A quickening of the heartbeat. A sudden inrush of breath, as my brain snaps into total focus. I’ve rarely felt such uncontrollable awe.
If you’d asked two years ago what could so enrapture me, I’d have said nothing less than a choir of angels serenading a galactic armada manned entirely by nude women.
But I was wrong. For mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of a garbage truck.
Garbage trucks, I have learned, come in a variety of colors for different specialized jobs, all of them astonishing. White, the noble workhorse of household trash. Green, the untamed devourer of park litter. Blue, the superheroic lifter of dumpsters.
And yet for most of my life I thought about garbage trucks exactly zero times. For over three decades, garbage trucks were, to me, the third least interesting thing in the world after EDM and the economics of family-owned paperclip manufacturers.
Then two years ago my son Sammy arrived, and with him an overriding obsession with trucks. Fire engines, tow trucks, tractors, UPS vans, airport baggage trolleys, and towering above them all that paragon of service, Truckus Sanitatius, the Common Metropolitan Garbage Truck.
Garbage trucks hold a bizarre, nearly perverse, fascination for him. They are constantly sought and, in their absence, endlessly discussed. At the slightest wshh of a pneumatic brake, he lunges forward against his stroller straps calling, “Garbage truck! Garbage truck!” in religious ecstasy. Sometimes he’ll demand we turn to the garbage truck page in his trucks book so he can simply gaze upon it in mute witness.
The source of this fetish is a mystery. As a boy I couldn’t have cared less about trucks. I was strictly a dinosaur kid, memorizing their names, shapes, and diets while forcing any adult within dragging range to take me to the Natural History Museum. Sammy likes dinosaurs well enough. But come on, how can a mysterious ancient dragon large enough to crush a man compete with the magic of a slow, smelly truck full of wet cardboard boxes. His fixation comes from the womb, some sort of natural genetic mutation.
At first, it seemed a harmless eccentricity. Then it got really annoying. In fact, infuriating. I’m a grown man, I’d say to myself, how many more times can I recite the week’s garbage schedule? If this had been enhanced interrogation, I would have cracked months ago.
But eventually, like an ebola medic with a microscopic tear in his biohazard suit, I caught the garbage truck bug. I couldn’t help it. Sammy’s excitement was so infectious. His joy was impossible to defend against. And so one day, walking by myself, I saw a garbage truck and felt my autonomic nerves jolt into overdrive. It was like I’d glimpsed an elephant roaming the streets. Or a dinosaur. I couldn’t deny it. Sammy had taught me to love garbage trucks.
Whether I’m actually interested in garbage trucks or merely suffering from a sort of Parenting Stockholm Syndrome is up for debate.
Garbage trucks have since become endlessly fascinating to me. I regale my grown-up friends with facts about their operation. I marvel at how necessary they are, and how effective at keeping our city habitable. I’m on a friendly-waving basis with several neighborhood garbage men.
Whether I’m actually interested in garbage trucks or merely suffering from a sort of Parenting Stockholm Syndrome is up for debate. But I don’t care. Sammy’s opened my eyes to a part of life that was totally invisible to me before. I’m sure it’ll only be the first of many times when the unique perspective of this person I created and yet can never predict reveals a new wonder of the universe. My wife and I gave him the gift of new life, but every day he gives that same gift right back to us.
Now each Saturday sees Sammy, my wife, and I standing on the sidewalk at attention, paying homage as the garbage trucks pass, with so much reverence you’d think Abraham Lincoln, the Apollo astronauts, and Beyonce were leading a parade of grandmas. If anything, it’s more exciting than that. Because it’s what makes my son happy.