My Community Service Project: The Trash Man Cometh


Being retired not only gives me more time to become irritated over fairly mundane things (see Grumpy Old Man), but it also provides me the time and opportunity to do something about them.

So, day after day, when I saw a small, dilapidated RV parked along the frontage road that leads to the road that leads to my house, I became convinced that this eyesore was either abandoned or that even worse, someone was using it as a residence.  I contacted the local sheriffs who told me to contact the Highway Patrol whose non-emergency number is always busy.  Somehow, though, when I wasn’t paying attention, the eyesore disappeared.

However, the owners left behind a pile of refuse, and as I looked up and down the frontage road, I realized just how trashy the 150 yards or so that I drive past several times a day had become.  The dirt pathway along a fence that parallels a freeway entrance is a walkway for many middle school kids who frequent the local Starbucks and the convenience store on the corner and leads to two or three apartment buildings down the way.

Initially, I thought I was just going to clean up after the RV dwellers so I grabbed a couple of trash bags, a rake, a pair of gloves and went down to survey the damage.  What I found was that they had jettisoned two wooden valances and an enormous pile of trimmed cactus.  I’m not kidding.  Huge chunks of cacti, all cut and cleaned, were dumped in a muddy pile.  I loaded the mess into the back of my SUV and carted it home  to my trash bins.

But that wasn’t enough for me.  Spending some time down by the fence made me notice just how awful all of that trash looked and how badly it needed to be cleaned up.

I became a man on a mission.  I bought a fresh box of trash bags, spread some plastic down in the back of my vehicle and decided to go to work on the problem. It felt fun to have a project like this.  Smelly, but fun.  I spent about an hour a day for four days to get the area cleaned to my satisfaction.  The typical haul on each day was 2-3 bags of weeds and trash.

The variety of trash was impressive.  I found the kinds of things you’d expect–lots of drink containers, fast food packaging, cigarette butts, and plastic crap of all kinds.  In addition there was clothing, a pillow, many small liquor bottles, and one used condom.  My neighbors are clearly not intimidated by the single sign that threatens them with a $1000 fine for littering.  All in all, I ended up with about 10 bags of trash.

As menial as it was, the work was incredibly satisfying.  Every day as I drive by, I survey the work I have accomplished and take note of any new litter that has begun to accumulate.  I suspect I will become like the guy who purportedly used to spend his days painting the Golden Gate Bridge from one end to the other and back year after year.

And while this may be a Sisyphean task, it feels good to see the neighborhood look a little cleaner.  Today, as I was finishing up, two different strangers stopped to introduce themselves and thank me for the work that I was doing.  It was not important to me to get the recognition, but it did let me know that others had seen the problem and appreciated that someone took some action.

While it will take some continued effort to keep it clean, I now feel a sense of ownership.  I’ve started to keep my eye out for other areas nearby that are showing signs of neglect that may need a little love and attention.  If I keep this up, I may need to get a cape and a secret identity–maybe take to cleaning up only under the cover of darkness.

People will wake up in the morning to marvel and whisper, “Trash Man has been here!”



A Day In The Life

The most frequent question any retiree gets asked is “What do you do all day long?” sometimes followed by a forlorn statement of “I don’t know what I would do without work.”

So sad.

I know you think I’m going to wax on about all of the obvious glories of retirement that include things like travel to exotic places, making the world a better place by volunteering for organizations that no one has ever heard of, or training for that ultra-marathon that no one in his right mind should be thinking about doing.

All of those are great things.  But all of them take a lot of time, and/or planning, and/or money.

No, the best thing about being retired is taking care of shit around the house that you’ve just never had time to do.  Believe me, if I have prepared well and constructed an excellent “to do” list, I can putter about with the best of them and not feel a moment of existential angst over whether my life has meaning. I have important things to do.

Feeding the birds

I have taken on the responsibility of feeding all of the birds of Spring Valley, my community.  Ever since I hung, not one, but two, wild bird feeders on my back fence, the word has gotten out, and birds come from far and wide to pillage my feeders.  What used to last all day now gets savaged in a couple of hours, and then they line up along the fence, moping and staring at me inside the house hoping I’ll come out and fill them again, ignoring the two inch carpet of seed they have wasted, throwing it left and right as they look for the good stuff, whatever that is.


I went out last night to talk with them about the wastefulness, the expense, and their apparent lack of gratitude.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap,” was all they had to say.

Ungrateful bastards.

Cleaning stuff up

Do you have any idea how many years it has been since I had cleaned out–I mean really cleaned out–my workbench drawer and cabinet?  No one with a real job has time to do that sort of thing.  I actually took everything out of every container on every shelf and threw away a full trash barrel of stuff and ditched a Christmas tree holder that I have come to loath but have been too cheap to replace.  I went so far as to wipe down each shelf.  The grime was impressive.


The drawer was a revelation.  It too had plenty of trashables, but more remarkable was how many things of value I discovered.  Like, why can I never find a tape measure when I need one?


Why can’t I ever find the right drill bit?


The result of my many years of disorganization has been me frequently storming around  the house in the midst of a project, angry that I can’t seem to keep myself equipped with even the most basic tools.  By the way, has anyone seen my Phillips screw driver?

Organizing stuff

I am in a continual war to create enough space in the garage for both of our cars.  The battle began in ernest when the kids started moving away to college in 2000 and using my garage as their free storage unit.  Well, to be fair, it was the ripple effect caused by their leaving and my wife and I reclaiming the two bedrooms that we had loaned to them for eighteen years. This meant boxing up all of their toys, trophies, games, and books so that we could re-take the house.

The lack of wall space available because of their boxes of stuff means that I’m continually looking for creative solutions of where to put everyday household stuff that we are continually tripping over.  There are just not enough corners to pile this crap into. Part of every day is coming up with solutions to complex problems that can only be solved by a simple 29-cent hook.


Planting stuff

I like to grow things.  It started when we bought our place in 1980.  It was move-in ready on the inside and a barren wasteland on the outside.  One of my greatest joys has been watching my pine trees grow from one-gallon twigs to the 80-foot sentinels that surround the front yard.


On a smaller scale, I try to keep a vegetable garden going year-round now.  Most recently, I rescued this tomato plant from Dixieline.  I felt sorry for it because it was sickly looking with drooping yellow leaves, sort of dried up and spotted.  Kind of reminded me of me.  I brought him home and replanted him in a pot with some good soil and home-made compost, and as you can see, he is no longer the 98-pound weakling of the garden department.  I can’t wait for the yellow tomatoes he is going to give me as summer comes on.


So, you see, it doesn’t take much to fill up a day.  This doesn’t even include exercise, yoga, reading, napping, and doing absolutely nothing–all things at which I excel.  But just getting through a few items on the ever-present to-do list can leave me feeling completely fulfilled and satisfied, ready to reward myself with a cold brew out on the back deck where I can relax and listen to the sounds of evening coming on.

“Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”


Life After Work


First official morning of retirement

Make no mistake about it. When the time came, I was ready to retire. On my final day, as retirees were asked to address the staff at a little farewell party, I got up to face my colleagues for the last time, some of whom I had worked with for all 36 years of my career, all at the same school. I was surprised to see all the emotion and the tears, maybe just as someone who prefers to keep emotions locked up as tightly as possible because I find emotions to be unpredictable and unruly things.

But in this case, I was feeling nothing but joy. I had had a great time as a teacher. I loved the work and I loved my kids. I had a shelf full enough of recognitions that I knew that students, parents, and my colleagues had noticed and appreciated my contributions. But I had been in school continuously for 54 years without a break! I had gone straight from high school, to college, and then into my career. I was anxious to live an unscheduled life for the first time since before kindergarten.

There had been signs that it was time to go. At some point students would see me coming and stop to open the door for me, as if maybe I was wearing a handicapped placard around my neck. Increasing numbers of kids began referring to me as “sir” instead of “Hey Waldron!” It even began to affect new staff members who could not break the habit of calling me “Mr. Waldron” instead of by my first name as any colleague normally would.

And I was tired. I was weary at the end of every day and often retreated home and napped for what was left of the afternoon. I was like a veteran pitcher who could still gut his way through every outing, relying on guile and experience, knowing that the fastball was gone, that the slider wasn’t sliding, and the curveball just wasn’t breaking the way it used to anymore.

So, even after nearly three years, I’m still flummoxed by people asking me if I’m enjoying retirement or if I miss teaching. The answer to the latter is a firm “no!” As much as I loved my kids and the experience of the classroom, teaching is a brain and soul-sucking experience that can be all consuming. My stock answer about the former is to say, “Yes, I’ve discovered that not working is much better than working.”


I now have a vegetable garden going year round and have qualified as a master composter (I don’t actually brag about that much). I have taken yoga, guitar, and hiking classes. I have been able visit my sister in Maui four times, and jet to Chicago twice primarily to sit at the baseball shrine that is Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs play. I have flown to Lake Tahoe for one night to see the Dave Matthews Band perform. I drove one thousand miles to visit two friends I hadn’t seen in years and learned the finer points of fly casting on a Colorado lake.  I finally took time to visit Washington, DC. I traveled to Oakland for one concert and to Phoenix for another. I spend a week in Phoenix every spring driving all over town daily to watch my Padres play their spring training games. I walk. I write.

I guess I’m just lucky that the transition has been relatively easy for me. Any time I feel like it’s been a slow day, that I’m feeling a little bored, I just remember the stacks of ungraded papers that used to fill every waking moment of my day from September to June.

I feel sorry for people who are still working and when I ask about their own retirement, they shrug and say, “I just don’t know what I would do.”

Believe me. There is life after work.