Monday, November 30, 2009

The Undertaker

One of the comfy little arrangements that I had inherited upon leasing the location for my restaurant was a shared garbage bin. The previous tenant had shared the lease of a large commercial dumpster with the undertaker across the alley. I contacted the undertaker to see if he would like to continue such a deal with me and he did. We each had a key to the lock on the bin and the bin was emptied every other Thursday. This seemed to be a very simple arrangement - but this was Humbug.

The problems began almost immediately. As I began to clear the building of the previous tenant’s waste, I found the bin to be completely full. I stacked garbage in the back hall waiting for Thursday. When Thursday arrived I had to spend most of the day on the phone trying to find out where the contractors were because they were already over a week late getting started. By the end of the day I went out to see if the bin had been emptied and it had not, or least I didn’t think it had.

Now one bin full of garbage might look like another bin full of garbage, but the bin full of garbage out back didn’t look at all like it had only days earlier. I couldn’t imagine anything more had been put into it but I was equally perplexed by the idea that it had been emptied that day and filled up before I had gotten a chance to put anything into it. I called the undertaker to find out if he had already filled the bin up, and he assured me that he had not. I was suspicious, but polite.

When the contractors finally arrived the following Wednesday I told them the bin would be emptied the next day so we could just pile any refuse material against the back of the building. On Thursday I checked several times to see if the bin had been emptied and then finally called the waste company. They told me that it had been emptied the week before. I was not happy.

By the end of the week the garbage was really piling up with my backlog of trash and the heaps being quickly generated by the contractors. One of the contractors offered to bring a trailer on Monday to haul it all away – at his usual hourly rate plus $30 for rental of the trailer. I was irritated at having to pay for a bin and then again for a trailer, but his rate sounded fair so I accepted.

On Monday we got almost all the garbage into his trailer, and I just had some loose bags of rubbish in the back entrance. If I was now in sync, then the bin would be emptied on Thursday, so I felt the rest could wait until then. When Thursday came I was quite busy with the contractors all day and didn’t get to taking out the trash until the evening. As I walked out I saw a pick-up truck backed up to the bin, which was now full to overflowing, and atop the pile stood the undertaker jumping up and down trying to get it all to fit.

I couldn’t believe he had managed to fill the bin so fast and I am certain I was more than visibly upset. The undertaker stopped his jumping and stood motionless with an expression of guilt - like a child caught jumping in a mud puddle. We stared at each other for a few seconds then he glanced down at the pile, back at me, down at the pile, back at me, and he blurted out, “Wow, your contractors sure managed to fill this bin up fast, huh?”

All I could think to say was, “Like Fuck!” He didn’t Humbug Huh into psychological hibernation but he was still obviously very surprised and with a terribly shocked expression he said, “What’s the matter?” As I walked towards him I threw the bags in my hands at him and screamed, “My contractors never got to put a fucking thing in there you cunt! I had to pay for a fucking trailer to get their trash hauled away and now you’ve filled the fucking bin up already. What do you fucking think I am? Stupid?”

He took a very authoritative stance from atop his pile of trash and said, “Now look here, you can’t talk to me that way. This garbage isn’t mine. I don’t know where it came from if your contractors didn’t put it here.”

I screamed back, “The bin was locked! Only you and I have keys! You never opened the bin to find it this full because the lid won’t even fucking close it’s so full. You’re standing on the fucking pile of shit you put in there, and that purple carpet under your feet is the same as that piece in your fucking truck, asshole!”

He jumped off of his royal mound of garbage and into the back of his truck, then out of the back of his truck and onto the ground on the opposite side from me. His face was beet red as he whelped, “You can’t talk to me this way. I don’t have to take this.”

As he got into his truck I yelled, “Call the waste company and get your own bin, or get this one off my property. The deal is off!” With that, he sped off - and I only wish I could say never to be heard from again.

Two more weeks went by. Contractors came and went and I paid once again to have someone bring a trailer to take the trash away. Finally Thursday arrived and this time I checked the bin several times to make sure the undertaker wasn’t filling it yet again. By the end of the day it was completely empty and I finally got to throw in three bags of garbage. I didn’t get out of the restaurant until nearly midnight, but I checked the bin again. I was starting to think I was paranoid because no one on the planet would have had enough gall to fill it once more after the confrontation we had just had.

I drove down to the restaurant at about 6 a.m. the next morning. As I pulled into my parking space, to my astonishment, the bin wasn’t just full, it was overflowing and the lid was wide open. On top of the pile was a piece of all too familiar, purple, geometric print carpet – left as a calling card. There was no way to even start closing the lid without knocking some of the pile off of the bin. My head was spinning and all I could think was, “What kind of bastard would do this? What the hell is the matter with this guy?”

At 8 a.m. I called the waste company to find out if the undertaker had undertaken arrangements to get his own bin. He had not. I told the waste company about the problem and to expect a call from the undertaker shortly. At 9 a.m. I called the undertaker. After some gratuitous salutations and comments about the weather, which I had learned was Humbug custom, I set into the matter at hand.

“Ok, here’s the deal. You aren’t using the bin on my property anymore. If you want the bin then the waste company will move it to your property. If you don’t want the bin then I’m changing the lock. You have until noon to make up your mind. At one o’clock I’m calling the waste company and if you haven’t asked for the bin to be moved to your property then the lock will be changed. Are there any questions?”

The undertaker was silent for a moment then replied, “You know, I really only agreed to share the cost of the bin as a favour to you. I really don’t need a bin at all. For the little bit of trash we have here I can just as easily take it home to throw it out.”

“Fine then,” I replied, “I’ll change the lock right now.”

“Now ho’ up there,” he interjected, “there is no need to go getting all hasty about things. If you’ve already filled up the bin again then I’m willing to meet you half way and pay half the cost for an extra dump.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. This guy couldn’t stop lying if his life depended on it. I grew angry, furious, and I screamed, “Who the fuck do you think you are? Obi Wan Fucking Kenobi? What the fuck is this, some sort of Jedi mind trick? You know you filled the bin! You know that I know you filled up the bin! And you have the fucking nerve to suggest that I would pay half for an extra dump? You have the fucking nerve to suggest that you are doing me a favour? Here’s the deal, asshole, I’m changing the lock right now!”

Suddenly he reverted to his authoritative tone again, saying, “Now you think long and hard about what you are doing to yourself here. YOU are going to have to pay the FULL cost of the bin. YOU and YOU alone! If that’s the way you want it then I can’t help you. I’ve done all I can for you, and I’ll thank you to return my padlock!”

I slammed the phone down before the last part had sunk in. Had he actually just laid claim to the lock as part of some sort of conditional surrender? The lock had been on the bin when I arrived, so for all I knew it could be his, and so I was going to return it. I couldn’t help, however, to be reminded of some belligerent drunk being thrown out at the end of a party who turns to grab some bottle containing a couple ounces of stale liquor, declaring it as his victory trophy as he marches out the door. He was going to get his trophy, alright. That night I returned it; I threw it through the back window of his shop.

The fact that to the very bitter end he couldn’t just admit to his transgression was the most astounding and frustrating detail to me. He had been caught red footed. I knew that he was lying, and he knew that I knew it. He was completely incapable of computing what it meant to be called a liar. Eventually I would learn that this was because Humbuggers have a bigger aversion to calling someone out on a lie than they do to actually saying the word ‘fuck’.

This was a phenomenon I would come to know as Humbug rule number one: In Humbug it is a far greater faux pas to call someone a liar than it is for that person to tell a bald face lie to your face, no matter how outlandish that lie may be. This was part of a collection of higher order Humbug rules of protocol which dictated that no Humbugger, under any circumstances, should ever speak their mind directly. I would eventually learn that this was an integral part of the typical business model in Humbug.

Rule number one was greatly exploited by a vast number of Humbuggers. Whenever caught red handed in any transgression they simply made up the most outrageous lie to exonerate themselves. It didn’t matter if they claimed to have broken a commitment due to being abducted by alien beings; nothing could ever be done to re-establish their guilt because doing so would require calling them on their lie, and that just wasn’t an option. There was an old Humbug rumour that the mayor had used this very technique to acquit himself of having an affair, numerous times, by simply stating that the young lady on his lap was giving him a reverse massage for his sciatica.