There are a lot of vivid memories retained from my childhood Springs, Summers, and Autumns spent in the Hamptons. Most of them bleed together in a recollected blur encompassing one long summer that saw me grow from the ages of 4 to 14 in a single life experience spurt. I know it’s not possible for so much to have happened in one crazy summer, especially when I’d lived in 3 different houses during the process. Normally, a lightning rod for long term memories and their surrounding circumstances, I find myself unable to reconcile the exactitude of this particular place over such a long span of time. Maybe this is so because the activities were so carefree and child-like: Intense football games on the sands of Atlantic Ave beach and East Hampton Park, browsing through lewd cards and pez dispensers at the Penny Candy store, and last but not least trips to the town dump.
As a young child there was really no place more stimulating to the senses than the East Hampton Town dump. Not only were the olfactories assaulted with the stench of rank rubbish ranging from disposed foodstuffs to rusty machinery, but the mountains of trash stretching nearly as far as the eye could see also provided a visual feast for the imaginative. Somewhere in there, there had to live a sort of trash beast that feasted on milk cartons, soda cans, and broken beach chairs.
Perhaps the greatest thrill for a me as a kid was the opportunity to toss a glass bottle into a deep refuse ravine in the hopes that it would shatter into a million pieces upon making contact with something equally unable to withstand impact of said hurled item. Never before was a preteen boy’s penchant for destruction ever so quenched or left unfulfilled as on a trip to the dump.
So it was with a suppressed , childlike thrill I reacted this past Wednesday when my mother proposed that I help her take a few things to this very same East Hampton Town dump. I envisioned that the steep mountains and narrow gorges that I marveled over as a child and was most recently reminded of during a viewing of the film Wall-E, had only grown bigger with ever-more-breakable items thoughtlessly disposed of.
A brief portion of my Wednesday evening was spent fantasizing over the rancid expanse. The prospect of causing some minor amount of harmless destruction thrilled me to little end. I looked longingly at our array of empty beer and wine bottles, only I didn’t see empty beer and wine bottles. I saw shards and fragments flying about in a victorious storm, the product of a haphazardly tossed green Heineken grenade.
Thursday morning arrived with a sense of anticipation and though I coolly inquired about when we’d be heading to the dump, inside I was filled with an immature giddiness. Unfortunately, I learned all too soon that we would not be tossing bottles, vases and other combustible javelins into the waste abyss. Instead we’d be getting rid of a broken umbrella, some flowers that had conjured up quite a stench and a broken dehumidifier unit.
Though my destructive ambitions had taken a hit, I took a bit of solace in knowing that launching that heavy dehumidifier down the hill would likely send some spare parts crashing into one another with knobs, dials and pieces of plastic dispatching themselves in every which direction. I hopped in the car, hopeful that I’d get to knock a few things around before the hour was through. The entire five minute ride to our destination was filled with “are we there yet?” anticipation, which came to a fever pitch when we finally made the turn.
Expecting to be met by a pungent wall of odor and Mount Trashmore, instead we came to a booth checking permits prior to entry. My mom pulled in to an administrative building to pick up a permit and drove around once more to pull into a parking lot to another covered structure. Rather than launching the umbrella into the wild junk yonder, we anticlimactically parked near a trash bin labeled “non-recyclables” and dropped it along with the flowers inside.
It seemed that people were no longer casting off their expendables into a sea of scraps, but separating them by classification, that lent a higher purpose to that which was being disposed. Cans, bottles and big bags of trash weren’t just tossed for the seagulls to pick at and eventually choke on. This was no longer the “dump” that I had shattered fragile projectiles at 20 years prior. It had grown up into a more responsible, respectable “town recycling and composting” center.
While I had an abiding respect for the way the town had come to view its responsibilities towards trash disposal, the wind had gone out of my sails. I got back in the car as my mom drove to the discarded electronics area where I was to deposit the dehumidifier with the other failed appliances. On the way we drove past the hills once fertile with refuse now transformed into large mounds of compost ripe for more environmentally friendly decomposing. It was at once encouraging and saddening; a sign of newfound respect for the environment and a bygone memory all in one.
Finally we came toward a three-sectioned awning which was separated into old furnishings, used tires and past their prime electronics. I got out and retrieved the dehumidifier from the trunk, placing it next to what was probably a ten-year old TV whose only misfortune appeared to be that it was not of the flat-screen variety.
I walked back to the car and closed the door and as we drove off back past the compost heap, through the permit checkpoint and on towards home I felt nothing but disappointment. I know progress is a good thing, but sometimes it’s just not that exciting.