The German word Mist has many meanings: manure, when applied to animals and rubbish or garbage, when applied to human worthless acquisitions or verbal worthlessness. It is often used as an expletive, as a polite scatalogical burst or a like saying “crap”. As with most German words, one can add prefixes, so ausmisten means to muck out a stall or to discard collected and useless junk. To screw up something is Mist bauen (“build crap”).
There’s a saying about stuff accumulating, until it fills all available space. I can assure you that this is true. Most of it is Mist or becomes so over time.
After years of procrastinating and threatening my children with leaving the thankless task of ausmisten my house to them for after I am in Heaven, I decided to start. With or without this generous effort, I expect to end up there, because that is what I was promised as a child every Sunday.
I have decided to ausmisten in the cellar. I have tended to save things—even if there was never a chance that they would ever be used again—because I thought/think that I might use them. I never discarded unused paint or wall paper remainders, from the days when I used to do everything myself. I now pay someone to do most renovations, but I still keep everything I need…just in case the doubtful ever happens.
For some unexplainable reason, that changed yesterday. I started to sort out items in the cellar and carry them to the garage for pick-up by a disposal service. I started with luggage, of which I have several sets. Although we always use the same suitcases and bags, I keep a collection of old ones. No one needs eight suitcases, unless you are some fake celebrity, which I am not and never will be. No one needs 25 sports bags. That is the legacy of working for a sporting goods company, which provided a new bag for every major sporting event. That was just the beginning. I won’t bore you with every screw and washer I saved (and will not discard), but the list is long and the garage is filling up.
The weather is perfect for working in the cellar. Outside, there is the English form on mist, while I am deep in the German form of Mist.
Today, I was reminded of the absurdity of modern life. That is life in the advanced world: I changed the plastic bag in the trash can in our kitchen. This task is normally handled by the cleaning lady--another feature of affluent life--but trash pick-up is tomorrow and the damn thing needed emptying.
What is so absurd? First of all, having a trash can. Second, lining a trash can with a plastic bag. But, worst of all, is that the trash bag was scented to smell of a fresh lemon.
I thought about having seen a report of life in some African country, where people must walk miles to fetch water. I doubt that they even know what trash is, much less have a trash can or trash bags, scented or unscented.
Needless to say, I lead a charmed life...
Here’s a word I never use and rarely run across: midden heap. I do not recall when or where I Iearned this word, but it was during my schooling. It came to mind as I walked around the house to the trash can. This is not a usual trip, but kitchen renovation has required a few changes in routine.
Of course, future archeologists will not be able to gain any knowledge from what we discard, as they have from ancient midden heaps. My trash lands in large plastic, wheeled bins (four, to be exact, in order to separate) and is then collected by trucks, which mix our waste with that of other citizens and dumps everything in a land fill...nothing more than a monstrous midden heap.
Aren’t you happy that I have enlightened the world about my trash disposal habits. If we had not decided to renovate, this knowledge would have remained unmentioned and hidden...
I had forgotten how wasteful Americans can be.
Without trying (and trying not to) we produce more trash in a week than we do at home in a month. It is almost impossible to not produce bags full of non-biodegradable trash. Of course, the bags are also not biodegradable.
Fifty years ago, Florida had not hills. Now, one spots landfill hills at frequent intervals along the interstate highway. I have no idea to what purpose they will be put. But, more are sure to sprout across the landscape...like volcanoes in Mexico. One kind is natural, the other is not.
Motivation is inexplicable.
Occasionally, I consider the boxes that I have collected in the attic. I think about sorting and discarding old books, magazines, and business papers. But, those boxes bother no one. Beyond the wish to not burden my daughter with the task at some point in the future, I have yet to find a cogent reason to attack them. Until now...
Lying awake last night, I thought about our blue trash container (for paper, in this ecologically conscious country), which had been emptied that day, and then about our upcoming vacation. Being away, we would generate no trash; the pick-up would find the blue containter empty. That would be a waste of waste space; we would pay for nothing, so to speak.
How could I solve this problem...without staying home and generating trash?
My mind wandered to the space above my head and to boxes filled with paper: books, magazines, and documents that I had not touched for years (some for 20 years) and would probably never need. What better fodder for an empty trash container...even if it meant work!
I had finally found the motivation to attack a long-neglected task. Who would have guessed that a lack of trash could be so stimulating...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.