly sinister if it weren't  a part of my life I'm so loathe to really devote much time or thought to.

Anyway, I said, Jeff is just the best. I have one of those big totes and a can, and if I ever have to use the can, it will be standing, with the lid neatly turned upside down and placed on top of the can when the garbage has been picked up. If I only have to use the tote (I don't produce a tremendous amount of waste, living alone with but a single cat as I do), it will be placed neatly off the curb, never turned over or left too close to the street or any other such thing. On a few occasions when I have forgotten to put out the trash, and have been hurriedly trying to get it out as the truck is pulling up, Jeff has gotten out, helped me carry the can around or pull the tote up or whatever. It seems like such a small thing, really, to see someone who takes pride in their job when it is in no way glamourous, but there's something at least somewhat remarkable about it all the same. And it certainly drives home the difference when, in the past, you've had cans strewn around the yard, or rolling down the street, or lids left by the curb to get run over, or a thousand other things that can go wrong when the person providing a simple service simply does not care what level of service he or she is providing.

Each year, at Christmas time, I buy a big pack of  Subway gift cards, ten bucks a pop, and these are what I give out to the service people in my life; It isn't much, obviously, but as I am a man of relatively modest means, it seems appropriate. I would like to get those gift cards from Mastercard or Visa that work anywhere, but the extra service fees they charge on top of those feel so onerous, so ranklesome (totally not a word, but fuck it), to me that I simply refuse. Subway seems relatively inoffensive and easy enough for most people to use, plus I just happen to like Subway pretty well. I give a card to the mailman (mail carrier would be more gender neutral, I know, but in my case it actually is a man, so I feel justified in saying it that way), I give a couple to the guys at the shop where I get tires and the like for my car, I bake a large batch of cookies and take a tray along with gift cards to the bartenders at the bar I frequent. And, I always give a card to Jeff, the garbage man who so simplifies my life in his own small way.

Well, this year, about two weeks ago, Waste Management changed around their pickup routes. My day switched from Friday to Tuesday (which pissed me off, because while my parents and most people I know received notification of the change, I did not, meaning of course I missed the day and ended up with the garbage tote sitting out in front of my house for five days because I refused to take it back around on principle), and they switched my driver. I don't know who the new guy is, as I haven't spoken to him yet, but he's not Jeff. Which, of course, left me with a bit of a dilemma. Did I give my customary gift card to the new guy, in spite of the fact I felt as if he hadn't "earned" it, or did I refuse, waiting to see if he was worth a damn? What if he's terrible, and I'm looking to again get away from Waste Management because I'm unhappy with the service I'm being provided?

In the end, I handed out the same gift card -- stuck inside a Christmas card then placed inside a Ziploc bag and taped to the top of the garbage tote to foil the rain -- to the new guy I would have given to Jeff, the garbage man I had come to appreciate over the past couple years. I'm not sure how he'll turn out to be, but I decided he's probably great, had been great on his last route, and deserved the token of appreciation I had planned for my own driver. It felt hollow, though. And I thought it a curious thing that it felt hollow; after all, there is a growing body of research that suggest we humans may be, in certain ways at least, hardwired for generosity. If that was the case, why did giving a Subway lunch or two to this new driver feel sallow and obligatory, where I always feel great about most of my other Christmastime giving?

It wasn't the feeling the new guy hadn't 'earned' it, exactly; even when I get bad service in a restaurant, I'll always leave some sort of tip. The size of the tip does change, but I won't ever stiff a server completely. (Or I haven't; I suppose I can conceive of behaviours which would actually lead me to not leave any tip, but it would have to be kind of cartoonishly extreme.) But somehow, by the mere fact the new guy hadn't been around, it kept me from being able to feel like I was doing something to appreciate him. Sure, I was still being generous in a small way, but there were no real feelings of appreciation behind it. When I leave a card for Jeff or the mailman or hand the cookie platter to Katie at the bar, I'm showing them I appreciate them, thanking them for improving my life in some way. When I left the card for the new WM guy, I was just giving because I felt obligated, because it felt like the right thing to do. And while doing the right thing is more than a good enough reason to do something, somehow giving to a random stranger who has now picked up my trash a total of one time lacked a certain elemental meaning that came with giving to someone I truly meant to show appreciation to.

Maybe this is the sort of thing that doesn't merit any thought; maybe it's the sort of thing other people are capable of assimilating into their worldviews much easier than I am, and it's just that I'm weird and neurotic that things like that occupy so much of my conscious thought. But it was the only thing I could think of to write about this Christmas Eve morning, and so here it is. I wasn't going to spit out 2500+ words on draft picks; the site traffic is always light around the holidays, and I don't want those posts (which I do put a large amount of work into, believe it or not), to get lost in the shuffle. I may come back with a draft post next week, but chances are I probably won't then, either. I'll probably wait until after New Year's has come and gone, and the eyeballs have returned following the holiday lull. But we'll see.

I hope all of you out there who celebrate Christmas have really lovely ones. I've got a few things here, for your listening or watching pleasure, if you happen to be stuck at your computer this day and looking for something to hold your attention. There's a

modern cover of a Christmas song from my childhood I'm really quite fond of,

my favourite Christmas album ever,

the song which, honestly, has probably become my favourite Christmas song over the last two years,

one of the very few pieces of Flaming Lips music I sadly don't own,

another bit from the Lips, just because,

the California Raisins' Christmas, which I love and is sadly never, ever broadcast anywhere it seems,

one of the three most perfect songs ever recorded,

the one Alabama Christmas song I really like, that we had on a True Value Hardware Christmas record when I was a kid (and I actually still have now),

the best dancing ever,

a Christmas song I've loved since I was a child and actually had a hard time convincing people existed for the longest time,

and a short video of a video game that, for me, always brings back my childhood Christmases in a way almost nothing else does. My mother had taken to the habit of putting Nintendo games in shoeboxes and wrapping them up that way, in order to keep me from knowing ahead of time the package I was about to open was a game. Unfortunately for her, I figured it out and, when I finally bugged her enough to allow me to pick out and open one gift three days before Christmas, I chose one that was clearly a shoebox and opened it to find The Bard's Tale, NES version, which was supposed to be my great surprised for the year because the game was, for one reason or another, almost impossible to find. To this day I feel a little bad about purposely going for the one I was sure was a video game, although I had no way of knowing the one I chose was meant to be one of my really big gifts for the year. It's not really Christmas-related in any actual way, but if you want to know what I think of when I think back on being a child at Christmastime, my mother becoming enraged and refusing to speak to me after I opened up this game on the 22nd of December 1990 is a good place to start. That's...unintentionally rather dark. Oh, well.

I will see you all next week, on the last day of the year. Happy Christmas, VEB.