Picking Up Trash

Daphne Macklin
3 min readAug 25, 2020

A basic householding chore turns up, you know, a problem that could use a solution.

Late California summer Saturday morning. Up early, enjoying the cool of the extremely hot days that are August in Sacramento. Decide to take advantage of the cool weather to do a chore that is well known to anyone living in a city next to a busy street: picking up trash. By trash I am referring to the soft drink containers, plastic bags of snack food and the inevitable fast food wrappers that are either dropped or windblown on to the sidewalk and the lawn in front of the front yard fence. Usually I walk by the stuff, quietly cursing the litterbugs.

But this Saturday morning, I have the time to do a little picking up and then get on with my day. Like do my yoga routine. Also need to bring in the garbage can that the neighbor has left out. Whatever.

Except that next to the sidewalk, on that patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street, there is a trash heap. On top of the pile is a body, most likely male dressed in dirty pants, still has on sneakers. Alive?

Usually when the homeless sleep on the streets of my neighborhood, most neighborhoods, they attempt to secret themselves within a doorway or near some bushes or someplace less obvious than face up on the sidewalk with their heads literally in the gutter. Its not that I haven’t seen, and walked past, someone who had passed out drunk, high or just exhausted, pretty much just were they fell.

But this guy scared me. Not sure if he was asleep, or dead. So, dial 911 on the cell phone. Explain what I am seeing to the dispatch person. I give the description. Explain that the guy doesn’t seem to be moving, oh, yes. Just saw his hand twitch. But I know better. I’ve seen someone dying, twitching. The dispatcher advises that responding officers are coming.

I wait. I consider though whether I should pick up some of the other trash.

Two police vehicles appear on the busy street, semi-deserted given the early morning hour. On one side of the street is a solidly middle class community with a park and big houses with alarm systems and nice cars. My side of the street: mixed use zoning. The front house on the property where I live spent years as an eternally under construction eyesore. It was redeemed about a year ago. I flag down the police who pull “U” turns and park beside the guy on the trash heap. They use the siren to wake him up.

I watch from a distance how good community policing should be done. One officer approaches the now groggy man. The other stands behind his partner, but with his hands positioned near the holstered taser. I am close enough to see Groggy’s despairing face. He has made a lot of mistakes in his life, most recently whatever happened last night that left him on a pile of junk that included a cushion and some drug paraphernalia. Groggy co-operates with the cops. There are witnesses: me and the neighbor awakened by the siren. We chat as the officers assess just how much of a risk Groggy really is — hung over junkie, apparently none the worse for wear.

The incident is resolved with a negotiated settlement: Groggy won’t get hauled down to the Graybar if he picks up after himself and is gone in an hour when the police return. Groggy is down with that.

I chat with the officers as Groggy follows through on his part of the agreement. And then I go back to my place, wondering about Groggy, wishing there was a better response than to just shuffle him on down the street. The Phil Collins songs “Another Day In Paradise” and “Land of Confusion” are the soundtrack for the rest of my morning.