Q: You were formerly a garbage man. Please tell me about it.
A: I lived in a really small town of maybe 9000 people. I was 17 turning 18 and my father was a city councilman, so he put in a word for me to help get me the job. You’re going to laugh but it was quite a coveted job in our town. I had two older brothers who both did the job but you really did have to know someone.
It was for the Department of Public Works. They had lifers—the regular crew—and then they would hire like one or two senior guys from the high school. It was good money at the time.
Q: What year was this?
Q: So what did you do every day?
A: Every morning at 7 o’clock we would get to the city barn, as it was called. Everyone who worked for the department would go. There was the water department, the people who laid concrete for curbs, people to paint lines down the middle of the road…
We never knew where we were going to work each day, but about a week or so into it they would always say, “Horan, you’re with the garbage truck.”
OK, so I’ll just tell you… I’m gay and my two older brothers were really—well I was in their shadow and basically I was a budding little queen and I was frightened I was going to get called out.
It was a very machismo job, and so I completely over-compensated. Like I would lift three cans for every lifer’s one can. I was so afraid someone was going to label me a sissy.
Another guy my age worked there for the summer too. His uncle was a councilman at large. I had a bit of a thing for him but he barely knew I was alive.
Q: Wow. This is cracking me up. I can kind of picture it. What did you wear?
A: Jeans. And since it was the 80s we cuffed them. And tank tops—Hanes tank tops I guess. Maybe a plaid shirt in the morning when it was cold.
I would come home and my mother made me un-cuff my pants on the front porch because there would be maggots wriggling around in them.
A: Yes. Maggots have a smell so unique and so putrid. There are two different smells—garbage, which is not so bad—and maggots, which are—oh, I just had a moment of severe gratitude that I’m not doing that job any more.
Q: And what is it like, collecting garbage?
A: People throw out EVERYTHING! I mean EVERYTHING!
At the time most of it was left by the curb in aluminum cans, not plastic like they are now. People had bags next to the cans and sometimes they’d break and everything would fall onto the street…
People threw out dogs, snakes, plaster… There are more rules today for what you can do I think.
Q: And so you and the other guy your age worked various jobs for the department?
A: There was actually a family of four boys working there—they were like the Baldwins of Port Jervis, NY. You know, like Alec and Steven…
The brother who was my age was saving money for college. His older brother still works there I think. I shouldn’t tell you this but I use his older brother’s name as my passcode. That guy was an absolute doll. He really knew how to wear a pair of jeans. He was just adorable.
Q: Oh my God. You’re killing me. So back to the job…
A: Another public works job was cleaning up road kill. It wasn’t an all day job. It would just be, “Horan, there’s a dead possum on Orange Street.” I’d get a shovel and a pickup truck and pick up the possum and take it to the dump.
But there’s one story I HAVE to tell you. One day, Dick, our boss, called us in together—my friend and I—and said, “Stand back to back.”
I knew it wasn’t for something good, but I didn’t know if I was supposed to want to be taller or shorter.
He said to my friend, “You stay here.”
I remember coming back at the end of the day and I can see my friend from a distance. He’s walking toward me and he’s covered with blood and shit from head to toe. As he comes closer I see he’s just COVERED in this muck and he just shakes his head like, “No, no…”
The story was that there is a campground at the top of Point Peter. It had this HUGE septic tank up there and someone had taken the lid off. Then a deer fell in there and got caught in the motor. So all the homes in the area were having trouble.
Apparently they lowered my friend in there with some sort of a plank and pulley system and gave him a machete to chop the deer out of the motor of the septic tank.
I don’t see or talk to him much now but I’ve heard he’s a very successful engineer these days.
It was all because I was a fraction of a hair taller than him…
Q: It sounds like you really liked this job, in a way.
A: There was something so beautiful about that job. You were using your muscles and your heart, the wind was in your hair… You were always tan and you never wore sunscreen because it was not cool.
I never got yelled at, no one ever micro-managed me…
There was a guy named Mike who was one of the drivers and he had a glass eye that he would sometimes take out and show to us. There was Abner—I’ve never seen an alcoholic like him in my life. He would buy 40 ounces of beer at our 10 am break and basically just drink beer all day long.
Q: And to top it off, you got a glowing recommendation letter from your manager.
A: That letter is a joke in my family. The guy who wrote that letter was COMPLETELY unprompted.
My father was a Democratic councilman and this man was a staunch Republican—he didn’t particularly like my family. He wasn’t a fan of us and my mom always likes to say, “It was an unprompted letter!”
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by Christopher’s boss, dated Jan 22, 1987:
Most parents feel their own are a little special. In Chris’s case I share that also. The longer my association with your son, the more I’m impressed. He is certainly a fine young gentleman, an excellent worker but more important his attitude is so superior to that of most men of his age. Chris is a real pleasure to work with and if ever he requires a letter of reference I would be most happy to do so.