I approached the dumpster sporting oily hair, a bare face, and grossly mismatched clothes. My recycling bin was overflowing and I couldn’t handle it a moment longer. Since it seemed silly to shower prior to a trash transport, and it seemed wasteful to apply perfectly good make up to a face I would wash as soon as I returned from my field trip, I ventured across the park wearing what ever I could locate on my floor.
Sadly, I walked up to find the Channel 10 News crew 50 feet from the recycling bin. Tino Ramos sported a microphone, and several guys gathered around him. Hoping to slip my disgusting self past the camera man, I zipped across the parking lot, head down, imagining that if I couldn’t see them, they most certainly couldn’t see me.
“M’am, do you mind if we film you throwing out your recycling,” Tino called from a distance.
I shook my bag even harder, hoping to empty it before they could reach me; they were clearly much faster than I planned, standing beside me before I could even raise the bag for a prompt dumping. The “record” light blared in my peripheral and I wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to be filmed. Could you please not put this on air,” I begged as I imagined how entertaining my presence would be on TV.
“We’ll just get your hands. No one will recognize you,” they assured me. I felt more and more violated with every shake of the bag.
Once I finished emptying my goods, I rushed back to my car. Then I turned the key and actually started it; I couldn’t, however, bring myself to drive.
Putting it back in park, I switched off the ignition, opened the door, and ran back to Tino and his crew.
“Excuse me,” I yelled across the parking lot. The entire group of men stopped talking and turned to look at me.
“There’s this guy named Arthur who lost his job so he comes here every day to organize our trash. He got sick one week and this place was mess—the entire area reeked of spoiled food. Whoever is supposed to clean it up, never does anything. Arthur is the real story here. He never asks for money or handouts. He just helps us take trash out of our cars, and he organizes it so we don’t have rodents and insects feasting on everything out in the open. You need to come back when he’s here. Someone seriously needs to pay him. This place would be a disaster without him,” I explained, then I turned to go back to my car.
“Thank you for the tip,” Tino said. Then he turned to the man next to him, “This is the guy who runs the recycling. He’s in charge of the pick up and maintenance. We are doing a story about the program's success.”
I felt like a jerk. My face burned and my stomach flipped in half. I was just trying to do a good deed. I was just trying to give credit to a man who selflessly works his butt off to help out his community. I was just trying to turn a really boring story into something far more entertaining. Instead, I found myself staring at a man who was ready to bite my head off. This was his moment of glory and I doused it with kerosene and lit it on fire.
It's been a year since that fateful day, and I still feel like a jerk. I wonder how the conversation went once I shook his hand and ran to my car, sweating bullets of awkwardness. I wonder if Tino ever got to meet my neighborhood hero. But mostly, I wonder where our world would be without people like my Arthur, people who selflessly strive to serve.