Tag Archives: recycling center

Notes of a nice woman’s son

For the past couple of months I’ve been wondering just how to communicate about the Liar House to the next people who move in here, without alerting the maintenance staff. Sitting atop the downstairs medicine cabinet? Might not ever be found, period. Inside the chimney flue? Would just go up in flames, or fall out if (and this is a big IF) the college attempts to clean the chimney before the next occupants are here. Kitchen drawers will of course be opened, leaving it in the freezer might result in it being unreadable or overly brittle with frost, and of course pinning it to a wall somewhere does not count as subtle. So for the purposes of telling the universe what anyone needs to know should they attempt to occupy these premises for any significant amount of time, I’ll just lay it out here in the nicest way I can imagine.

Welcome, Tenants!

If you are reading this, you have been granted a visiting or tenure-track professorship at the college. Tenure-track professors, congratulations! Enjoy the next six years toward tenure as you acclimate to campus and try to find a modicum of time to work on your research, because remember the school has an open-door policy and our students are very involved! Visiting professors, know that the administration appreciates your hard work and they expect you to be dedicated for the one or two years they’re willing to employ you. Enjoy your time here!

Now then, about this house. This lovely Cape Cod structure was originally built on 2×3 hardwood, and isn’t it great that they’ve kept it intact for the most part? Don’t worry about that bulging wall on the stairwell to the second floor—if you don’t bother it, we’re sure it won’t bother you! On your first walkthrough of the property, be sure to check out the small hand print in concrete next to the garage; little Helen is now 82 years old and still likes to stop by from time to time, so don’t be surprised if you receive a visit from her! But Helen doesn’t have the only lasting touch around the house. Up in the back bedroom you’ll notice the ceiling plaster is well, plastered with doodles from another young girl named Paula! Paula clearly had an affection for California, and the Olympics! Paula also left several lovely games of Tic Tac Toe on the ceiling for visitors to ponder. That Paula!

Yes, this house has a lot of history. You can see some of it in the upstairs hallway where not one, not two, not three, but four layers of wallpaper are revealed in the corner, under the peeling oil paint! Washingtonians sure do like to gaze upon their ancestry since Lewis & Clark passed through a little more than 100 years ago. One hundred years! That’s almost mind-boggling!

There are a few things you should know about residing in this house, because homes with this much character have a few special needs. Anything worth doing in life requires effort, right? Right!

  1. The refrigerator emits a thin stream of water down the back, behind the shelves, which slowly pools under the crisper drawers. The college maintenance staff assure all tenants that this is the intended design of the appliance; that’s why it comes with its own flat Gladware container. Be sure to dump out the water on a regular basis, unless you want the refrigerator to self-clean the two feet of floor in front of it. It will do this by overflowing the bottom of the unit and spilling out through the seal of the door. Also note that as the rear of the unit is much colder than the front, your Gladware Capture SystemTM may freeze over. Simply bang the Gladware Capture SystemTM against the sink and release the ice, then return it to its place against the refrigerator wall.
  2. When bathing, be sure to keep the water level lower than the overflow hole near the drain, as there may or may not be a seal to keep the water inside the plumbing system. Water that bypasses a seal will fall directly onto the subfloor, and from there, into your kitchen, anywhere from the electric stove top clear over to the refrigerator and kitchen entrance. Baths with up to 8 inches of water are safe to enjoy. So enjoy your own personal hygiene!
  3. Your unit comes equipped with a fully functioning fireplace and chimney. Do note that during the time you want to relax with a fire, you should shut the heating ducts on either side of the fireplace. Otherwise these ducts will disturb the air flow near the fireplace and you may be subject to clouds of smoke and ash. We have not asked college maintenance about this but we are sure they would respond that this is an intended design feature of the fireplace unit and not anything requiring their attention. They would however prefer you observe a four-foot distance from the fireplace at all times, including placing your furniture outside this boundary, as well as your toddlers and pets. Better safe than burned!
  4. Speaking of the heating ducts, do note that you should only have a maximum of three open at any time in order to heat small spaces optimally. Should your feet get cold, know that you may stand next to the vent in the kitchen, as this is a mere three feet from the top of the boiler in the basement below and always emits pleasant heat.
  5. The garage in your backyard comes equipped with a locking door and garage door that you should feel free to open and close manually. It also has a cat door so that any random rodent can make its home in or near your garage when the summer heat kicks in or when it is very cold in winter. You may also notice several hornet’s nests in the garage eaves; these are normal, but the college will supply you with hornet spray if you request it.
  6. Remember that today’s appliances use more power than in years past, so operating too many items at once, like the microwave and the toaster, may cause a circuit breaker to switch off. This may become quite inconvenient, as there is no apparent circuit box anywhere on the property, and trust us, we have looked high and low for it. Fortunately the house does seem to reset blown fuses automatically. Like about the bubbly wall, we don’t ask too many questions, and you shouldn’t, either!
  7. Conveniently located right outside your kitchen window is the college recycling center. A project of several seniors who graduated many years ago now, it was originally intended to serve the entire Walla Walla community, but they may have bitten off a little too much to chew! Such idealists, those seniors! Now the college aims to serve just the local college community, which it has communicated to the greater city population by writing an announcement on the college email list and via a small sign on the front of the building that when open, no one can see. Do take the time to get to know your local recyclers, who will stop by all day and night with their clattering bottles and plastic. It’s a great way to meet people! Also, when they leave the Union-Bulletin in stacks to blow all over your lawn, know that this is an intended design feature of the college recycling center. We all fare better when we read and support our local newspapers!

Have a great year!

Cast of characters

Wagon Man!

Walla Walla has been quite the setting for our little 2-person play on adaptation, struggle, ego, relationships, and personality. Living between a house of students who practiced the Save Ferris version of Come On Eileen for a whole academic year with nary any improvement in tempo or pitch was not something we’ll soon forget. Meeting the “wagon man” as he carefully jettisoned his recycling across the alley from our kitchen window will stick with us for a long time. And who doesn’t remember the bathtub water raining in our kitchen for a 3-month period, star of the film I directed, Holy Shit, It’s Raining in My Kitchen? Good times, all.

But our time in The Liar House is drawing to a close now. The nicked-up doors and baseboards, mushy plaster walls, cobweb-infested basement with illegal bedroom, we’re saying goodbye to them all. We’re only sorry we never found the electrical panel so we could meet properly.

But goodbye, hidden, invisible electrical panel! Goodbye, leaky main water valve! Goodbye, broken dryer the maintenance guy said wasn’t his responsibility! Goodbye, strange plots of bare dirt that the lawnmower guy insisted on spraying for weeds! Goodbye, ducks fornicating on our lawn! Goodbye, many, many students who walked across the same lawn, every day, multiple times a day, to and from class! Goodbye, strange cat who walked into our living room last spring! Goodbye, never shoveled street, even after 30 inches of snow came down from the sky and buried us inside! Goodbye, weirdly reappearing hornet’s nests that keep freaking me out! Goodbye to all of you!

Hello, road trip! And someday, HELLO dishwasher!

Garbage in, more garbage in

Nobody I know spends much time talking or thinking about garbage. Sure, there’s the nice abstract “I’m against landfills/I’m so green I’m Kermit” comment that comes up now and again, mostly when people have drunk a bit of locally produced wine and someone brings up Hummers, disposable diapers, or plastic shopping bags. And then there are the avid composters, which out here are more common than say, in northeast DC, where one has, on average, enough space to compost as a couple of used coffee filters and some uneaten toast crust. Although on a side note let’s recall that there have been not one, but two, compost fires in Walla Walla in the last three years, as the sun really starts cranking out the gamma rays midsummer, so while we may have space aplenty, we still need to consider safety. You hear that, compost-people?

But garbage needs its due consideration beyond knowing when one’s household garbage pick-up day is. What can’t go into the garbage? What should be recycled? What needs to be taken directly to a landfill, and how should one dispose of unused medication?

I’m not saying I know the answers to all of these (I do know that you fill up the medicine bottle with water, let the pills dissolve, and then throw it in the trash once it’s become a solid mass), but neither do my neighbors. And not even my neighbors—I’m speaking more of the endless stream of people who drive up to the recycling center across the alley from us, looking confused at the locked gate. These people intentionally put cardboard, old cans, and 13 gazillion empty wine bottles into their car, only to find the center closed. This is because the recycling center at the college is only open from 8 in the morning until noon, Monday through Friday. Certainly this is for the general public’s convenience, because who is busy then?

I presume people don’t know about garbage (and its more popular cousin, recyclables) because this is where they do something that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever:

They see the locked, 6-foot, chain link fence, and they walk across the alley to our house, and throw their recycling in our personal bin.

This makes me lose my mind. I find it soon after, little bits of gravel and dust clinging to it as it cowers in a corner next to the non-functional air conditioner, but I lose it nonetheless.

And not only do they dump their recycling, they dump their illegal recycling. This tells me a couple of things:

1. They’re not reading the instructions on the recycling bin

2. They’re not reading the instructions on the bin because they either can’t be bothered, or they know they’re doing something wrong.

I began trying to dissuade these cardboard interlopers and trespassers in much the way I used to try to keep deer out of my vegetable garden in New York. I put down dog hair. Okay, I didn’t put dog hair on the gravel, but I’ve tried moving the bins. And when that didn’t work, I put the car right next to the bins, sacrificing space to swing the door open, and making it so that on Wednesdays, the day before pick up, I’d come nose-to-stench with the garbage bucket each time I left the house or came home. Still, they contorted themselves around the private car in the private driveway to the private recycling bin, across the alley from the space declaring itself available (if not open) for their discardement. Faced with other people’s castoff glass, which is fine to recycle at the center but not in the weekly city pickup, I’m faced with a choice I don’t want. I can pick out their glass and take their recycling to the center, 40 feet from my kitchen, or I can leave it in the bin and get chastised by the recycling crew.

All of my determent failed last week, and the bin nearly didn’t close from all of the crap stuffed inside. I fumed. Susanne fumed. I picked up my mind again, brushing it off and promising it better, brighter days. Grabbing a marker from my office upstairs, I formulated two signs, one for each bin.





Maybe that would get through to them.

Unfortunately, I put these signs on the bins the day before trash and recycling pickup, so this morning, I was met with a scrawled note from the recycling  pickup staff, telling me NO GLASS.

It’s not me, I cried to nobody. I take my glass to the recycling center! I am abiding your rules! I just don’t want to touch other people’s crap! Please don’t make me touch other people’s crap!

A squirrel on the front lawn looked at me quizzically. I hissed at it.

Hopefully the signs in big, bold letters will work for us.

If not, I’m buying locks next week. Or I’ll fit the bins with an exploding Jack in the Box. That’ll show ’em.

Walla Walla neighborhood neighborhood

Living next to a recycling center, as I’ve mentioned before, is fascinating for its ethnographic opportunities. We see a specific kind of person venturing here: because it’s only supposed to service the college, the managers of the center have posted signs not to dump here. So the people who pull in at all hours of the day and night, are doing something very strange—they’re recycling, which is good, but they’re using a facility not meant for them, which is wrong. They make their way down the gravel-lined alley, frustrated that they can’t approach in stealthy silence, unbuckle their seat belts, for one should click it or ticket, and quickly remove their folded cardboard, tossing it over the chained and locked fence, before scrambling to get back in their Volvos, Saabs, and BMWs, acting like they’ve just bought a dime bag in the red light district. I can barely fathom such inconsiderate but ecology-focused behavior.

My favorite dumper, if such a thing is possible, is a man who comes by in the spring and summer, with a faded yellow bike jury-rigged to a red wagon. He wears only overalls, sometimes wet at the cuffs from standing in the nearby stream, and work boots. A neighbor posited that he is only “two clips away from fun,” because he’s obviously not wearing a shirt, and possibly goes without underwear as well. I had no idea why he kept coming by with boxes until I saw him one day in a coffee shop, collecting recycling for the transaction of a Mountain Dew. He does the dew. And then it was like looking through the lenses at the eye doctor’s office, and I could see—he goes around town, collecting cardboard, getting a few bucks for it or a soda, and this is his hobby.

He’s very regimented about how he disposes of the boxes. When the college wanted to stop the flow of recyclables coming to the center, it installed an 8-foot fence that it could close when the sole part-time employee left for the day. This was like putting up a Kleenex as a room divider. People just toss boxes over the fence, or push them through the gaps in the gate. They, for their trouble, look an extra modicum of guilty, but they do it nonetheless.

But my wagon man was thrilled. No more simple, setting the box on the ground. Now he could fling them over with gusto! Even when he comes by and the gate is rolled back, he still stands next to the fence and one by one, tosses them like frisbees. If he doesn’t like how they land, he’ll walk in, pick them up, and toss them again. In a sea of entitled people who ought to know better and use the city recycling center, I enjoy that he enjoys the cardboard fling so much. And I wonder who takes care of him.

Little stories, gone gently unsaid


Corner Market in Seattle

Corner Market in Seattle



“Interesting” is one of those words that can mean pretty much anything, but usually means nothing. Used as a conversational nudge, it means, “go on, I’m listening.” Said drawn out in the beginning, like, “iiiiiiiinteresting,” it means you just found something odd. Said after a pause, like, “that’s . . . interesting,” means you just found something really odd. Looking at the actual Webster’s definition, however, it simply means “holding the attention : arousing interest.”

So judge for yourself when I describe the following as arousing my interest:

1. The fellow who comes by the recycling center several times a day to scrounge through the materials to see if there’s anything he wants. So-marked treasures are piled into his wagon, which is attached to his 1950s bicycle. The most “interesting” thing about him is his outfit — always a dusty pair of overalls with no shirt underneath, so one can easily see just how filthy he is. I actually get concerned about him because he seems so duly dedicated and driftless. I wonder where he sleeps at night. 


The ceiling in question

The ceiling in question

2. The ceiling in the smallest bedroom of our Liar House is made of plaster. Okay, not so interesting. But when the plaster was in its infancy and still wet, someone drew all over it. There’s a tic-tac-toe board and a set of Olympic rings, the words “California,” Walla Walla,” and “Paula,” as if someone were documenting her own travel to this isolated village. Was it inscribed in a year of the Olympic games? We do know from a previous resident that it was there in 2002, but earlier than that, we have no idea.

3. There’s a small photo in our basement, a knock off of some cheap Olin Mills portrait. Four women of varying ages, all blonde, smiling a little too much like they hailed from Stepford, Massachusetts. No idea when that was left here, why it’s in the basement, of all places, if it’s a joke or placed ironically.

4. Tuesday is lawn moving day, which I presume will end shortly — probably when the college shuts off the automatic lawn sprinklers. Our band-playing neighbors next door have a large trampoline in the backyard. When the mowing guy comes by, he doesn’t drive up in one of those long-bed pickup trucks with a green “Landscaping” painted on the side. He arrives by street in his riding lawnmower, as if he pops up from the ground like our watering system, or possibly like a mechanized, humongous hedgehog. I’ve never actually seen him not sitting in the mower. Thus his strategy for moving the trampoline, which obviously blocks a big swath of lawn, is to ram it, head on, move where it recently had been, and then ram it from the other side. So the sound of this is amusing and a bit worrisome: mowmowmowmowBANGmowmowmowmowBANGBANGmowmowmowmowmow.

Those are just the top four interesting people and things in this corner of town. Perhaps next week I’ll move off campus with a few more mysteries.

Meanwhile, it’s clear I need to get out more often.

Life in a littler town (than one is used to)

It’s actually a bigger town than you would at first notice, there being two big chunks of streets and neighborhoods here — one more up-down, and one caddy-corner and off to the side from the first chunk. But it is still quite small, at least in comparison to DC. I feel like most people in DC stick to their own neighborhood most of the time. Maybe they Metro everywhere and don’t get away from those more accessible zones. Maybe it took a while to figure out where everything was in proximity to their residence, so why spend time looking for a coffee house, a video rental place, a small restaurant, that’s not near where they live?

But there’s something interesting to me in sussing out the hole-in-a-wall and mom-and-pop places where they know your name when you walk in and sit down. There’s something fun about comparing your local experience to ones that are catering to someone else. Susanne and I clocked in many hours at Sidamo in DC, where the owner roasts the coffee on the premises every morning, and the whole street smells of carefully prepared espresso. And Mimi would see us and give us a great big hug, and I never thought twice about it until I realized I haven’t been hugged by anyone but Susanne since we moved. It’s an odd, nearly silent absence.

I have most of a pound of Sidamo coffee in the kitchen, and I may pick up some more when I head back to the east coast next month, but at some point, I’ll have to find a place out here — and it’s not like there are no good coffee joints in the Pacific Northwest! Far from it. But none of them shout my name when I enter, none of them feel like my own comfort zone, just yet anyway.

We live, unsuspectingly enough, next to the college’s recycling center. The front of the building, which apparently nobody notices, hosts a sign that says the plant is closed for remodeling. The side of the building, which apparently everyone knows and loves, has no such sign, and so keeps being visited by erstwhile recyclers with mountains of cardboard and aluminum. There is also a whole cast of characters who have some kind of — I can only come up with “addiction” — to coming over and visiting the empty building. One of them wanders around the city looking for discarded items that can be recycled, and one of them swears loudly every time he sees that more shit has been dropped off here, to the tune of how your grandfather swears in your distant memory: “Son of a BITCH!” “You goddamn mother of BITCHES!” I just feel like he picked up his sing-song cursing streams during a tour in the US Navy, since that’s where my grandfather learned them. You know, it’s like kind of an oral history of sorts.


Our neighbors

Our neighbors



The recycling center has a beat up pickup trunk from the 1970s that just started leaking gas yesterday. We had previously been annoyed that it was parked right up against our house, under our kitchen and dining room windows, but this now pales in comparison with the very combustible and dangerous fuel leak, which is currently being contained in a — you guessed it — 5-pound coffee tin. Utilitarian and recyclable, all at once! I gently explained, in my most West Coast, indirect manner possible (for a born and raised East Coast person) that this was maybe not the best nor safest way to deal with a toxic chemical known for its volatility. I found agreement, which is good. Now hopefully the whole matter gets resolved.

I guess I can’t say we had a local recycling center we used, but that was because we lived in a big city and had a place for recycling for our building. The most we had to contend with was the occasional angry raccoon we’d disturbed as we walked home. Here in Walla Walla, it’s more about the disturbing gas can or angry resident instead.

We plan on taking a drive tomorrow so I’ll be sure to post with pictures and comments of our trip!

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