There are tasks we assume short people will have trouble with. At just about five feet tall, I have plenty of experience there. But taking out the trash was never on the list of things I expected my height to cause problems with. It probably wasn’t on your list of short-people-problems either.
About ten years ago my city bought new trash trucks. The decision saved money for the city and made it easier for us to deal with curbside recycling; and the new trucks were more environmentally friendly. Under the new system, there was no longer someone hopping on and off the truck to collect the cans. Definite safety improvement. It also meant that we were required to change our curbside trash cans. The city delivered big, tall trash cans and recycling cans on wheels. Every house got one of each.
For years, I struggled with the new trash can. Removing bags of trash is not a pleasant task to start, and with kids and cats, it can be especially gross. Bags of trash can be heavy and are always at risk of breaking. When I could purchase my own trash can, I was able to choose one that was a suitable height. Something that wasn’t too difficult to lift a heavy bag into. With the new can, I couldn’t just lift the bag by the neatly tied handles and toss it over the side of the can.
Instead, I had to lift an unwieldy, shifting mass of bagged trash over my head like an Olympic weightlifter to toss it in. The very first step, though, was to flip open the square-shaped can’s heavy, hinged lid (which is large enough that I have difficulty reaching the handle in the center) and carefully pull it open until I could rely on gravity to let it fall to the ground. Trash bags had to be filled with great precision so that they were neither too heavy nor too voluminous to lift overhead.
I got used to this new method after a while, learning to do things like changing out litter boxes on days when the trash can was also empty so that I could tip the can onto its side and put the very heavy bags in before standing the can upright again. It worked, albeit awkwardly, at least for a while. Put the bag in, use a rake or a broom handle to make sure the bag is pushed all the way to the bottom of the can, then stand the can up. And of course this could only work when the can started off totally empty–if there were other things already in there, it became nearly impossible to pick up a trash can that is so big I could basically stand up in it.
So for a while it was okay. But then I got sick. Sick enough that I now use a walker to get around all the time, instead of occasionally using a cane, as I had previously. Sick enough that a lot of things I used to be able to do before didn’t work anymore. That all started very early into the COVID pandemic, at a time when every interaction with someone outside your bubble had to be a precisely calculated risk/benefit analysis.
So. It’s early June, 2020. I’m home from the hospital and rehab. And it’s been about a month. There’s plenty of mess to deal with–all the gross stuff in the fridge. Fortunately, a neighbor has been kind enough to feed the cats. Still, there’s a lot to deal with. I’m also supposed to be on bedrest still, and not up on my feet for more than about an hour at a time. The garbage is piling up. And even though it is difficult and tiring to get rid of it, I can’t just let it stay there.
I can’t just pick up and carry the bag and maneuver my walker across the house, out the front door and around to the trash can… And all that is before I even try to open it or put anything in. And my “tip it on the side” strategy for cat litter is no longer viable either. There’s no way to do that safely with the walker. So, I come up with the brilliant solution of using bungee cords to attach the full, plastic trash bag to a luggage cart which I will then somehow, get to where it needs to go without letting the cats out of the house. And then I proceed to try and wheel this wobbly contraption, which moves like a cross between jiggling Jell-O and the sudden flailing movements of an angry toddler, to my trash can without getting the bag stuck on anything.
I get my awkward burden to my destination. And, by some unknown magic, I do this without puncturing the bag. I unhook it from the luggage cart and stand there. Staring at it. Trying to figure out how to safely get it from the ground into the trash can. Hopelessness is welling up inside me. I’m about to burst into tears because I can no longer do this most basic job I’ve been doing since before I was a teenager.
Suddenly, the twelve-year-old who lives across the street is approaching me. I panic because neither of us is wearing a mask. We have this awkwardly shouted conversation about what I’m trying to do, and I hobble away from the bag, back to the walkway so he can approach the bag. I watch, as this gangly twelve-year-old, who is at least half a foot taller than I am, manages to open the can, lift the bag, and heave it into the can with ease. More smoothly than I ever have. I’m standing there in awe, amazed at his grace, and surprised by his unprompted helpfulness. He looks at me and says, “You should message my Mom if you need help again on Wednesday,” and he walks back to his bicycle to make lonely circles in the cul-de-sac.