The Garbage Man by Glen Sorestad

Before I started school, my earliest memories are of the tenement house our family lived in on East Broadway in Vancouver. I remember a man who sometimes visited with my parents. Actually, I don’t really remember so very much about him — face or size or voice — but the surname was Orrie, something sounding very much like that. His first name may have been Nick, but that name, too, is iffy and it may not have been that at all. Perhaps I have conjured the name during the intervening years in an attempt to assert order and give shape to the ephemeral nature of childhood recall, to bring meaning out of the chaos of childhood recall. But why would I remember this sole individual when there must have been, on different occasions, dozens of other people who visited our home, people who may have been far more remarkable or entertaining. Why him? And what would possess me to remember the name, assuming that I have remembered it with anything remotely approaching accuracy? I know my father was quite intrigued by his friend, not the least of his reasons being that the man worked on a city garbage disposal truck back in those days when a garbage disposal truck had a driver as well as several garbage bin toters and slingers who tossed the bin’s contents into the back of the truck. The stories this man related about the amazing treasures and perfectly usable goods he rescued from the garbage bins would leave my father shaking his head in sheer wonderment. I was probably too young to understand the import of the many objects Mr. Orrey (however it may have been pronounced or spelled) claimed to have salvaged from the trash, but I was not at all immune to the substantial impact these tales were having on my father. I believe my father was certain his friend was amassing a small fortune from the cast-offs of others, especially those who lived in the posher areas of the city and who no doubt had their reasons for getting rid of perfectly good things. My father would recount, across the dinner table, how his friend had rescued a grandfather clock from the garbage bin and when he’d cleaned it up a bit, wiped down the carved wooden frame, rubbed a little cedar polish into the wood, cleaned and oiled the inner workings and ensured it was functioning as it should, he took it to an antique dealer and was shocked and delighted by how much he received for it. Father claimed the amount was more than either he or his friend made in several months at their respective jobs. Father was convinced he should quit his job in the sheet metal shop and join the city’s sanitation department. I don’t think Mother was impressed or shared the enthusiasm of Father’s musings, nor with Mr. Orrey’s rooting and scavenging in the garbage bins of others, though it all sounded perfectly reasonable to me. I was imagining the excitement at the end of another day of garbage collection, Father coming home with his day’s treasure trove and my being able to sort through the amazing discards and hear the stories of how they had now been rescued from burial at the city dump and what they now might be worth to our lives, other than as good stories.

Glen Sorestad is a much published poet who lives in Saskatoon. His poems have appeared in literary magazines and journals, anthologies and textbooks, all over North America and in many other countries. His poems have been translated into seven languages. His latest book of poems is Hazards of Eden published by Lamar University Press.