Suburban Mysteries 1: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

It was a dark and stormy Monday morning, the first of the month.  A typical cheerful Monday in Ohio:  gloomy, yet damp.  

“Don’t forget to take the recycling bin up!”  Kendall yelled from the bathroom, where she was attempting to use a straightening iron on her hair, which was still slightly wet.

“Why are you bothering with your hair?  It’s raining.”  Chad yelled back, wincing as he heard the sizzle that meant that Kendall had burned either her hair or herself, or most likely both.  Welp, time to take out the recycling!  He thought to himself, as he heard her squeal from their tastefully decorated, taupe bathroom.  

He put on a raincoat to go get the recycling bin, which was new this year.  Their former garbage service had raised their fees and were now providing their own, logo emblazoned receptacles.  They were supposed to be easier for the automated garbage trucks to pick up and set down again. One was green for recycling and was picked up every Monday. The other was blue for regular garbage and was picked up on a completely different day, which to someone, made things easier. These bins were technically the property of the garbage company, and if one was lost or stolen, it would cost an additional fee to replace.  Chad wasn’t sure how he felt about that, although he was pleased that he no longer had to sort anything individually or bother with hauling a thousand little blue bags to the curb, which was the previous neighborhood system.  

Kendall had been less welcoming about the new bins. Month ago, when they’d first arrived, she’d asked “What am I supposed to do with all of these blue bags?”  She’d asked, while flipping through the ten page long guide to proper recycling, which had been delivered at the same time they’d received their shiny new bins.  “These blue bags aren’t recyclable anymore!  How is this reducing waste?  What if some kid steals our cans again?  Is he going to pay the twenty five bucks for us to get a new can?”  That was about the time Chad remembered grabbing a Coors and going to the garage to listen to the radio and fiddle with his bike.   He didn’t like to be reminded that the last time there had been this much drama over cans in his life, he’d been 21 and in Tijuana, and they were an entirely different set of cans.  Life sure had changed for Chad.

Lugging the bins to the curb was something that Kendall and Chad routinely tried to trick the other into doing.  This was not the first time Kendall had lingered over her hair styling, despite the pouring rain.  The previous Monday, Chad had tricked Kendall into getting the cans by puttering around in the kitchen, pretending to look for his security access badge for work, while Kendall rushed to set the bins out in time before she rushed off to her own office job.

Chad reflected on all of this as he went to drag the can to the curb on this rainy, muddy Monday morning.  At least it wasn’t raining last week Chad thought to himself, as he struggled to drag the bin around the cars in the driveway and over the mulched bed in the side yard.  She will pay dearly for this.  Oh yes.  

“Looooove you” Kendall sing-songed from the bathroom, as he dashed back into the house, slamming the door just as lightning flashed outside.  She would pay!

*****

Chad and Kendall went to their respective day jobs.  Chad was an account manager for a small chain of local banks.  Kendall was an insurance adjuster.  They both loved numbers, and so the day flew by.  The clouds had parted and a dim sunset was visible when they both pulled into the driveway, seconds after one another.  

Kendall made a grand show of filling her arms with items from her CRV – a giant, overstuffed Vera Bradley purse, a folder containing some computer printouts of ways they could save on their own insurance policies at home, and a large box containing leftovers from a potluck that afternoon.  She gave Chad a look that was supposed to say “sorry,” but which looked more like a triumphant smirk.

Chad sighed audibly and grabbed at the handle for the bin but it wasn’t there. He looked around the vicinity, thinking the bin had just blown over into the street and into a neighbor’s yard. But it was no where in sight. He turned and began the trek down their tastefully cemented driveway to the garage.  Suddenly, he stopped and turned to Kendall with an accusing look.

“Did you do this?”  

“What, honey?”  Kendall asked absently.  She had her items balanced on the porch railing while attempting to locate her keys in her massive purse with her one free hand.

“The recycle bin.  Did you put it in the garden bed?”

Kendall looked at him as though he was an idiot, a look she had cultivated after twelve years of marriage.

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know, Kendall.  I know you sometimes don’t like to walk all the way from the easement to the garage, but at least admit that you’re lazy, instead of pretending you didn’t drag this bin back and dump it.”

“When would I have done that?  We both just got home, Sherlock.”

“I don’t know your plans” Chad said.  “Maybe you left home after the recycling guys came by. Maybe you came home for lunch.”

Kendall rolled her eyes, since her hands were occupied and she couldn’t give him the finger.  “I had my potluck today.  Remember?  Of course not.  It didn’t involve some YouTuber playing Minecraft or what some guy said about your Bills on the radio, so I suppose you wouldn’t.”  She managed to squeeze through the front door with all her packages, and it slammed shut behind her.  Chad wasn’t wrong about her being lazy, but she still didn’t like being accused of something she hadn’t done.

Convinced that his ladywife was having a good laugh at his expense, Chad took his time wiggling the recycling bin free from the mud in the bed, and sneaking a beer from the garage refrigerator.  

By the time Chad got back inside, Kendall was looking thoughtfully through the window at their neighbor’s house.  

“I wonder if the Bradford’s kid did this” she said, squinting her eyes into tiny slits.  “That kid can’t leave anything alone, even if it isn’t his.”

“Why on earth would he put the can in our garden instead of just throwing it in the street or filling it with poop like a normal vandal would?  Why would he take it halfway down my own driveway?”

“Because he’s an idiot, just like his mother, with her stupid Precious Moments figurine collection she’s always trying to drag me in to see.  Plus, last week I think he heard me call her a white trash piece of crap under my breath.  He was probably trying to smash my bulbs in a subtle, clever way.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It so does.  His mom is always out gardening in those stonewashed cutoffs, and she lets her dog off leash and he’s always trying to hump me when I go for my nightly run. I hate that family!  Bunch of y’insers!  Go back to Pennsylvania!”

Chad looked at the crazy woman in front of him and tried to see the remains of the bride he had married twelve years ago.  “It doesn’t make sense that their kid would drag our recycling bin halfway up our own driveway to smash your tulips, when he could just come over at any time and rip them out himself.”

“Hmmmmmmmmmm” she answered, still staring at the house next door.

“I think it was probably just the garbage men.  Maybe the can was in the street so someone jumped off the truck and hauled it back far enough that it couldn’t blow into the street again.  It was pretty windy this morning.”  Chad was trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.  Kendall generally only fixated on the neighbors when she was upset about something, so she must not have moved the recycle bin herself.

 Our garbage men?  The garbage men who would rather sling the trash from the can on our lawn into the truck across the street rather than pick it up and physically walk it over to the truck?  Those are the garbage men you think got down and politely moved our can back a safe distance, rather than just running over it?”

Chad hated to admit it, but she had a point.

*****

Chad and Kendall did not mention the incident again for the entire week.  There were other things occupying their minds, such as watching back episodes of Game of Thrones and debating whether or not the new boy bands were any better than the old boy bands from their youth.  The answer?  Not at all.

The next Monday dawned bright, with birds singing and neighbors walking their dogs and waving hello.  Chad made sure to putter around for an extra long time in the kitchen so that Kendall was forced to drag the cans up when she heard the beeping of the garbage truck a street over.  She made sure to put the can on the other side of the driveway, away from the flower beds, thinking that any vandals would be too lazy to cross the vast expanse of their driveway, wide enough for one medium sized car.  

Chad left for work shortly after Kendall, using his iPhone to snap a picture of the can in it’s rightful place.  Besides, what were the odds that the bin would get dragged into the garden two Mondays in a row?  As a man who worked in banking, Chad knew his statistics, and he thought the odds were pretty slim.

Once again, the toils of the work day sucked the thought of garbage drama from Chad’s mind.  He was an addict, and numbers were his crack.  He had a brother who loved working outside all day, and who had joined a yard service to work on landscaping so that he didn’t have to work in a stuffy office all day.  Chad just didn’t understand that.  Chad loved numbers, because they were the same in any language and because math is timeless.  You never know what the weather in June will be like, but a percentage is always a percentage.  Chad was right in the middle of a tricky account reconstruction when he got a text message from Kendall.  Opening it up, he saw a picture of the recycling bin in the garden.  The caption read “you bastard.”  She had obviously left work early.

Chad sent back the picture he had taken that morning, thinking that it would shut her up.  She replied with “that doesn’t prove anything.  That bin is full!”

Chad turned his notifications off and resumed his work, ignoring his phone for the remainder of the work day.

Upon arriving at their block after a blissfully silent ride home, he noticed a familiar floral pattern peeking out from a neighbor’s shrubbery.  He pulled over.  

“Kendall?”  He asked, using his no-nonsense Man of the House voice.

“SHHHHHHHH” she whispered, louder than if she’d just told him to be quiet.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m on a stakeout!  You’re blowing my cover!”

Chad looked around, craning his neck to see out of the back windows of his Jeep.  “Who are you staking out?”

“Those hoodlums!”  Kendall’s voice was getting louder and had taken on a bitter tone.

“Hoodlums?”  Chad looked again to be sure.  “You mean…that Brownie troop?

Five little girls in brown and orange skirts, vests, beanies, and knee socks were ringing doorbells across the street.  It looked like they were doing some kind of fundraising.  One of them was in a wheelchair.  

“Let me get this straight.  You think a gang of little girls no higher than my car door are flattening your bulbs on purpose by dragging our recycling bin, which is larger than they are, into the flower bed? “

“I think the one with the wheels is the ringleader” Kendall said.  “Look how they all fall all over themselves to push her chair!”

“Kendall!”  He was genuinely shocked.  The girl scouts turned and looked at bushes when they heard Chad raise his voice.

“Hi Mrs. Johnson!”  They yelled in unison, waving.  Kendall half rose from her crouched position in the shrubs and waved back weakly.

“How do they know your name?”  Chad asked, waving back.

“Well I did give them ten dollars.  I’m not a monster, you know.”

“Get in the car” he said.  “You’re a crazy woman and I’ll not have my wife hiding in bushes harassing girl scouts.  Disabled girl scouts.”

“Technically they’re not girl scouts until they do a bridging ceremony.  Right now they’re Brownies” Kendall argued.  “It’s in the handbook.  You cross a river made of tin foil on a bridge your troop designs and you look into the foil halfway over and see your destiny.  Spoiler alert—it’s YOU.”

Chad stopped the car again.  “Did you steal their handbook?”

“No, I googled it while I was crouched in those bushes.  Duh.

*****

Chad was normally an easy going man, but after the lecture he had given to Kendall about the legal ramifications of staking out Brownie troops, she dropped all mention of the great Recycle Bin mystery for a few weeks.  Every Monday they would come home and find the recycling bin in the garden bed, and she would either help Chad drag it back to the garage, or watch from the porch silently.  

Every week the daffodils and other spring bulbs pushed up further through the mulch covering the beds in the lawn, and Kendall even went out of her way to transplant a few from what she had determined was the bulb danger zone in the center of the bed to other beds around their house.  It didn’t matter.  Someone was playing a trick on them, but she realized that she had put too much energy into what was obviously just a silly neighborhood prank, and it wasn’t helping anyone for her to get crazy and suspicious.  

Then, one bright afternoon, the first they’d had where it had warmed up enough for Chad and Kendall to leave their coats at home, it happened.  

Once again, Kendall and Chad had arrived home at the same time, and once again, the bin was in the garden.  However, this time, the bin had been placed firmly in the center of the bed where she’d just transplanted all of her daffodils.  

“THOSE ANIMALS!”  she roared to Chad, who had gotten out of his car but was still standing behind the open door as though it was a shield.  “THERE IS NO WAY SOMEONE IS NOT DOING THIS TO MESS WITH ME SPECIFICALLY.”

“Calm down” Chad began,  realizing as the words left his mouth that it was the worst possible thing to suggest to Kendall.

“You know who’s always hated my bulbs?  My mother.  She calls daffodils cheap garbage plants because they grow everywher, including the side of the highway where people toss their trash out of their cars.”

“I am almost one hundred percent certain that your mother does not come over here every Monday just to smash your garden.  One, it doesn’t make sense.  She’d just pay someone to come over and rip out the old flowers.  Two, it’s not her style.  She has no problem openly criticizing you, so why would she make a big secret out of it?”

“Just to make me crazy!” Kendall said.  “But it’s not going to work!  I’m going to call her right now and she can see how calm I am!  Look at my poise!  Look at it!”  

Kendall punched at her phone so hard that Chad could hear one of her Jamberry covered nails snapping off.  “Hello, Mother?  I’m fine.  Yes.”

Chad shut his car door and did his best to politely herd Kendall to the front door while she was on her phone call, hoping that he could get the door shut before the real shouting started.

“I want you to know that I don’t appreciate your attempt to change my lifestyle into one more like yours.”

Chad accidentally jostled Kendall in his rush to get her inside the house.  In the process, a rolled up circular that had been threaded through the handle of their screen door popped off and fell into her purse.  Chad winced.  He really wanted to see what had been on the door, but he also really didn’t want to go into Kendall’s purse.  Not when she was in a good mood, and certainly not when she was fighting with her mother.

“Well I know you think they’re garbage flowers, but I think they’re beautiful and seasonally appropriate and SUSTAINABLE AND LOCALLY SOURCED.  So next time you decide to trespass on my property..that’s right…yes, I said CRIMINAL TRESPASS.  Yes.  Next time, I’m going to…”

Chad had managed to squeeze his hand under Kendall’s elbow and into her purse to grab at the rolled up flyer.  He extricated it with the caution and precision of a surgeon removing porcupine spikes from a bear’s backside.

“Well obviously someone placed the bin there in an attempt to squash those flowers.  Yes, it DOES seem like something you would do, Mother.”

Chad unrolled the paper and read the personalized note written on the front.  It was from a local yard service.  He began to grin, and elbowed Kendall sharply, in an effort to get her attention for a few seconds.  

“Stop it, Chad!”  She resumed squabbling with her mother, so Chad waved the flyer in front of her face.  She snatched at it and began to read.  He could faintly hear her mother’s voice through the speaker of the phone, and her mother was not happy. “Oh.  Oh.  Mom?  Yeah, I’m sorry.  You’re right.  No, you’re not right about the daffodils, but I apologize for accusing you of trespassing.  Yes.  Yes.  No.  Yes.  Sorry.  Bye.”

She hung up, even though her mom was still saying something on the other end of the line.  Sometimes that was the best way.  She turned to Chad.  “Are you telling me someone has  been paying for this the whole time?”

“Yup. And we both just forgot.  Looks like we were both wrong.”

“Or we were both RIGHT.  It WAS done on purpose, after all.”

The flyer said “Lucky’s Lawn Service” at the top.  Chad’s brother worked for Lucky’s but lived in a condo, and as a result he often directed his free or discounted services to Chad’s address instead of his own.  Lucky’s usually came by to treat their lawn for weeds and for fertilizer on a regular basis, under the assumption that they were taking care of their coworker’s house.  Sometimes in the off season Lucky’s came by to prepare the beds or to make sure perennial shrubs were covered properly.  There was a checklist on the flyer as well as a section for comments.

“Thin out those bulbs, Mr. Johnson!”  was written in the comments section.  “They should be placed at least five inches apart.  You know better.”  In addition to the snide commentary, there were check marks to show that they were on week five of a series of lawn treatments.  The bin had been removed from the tree lawn so that all of the grass could receive the treatment, and placed conveniently in the overcrowded beds to kill some of the strangled, too thick bulbs.  

“Why didn’t we see one of these before?” Kendall asked.  

“I think we might have” Chad said, gently taking her purse and dumping it out on the coffee table.  Several rolled up papers tumbled out onto the table and floor.  Kendall frowned at them.

“Huh.  Maybe I should clean out my purse more often.”  She said.  

“Mystery solved” Chad said.  “Or is it?”

He and Kendall settled down for a nice dinner, minds free of the recycling mystery.  Meanwhile, outside, the youngest Bradford neighbor boldly walked his dog in front of the Johnson’s house, pausing only long enough to let his dog relieve himself on one of their nice, daffodil filled flower beds.

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