It had been a weekend of labor.

I was exhausted.

But I found myself digging through the garbage can at 10 o‘clock Sunday night.

I was in the predicament because the entire two hours I spent pressure washing the back patio and cement picnic table, the entire time I spent hoeing and watering the garden and flower beds and during each trip to the garage for another tool to use at the community garden, I heard the noise. Suddenly, sweetly, all Sunday afternoon long.

“Chirp … chirp … chirp,” it said. “Chirp … chirp … chirp.”

It came from inside the dumpster parked against our backyard fence. The thing that made it, I knew, was a small toy baby chicken that’s kicked around our house in North Carolina and now Greenwood for – literally – years. I’d purchased it for my daughter at Walgreens or Rite-Aid (probably Walgreens) from one of those displays of “junk” beside the register that stares customers in the eye the entire time they’re waiting in line. I don’t even think Kalista asked for it.

Anyway, this contraption fell into the “needless things” category in my mind. Sitting on a couch or kitchen counter, it was silent … but as soon as someone or something touched the two round metal contacts at the bottom, completing a low-voltage electrical circuit, it chirped. Chirped, chirped, chirped.

Somehow the toy had escaped my numerous cleaning escapades when I made the “tough” decisions that separated our family from one on the show “Hoarders.” As a father of a 6-year-old girl, there have been many, many, MANY trinkets and knickknacks and rubber stamps and bracelets and notepads and pencils and … you name it … that’ve ended their days in the trash can. It’s tough getting rid of these things, but the reality is they all cannot continue to be a part of our household without someone calling the Department of Social Services.

And this chicken? It was trash can material from the get-go. Kalista rarely played with the damn thing.

So when Dade, our mischiveous young black lab mix, opted to target one of Kalista’s Easter baskets earlier in the week, I quickly, briskly and savagely tossed the remains into the kitchen garbage can, which were later deposited in the dumpster outside. Hearing the chirping Sunday, I assumed that chicken had been a victim of Dade.

More about the dumpster. These things are actually 4-foot-tall wheeled garbage cans capable of holding the remains of four anorexic teenage models. Each Sunday night, I am among countless other city residents who wheel these assholes out to the curb, where they are emptied by sanitation workers and returned the following morning. By Sunday night, obviously, they have a week’s worth of trash inside. Since I cook a lot, that week’s worth of trash typically includes rotting foods, occasionally complete with maggots.

Still, the downside to getting the toy chicken out of the trash was nothing compared to avoiding the guilt that would come from leaving it there. That stupid thing had witnessed good times, hard times, evenings in front of the TV and numerous smiles. It had seen my daughter go from an inarticulate barely-non-toddler to the young lady she thinks she is today.

The county landfill is not where it belonged. I thought of “Toy Story 2” and the identity crisis those toys went through when they believed their owner had abandoned them. They fought tirelessly to avoid the landfill and won – only to reaffirm their loyalty to the guy who didn’t want them anymore.

Ridiculous thinking? Absolutely. But I didn’t care. That toy chicken deserved more, goddamnit.

I found myself, consequently, shining my Black and Decker utility light into the dumpster at the curb in front of my house. I’d gone back to the garage for the light after wheeling the dumpster out there, believing the incessant chirping I heard the length of the driveway wouldn’t be something I lost sleep over.

“Help me … help me … help me,” the chirps seem to say. “What did I do to deserve this?”

I pulled out the first kitchen garbage bag and put my ear close to it. The chirping was still inside the dumpster. I set the bag on the sidewalk. Then a second, and then a third bag of trash from the kitchen. Still nothing. I followed the chirping’s source back into the dumpster with the light. My arms weren’t nearly long enough to reach the bottom of the can, even when I stood on my tip-toes and jockeyed my body over the top edge like a stray alley cat looking for food. I thought how embarrassing it’d be to explain why I was doing this to a city police officer on patrol.

Still haunted by the chirping, I left the bags – one of which was emitting a liquid trail of presumably salmonella and/or hepatitis – at the curb and wheeled the dumpster back to the garage. I put it on its side, grabbed a long-handled gardening tool, shined the light inside and started digging. Scraps of yard waste, a broken chemical sprayer and garage floor material tumbled toward me. No toy chicken yet.

Finally, I bit the bullet and crawled in, pulling the decomposing organic material away from the empty bags of topsoil and cow manure with my bare hands. Chirp, chirp. It was in the deepest, darkest corner of this dumpster that seemed a lot bigger than it did before. I moved a clump of lawn mower clippings and there it was, at last, covered in dust, dirt and dead grass.

I grabbed it.

The chirping stopped.

I cupped the toy in my smelly hand and bent my wrist to my arm to make sure the refugee didn’t fall back into the trash as I carried it to safety. I stood up, brushed myself off and walked toward the flood light to see what condition the chicken was in.

“Wait a minute,” I thought, horrified, as I inspected the bounty. “This damn thing has bunny ears. What the Hell? This isn’t Kalista’s chicken!”

It was true. While it was a chicken pretty much identical to the one I thought it was, this asshole was wearing rabbit ears. The chicken I had was actually part of an Easter basket Kalista’d gotten from her step-grandmother on her mother‘s side of the family, whom I liked very little. I hadn’t minded when the dog ransacked the gift earlier in the week.

I was pissed and relieved at the same time. I took the furry rabbit ear-wearing hoax inside anyway. It was going in Kalista’s “memory box” of stuff that made me sentimental so I could tell her this story some day – the same destination I’d determined for the real chicken as I was digging through the trash.

Speaking of that chicken … do you know where it is?

Neither do I.

It will turn up eventually.

It always does.

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