As he was returning from errands one spring day, Phil found the package on his front porch. It was essentially a 3' x '3 x 3' cube wrapped up in brown paper and bound with twine. He had no idea what it was, but the return address was a warehouse in Staten Island, New York.
As he lifted it to bring it inside, he was surprised to discover how light it was. He carried it into his kitchen and used scissors to cut the twine. The package immediately began to billow out, and when he tore off the brown wrapping, he was hit with a putrid smell as the contents spilled out onto the floor: rotting remains of fruits, vegetables, and meat; empty toilet paper rolls; wine bottles; empty toothpaste tubes. The most colorful item was a full red doggie poop bag.
Disgusted, he put on his work gloves and carried it out to his garbage can. The next day, another block of similar size arrived from Staten Island, and since his garbage can was now full, he put it into a garbage bag and put it all out on the curb for garbage pick-up Thursday morning.
Thursday morning, he watched out his window as the garbage collectors emptied the can into their truck, but they didn't even touch the garbage bag. He ran out of the house in his bathrobe and continued down the street to where they were picking up his neighbor's garbage.
"Hey, you guys missed a bag!" he cried out.
"No, sorry!" one of the collectors said. "No more garbage in bags—it's a new rule—and only one garbage can per resident!"
"That's insane!" he said.
"Yeah, maybe!" the collector said. "But that's the rule—you can take it up with Town Hall!"
Just then, the mail truck pulled up in front of his house, and the delivery man carried yet another 3-foot package to his front porch. He ran to the porch to intercept him and stood in his way as he started down his front steps. "Here now, what's with these packages?"
"They're addressed to you, and, by law, we have to deliver them to you."
"But, it's garbage!"
"Yes, so I gathered."
"This is criminal!"
"In a sense, yes. It's extremely unfair, but it's perfectly legal."
"Why is this place sending me garbage?"
"The Postmaster General has just started investigating it, but what we think is happening is that garbage disposal has become so restricted on Staten Island that they've resorted to sending it out of state at bulk rate. It's actually the cheapest way for them to get rid of it."
"But why me?"
"They must have gotten your mailing address at random. Possibly you wound up on some mailing list that got sold to them."
That night, under cloak of darkness, Phil loaded the packages into his trunk and drove to the back of a nearby strip mall. He passed by piles of old milk crates until he found what he was looking for—a dumpster. He pulled to a stop, opened up his trunk, and deposited one of the packages into a dumpster.
That's when he heard a loud chirp, like that of a huge predatory bird, and the dark backlot was filled with flashing red and blue lights. The police car seemed to have come out of nowhere. The officer got out of the car, holding his ticket book, and Phil couldn't really see his face beneath his visor. "I don't know if you're aware of it, but you're guilty of criminal trespass."
"I'm just throwing away some garbage!"
"Didn't you see the sign?" the officer asked, and pointed to one on the wall behind the dumpster: "No Dumping. Violators Will Be Prosecuted."
"I didn't see it."
"Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law," the officer said. "But seeing how this is your first time, I'm letting you off with a warning. But there are security cameras over the dumpster, and if I catch you even driving back here again, you'll get a ticket and a hefty fine."
Friday, another package arrived, and Phil placed it next to the other packages at the end of his driveway, which now had an overwhelming stench and were swarming with flies.
As if taking the words right out of his mind, he heard, "That's disgusting!" He turned to see a very thin, well-dressed blonde woman in her 60s, who was walking her poodle. "It's an eyesore, and it's polluting the air!" As if to punctuate her sentence, the poodle let out an admonishing bark.
"The post office delivered it against my will, and there's no legal way to get rid of it," Phil explained.
"That's no excuse," the lady said. The poodle took advantage of his owner's pause to take a dump on Phil's lawn.
As she started to walk away, Phil called out, "I hope you're going to pick that up!"
"Why? You obviously don't care about garbage on your property!" she responded, and continued walking, pausing once to glare back at Phil before disappearing around the block.
Later that day, Phil had an inspiration. He found, in tiny print, the return mailing address of the warehouse in Staten Island and wrote it down. Then he drove one of the packages to the town post office and carried it in. There were a few people in line, and when they noticed the smell, they glared at him. When he got to the window, he put the smelly package on the counter and said, "I'd like to ship this the most inexpensive way possible."
The post office clerk, who wore a poker face, said, "Okay. You'll need to make out a label." He did that as she was weighing the package. When she returned from the scales and plopped the package back down on the counter again, he handed the label to her. "This won't work," she said. "We can't ship a package of this size to a post office box."
"Well, what kind of place doesn't bother to put a street address on their packing slip?"
"The kind of place that doesn't want to receive packages."
The next day, as Phil was carrying yet another package of garbage from his porch to the driveway, he noticed a lone figure in the middle of the street. It was the blonde lady who was taking multiple pictures with her cell phone. "What the hell are you doing?" Phil asked.
"Gathering evidence! I think the Town, especially the Department of Sanitation and Health, will be interested in what you're doing! At least some of us take pride in our neighborhood," she said, with righteous satisfaction, and marched on.
Phil followed her, trying to look casual about it. About a block further on, she turned up a walkway and went onto the front porch of a nice Victorian with a fastidiously green lawn and English garden. The address was 13 Elm Street. He removed his cellphone from his pocket and began taking pictures. That's when she noticed him.
"How dare you take pictures of my house?" she called out angrily. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Collecting information," he said.
Monday, he drove three packages to the post office. He messily scrawled out a return address for each one and smeared them into illegibility. All were addressed to 13 Elm Street.
Not quite justice, but the next best thing.
About the Author
Rob Dinsmoor, a frequent contributor to Lowestoft Chronicle, has published three memoirs: Tales of the Troupe, The Yoga Divas and Other Stories, and You Can Leave Anytime. His short story collection, Toxic Cookout, was recently published by Big Table Publishing.