800px-Garbage_TruckThe Wall Street Journal recently ran an essay adapted from Robin Nagle’s Picking Up: On the Street and Behind the Trucks With the Sanitation Workers of New York City. It’s riveting.

Outsiders may scoff, but sanitation workers form a standing army designed to fight an endless war against an enemy so relentless that victory is impossible. Stalemate counts as success, which may be why few Gothamites think twice about the military maneuvers that unfold in their streets every day….

Most New Yorkers, to say nothing of city dwellers elsewhere in the country, don’t give much thought to this daily ebb and flow. They put out their garbage each night, and imagine—as old-timers in the Sanitation Department like to quip—that legions of Garbage Faeries make it all go away.

Without them, commerce would shut down. We are constantly buying things, but we are in constant need of space. So the sanitation men and women keep things going—and they deal with things we’d rather not think about, like “disco rice” (a euphemism for maggots).

Nagle does find some lighter moments, though:

On his posh Upper West Side route, Ray has come across many treasures. Once he found a three-piece suit wadded in a litter basket on a corner near a dry cleaner’s shop. While Sal waited, Ray took the suit inside, tried it on and had it measured for alterations. He picked it up when he worked that route again two days later.

Photo courtesy of SMcGarnigle

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