CORRUPTION BEGINS AT HOME
Here’s the thing about my husband: he wants to save everything. In all our years of marriage, he’s never met the item he doesn’t want to keep (the only exception perhaps being rotten vegetables). A mantra rings in his head, which I know better than anyone because I hear it so often: “Keep that, Babe. We may need it some day.”
Thus on his side of our kitchen we have a collection—dozens of used drink cups, both plastic and cardboard, complete in some cases with traces of dried cola. In our garage he stores old jelly jars, empty coffee cans, hunks of Styrofoam, strands of wire, dozens of once-filled vases, endless wicker baskets which once held gifts. Almost nothing is so mundane he sees the need to throw it away.
This is the man who once happened to follow a diaper truck onto a freeway offramp. The van took the corner too fast, and its back door flew open and a great white sack flew out onto the shoulder. The van never slowed, but Rob did. With his usual great reflexes, he brought his car to a fast halt near the fallen sack. Rags! He thought. Dozens of perfect rags.!
But when he picked up the sack a surprise was waiting. The diapers were dirty! Any other man would have blown out his breath and dropped the sack like a hot coal, but not Rob. Knowing I’d kill him if he brought his load home, he went to the nearest Laundromat and ran the load through twice. Even today he chortles about how he gathered all those great rags.
Today was a kind of test, though. Now a few weeks past our Great Fire, this morning we had a crew of five men digging a trench—ready to replace our burned-up wooden fence with a block wall. About noon I looked outside to see men wheeling loads of dirt up a ramp and into a waiting truck. “Wow!” I cried, turning back to Rob, sitting in his usual chair. “You should see all the dirt they’ve hauled out of that trench!”
A mistake. “Dirt!” he cried, abruptly straightening. “They’re hauling away our dirt?”
“Well, yeah. What else would they do with it?”
“But dirt is valuable,” he said. “You pay good money for topsoil.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “This is a half acre, Rob. There’s quite a lot of topsoil left.”
“When they come to plant, the landscapers will need that dirt.”
I just looked at him. Finally I said, “The landscapers will dig holes. They’ll have their own dirt.”
He finally subsided. He did not, as I feared, rush outside and order the diggers to leave our precious dirt in great humongous piles.
But dirt wasn’t today’s only issue. Outside near the pile of discarded wooden fence was another pile—several dozen aluminum tubes that Rob brought home in 1978 from our hang gliding company. Over the years he’s said, “Babe, somebody will need them someday.” Since they were mostly hidden by shrubbery, I never argued. But now all that shrubbery is gone. And there they sit.
Today, as I looked at the fence pile I thought, These tubes must go. We’ve had them long enough. Nobody will ever want them. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of saying to Rob, “When they pick up the fence, they should take away the tubes.”
He stared at me in horror. “Aluminum is worth money! They should be recycled!”
“How do you plan to do that?”
“I’ll borrow a truck.”
“A truck from whom? And who will load it? And how much do you think you’ll get?”
“A lot. They’re worth a hundred dollars, Babe. A hundred dollars, easy.”
Inwardly I groaned. Ten years from now those tubes will still be there.
Suddenly I had an inspiration. I’ll tell you what, Rob. If you let the contractor take away the tubes, I’ll pay you fifty dollars.”
His face softened a little.
Dear Lord, I’m onto something good. And then I thought, Corruption begins at home. “I’ll make it a hundred dollars, Rob. Let the tubes go and I’ll give you a hundred dollars.”
With that, Rob broke into a big grin. “I’m selling out my principles for a hundred dollars. They should be recycled, you know.”
“But think of the hassle. Let the contractor recycle them. If they’re worth money, he’ll do it. And you’ll have the cash right now.”
He didn’t argue. He just smiled. But then, so did I. Never have I so looked forward to spending a hundred dollars. As we walked back into the house I thought, I wonder how much it would cost me to clear out the garage?