t Waste Management by J. M. Miller | Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine '


Waste Management

by J. M. Miller


I am buying a fancy garbage can.  It's the sort of thing you can only find far away, so I have to purchase it online.

Katherine calls.

"You'll never guess what I'm buying," I say.

"You're buying a fancy garbage can," she says. 

I am crestfallen.

"How did you know?" I say.

"Because they ran a big thing on them in the Times , and you always buy something when they run a big thing in the Times ." 

Katherine is like this: full of shabby empiricism.

"Well," I say, "You'll never guess what I'm going to buy next."  I haven't actually planned to buy anything next.

Katherine pauses a minute.

"You aren't going to buy anything next," she says with finality.

Clearly, it is not my day.


The garbage can arrives.  Katherine says I should throw a party.

"For what?" I say.  I'm not known to throw parties.

"To celebrate the garbage can," she says.

I think about it.  It's not really an option.  I don't have the tools, the necessaries, the infrastructure.

"We can use the garbage can," she says. 

It offends me, dozens of faceless guests tossing their waste in my new garbage can. 

"Not like that.  We can place it in the center of the room—like an idol." 

I look at it, freshly emerged from its packaging.  Crumpled cardboard and plastic peanuts lie scattered around it, the withered leaves at the base of a new bud.  It is shiny and, with proper preparation, it could be magnificent.  In short, it makes a fine idol.  But it would take up too much floor space in the center of the room.

"We can use it as the punch bowl," she says.

It is settled.  We are throwing a party.


A true punch has five ingredients.  There is haggling.

"Rum," I say.  "Rum, vodka, Curaçao, tequila, and pineapple juice."

"Rum," she says.  "Rum, vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and peach nectar."  Katherine is a devotee of peach nectar.

We reach a compromise minutes before the guests arrive.  A red liquid sloshes over the brim as we drag the can to the center of the room.  We dip plastic cups, toast the idol, and drink.  Pink stains linger on our lips.  The doorbell rings.

"Hello," we say, as our guests cross the threshold. "How are you?"  The door opens and closes, the bell buzzes, plastic passes from hand to hand.  At some point the music goes on.  A man I've never seen before spills on the couch.  It is official: the party has begun.

"Nice punch bowl," someone says, arms akimbo and admiring.

"It's not a punch bowl," I begin.  "It's a garbage can.  I bought it after reading a thing in the Times ."  But no one is listening, because an obscure but catchy song has come on.  All my guests are clamoring to name the band and say they like them. 

I dip my cup.  I have to bend surprisingly low to reach the liquid.  The inside of my elbow brushes the slick brim.  It stains my shirt.  Across the room, over the music, I hear two single friends discuss the punch bowl together.  They have never met, but they make a good match; they are equally desperate.

Katherine drifts over. 

"Some party, huh?"  She smiles.  The places where her teeth and gums meet have turned light pink.  "Everyone loves the centerpiece."

"But they all think it's a punch bowl," I say.  "They keep saying 'nice punch bowl.'"

She looks at it.

"It is a punch bowl," she says.  "Look at how everyone goes over to it.  They dip their empty cups in and pull out cups full of punch.  You couldn't do that with a garbage can."

I think about this.

"It wouldn't be sanitary," I say, cautiously.

"Exactly," she says.  "It wouldn't be sanitary."

We are quiet a moment.  I use the time to fill my cup again.

"Cheers," Katherine says, once I've drawn it up.  We butt Solo cups.  My armpit is wet with punch.  "To sanitation."


I wake up alone.  I am wearing a white Oxford shirt with pink splashes down the front.  The sleeve shows a strawberry meniscus at the armpit and the elbow.  I am not wearing pants. 

In the living room, the inside of the centerpiece is dyed red.  The color climbs up the sides in fading bands, like the stripes on a dock at low tide.  I grab a sponge and go to work.  My head throbs.  The stains remain unmoved. 

I straighten up and pause for breath.  Empty cups stand all around the room.  Some loll drunkenly; some pile inside each other.  A few bow and scrape towards the once great receptacle.  The lowest expose their yawning openings.

I look around for my phone: no missed calls, no new messages. It is time to do something decisive. I clear my throat for an announcement. I address the night's wreckage. I disown everything messy.

For once I have made myself perfectly clear.  In twos and threes I cluster cups in my hands and toss them into the fancy garbage can.  Soon it is brimming.  It makes a pleasant but hollow tinkle on its trip to the trash room.   

When I return, my phone and I sit quietly on the couch. I listen to my own words hanging unchallenged in the air: impressive, manifesto-like.

BIO: J. M. Miller is working on a dissertation on Victorian literature.  In his spare time, he casts withering glances at people who think George Eliot was a man.