Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Treasure Amidst the Trash

I have only ever reposted blog posts of my own before. I have never simply found someone else's story or article and pasted the entire thing in my blog. But a couple of weeks ago on a Friday I was riding to work, listening to my book on tape. I looked at the clock and it was 6:25. Time for Story Corp on NPR. I got there just in time for the following story.

My Friend Chris posted a story a while back about what his kids want to be when they grow up. It was cool. Ainsley was thinking about being a cashier. Muluken was thinking about being a baseball player. We need both, right? We also need cafeteria workers and cops, teachers and custodians. We need ministers and trash collectors, judges and doctors and the folks who pump out septic tanks.

When I worked in Indiana (The Paddle) there was a custodian there who was among the hardest working people have ever known. Miss Sarah was over 70. She walked to work. She loved that school. I saw her on her hands and knees in our tiled hallway cleaning the baseboards with a small brush. She was a good sport about my classroom - always a bit of a mess. But she made that school shine. She had more pride in her work than many of the teachers in that building. A great deal more. Miss Sarah was an inspiration.

In the following Story Corp piece two NYC sanitation workers reflect on their lives collecting garbage. And they talk about the friendship they formed after working together for many years. I was moved and it served as an important reminder about dignity and self-worth. These guys probably didn't start out as kids dreaming of being sanitation workers, but it is clear that they did an important job well.

It is one thing to read their words, but I'd recommend hearing their voices too. It is that cool NYC accent that makes them even more endearing than simply the text. There's this place in the recording when Bruno says that he is, "a bit of a marshmallow anyway," so when the people on their route began to cry when his partner was going to retire... you just have to hear it in his voice. Click on Listen to the Story below and it will take you to NPR's website. Then click on Listen to the Story again to get the media player going.


Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves

Angelo Bruno (left) and Eddie Nieves worked together as sanitation employees for nearly 10 years before Bruno retired.

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September 3, 2010

Angelo Bruno, 60, spent more than 30 years as a sanitation worker in New York City.

He and his partner, Eddie Nieves, cleared more than 14 tons of garbage from the city streets each day.

But the two men, who worked together for nearly 10 years, found many treasures among the trash.

"Everybody would just come out just to talk to you," Nieves, 55, said to Bruno when they visited a StoryCorps booth recently.

People along their route in Manhattan's West Village neighborhood would greet the two and offer them coffee or breakfast, Bruno said. And nuns on their route would kiss them.

"The younger guys would ask me, 'How did you get that?' It's just a little good morning, have a nice weekend. Hey, you look great today," Bruno said. "I could do 14 tons of garbage — I can't lift a baby carriage off a step and carry it down? Or hold someone's baby when they went to get their car?"

"When I first came on the job, there was one old timer ... I remember Gordy Flow his name was. One day, he stopped the truck. He tells me, 'Angelo, you look down this block first. See all the sidewalks are all crowded up with garbage?' So I think nothing of it. My father always told me to respect my elders. I get to the end of the block, and he stops me again. 'Get out of the truck, look back. Nice and clean right? People could walk on the sidewalk. Guys can make deliveries. Be proud of yourself,' " Bruno explained.

People along the route approached the two men when they found out that Bruno was retiring.

"We went maybe a block or two blocks, and six people came up to him saying, 'You're crazy. What am I going to do when you leave?' " Nieves said.

Bruno said he never thought his last day would be so emotional.

"He's crying. They're crying. I'm crying watching them cry. And I've been very lucky, because he's been the best partner I ever had," Nieves said. "We used to try and take the same vacation, and try to take the same day off. And I miss my partner."

Bruno misses his former partner, too: "I feel the same way, Eddie. I'll be honest with you — I miss it terribly. I'm like the little kid looking out the window now when I hear the truck. I think I could have done another 31 years."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Jasmyn Belcher.

1 comment:

Chris Hass said...

Thanks for posting this. I know I've said it to you before, but I love Story Corps. A few years ago when Tricia and I were both teaching in Richland 1 (and riding together each morning) we made a point to listen every Friday morning. There were so many touching stories. It always made me wish I had listened more closely to the stories my dad told.

Story Corps came to St. Louis a number of years ago. The silver trailer was parked just a few miles from our front door. Not so surprisingly, it was booked almost immediately. People were so eager to come and have their stories recorded.

I still think there's something in the Story Corps idea that would be wonderful in a classroom. A taped interview of a grandparent, close family friend, parent? Part of a culture study? Change over time? Oral histories vs written histories? A bit generic, I know. Still, I really think that with more thinking there's something substantial waiting to be discovered.

The trashmen reminded me of The Car Talk guys on NPR. Big, bold, but soft too. Very lovable. You're right...we need really good people doing all types of jobs. I wonder, though: was the fact that she was "Miss Sarah" and you were "Mr. O'Keefe" sending a message to the kids at your school that your job was more valued than hers? All the custodians I ever had were known by their first names yet the teachers were called Mr. and Mrs. I wonder why that is?

Oh, I was thinking about pasting a piece I recently read on an outside site (and really enjoyed) onto my blog this week. I say as long as it's prefaced with a personal connection it's all good!

And lastly (wow this is getting long)as much as I loved hearing the Story Corps I was just a bit disappointed to not hear more about the lady with the tight shirt. Where's that post?