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Short Stories by Peter Dabbene

“Suburban Complaint # 673: The Leaf Pickup”


1) Last week of October – receipt of mailer notice from the township informing that leaf pickup will begin next week and continue until the end of November. I make a mental note to rake some of the many leaves that have accumulated in the backyard, unraked, over the last five (5) years.


2) Second week of November – After exhausting all available tactics of delay, I proceed to rake the aforementioned leaves, resulting in the disturbance of one (1) rabbit nest, and the filling of twelve (12) ShopRite Sturdy Trash Drawstring plastic garbage bags. The plastic drawstrings are drawstrung, and the bags are deposited on the curb, separate from other garbage, as directed in the mailer.


3) Garbage pickup continues as normal. No leaves are picked up.


4) I note, upon casual review of the mailer notice, that I have erred. A line buried deep in the details of the mailer states that “leaf bags should be left open.” My bags have not been left open. Perhaps this is why they have not taken my leaves. I resolve to solve.


5) Having tied tight foolproof knots with my bags’ drawstrings, I am forced to use a pair of scissors to cut open the bags, thus fulfilling the township’s request. I take some consolation in the fact that, being unable to untie the foolproof knots, I at long last have at least semantic proof that I am not a fool. Or… is it just the opposite? Damn.


6) In the greatest exodus since the Israelites blew out of Egypt, many of the neighborhood leaves are freed from their bags during a series of windy days. The smarter and/or lazier neighbors, the latter a group to which I had until this year belonged, watch from inside their houses, laughing hysterically as their lawns are cleared of dead foliage and the occasional rabbit. I watch helplessly as the wind claws at my poor (no longer drawstrung) bags, which clutch each other for safety like small children at the Neverland Ranch. I attempt to help them by tucking the open end of each bag down toward the ground, to minimize the effects of this, a very ill wind indeed.


7) I awaken and look outside, discovering that during the night, four (4) of the twelve (12) leaf bags have disappeared, leaving eight (8). They have blown away, no doubt. The poor sucker at the end of the block, I notice, now has five (5) different kinds of empty trash bags fluttering around his house, along with a dozen lawns’ worth of leaves.  


8) With only one week left until the end of scheduled leaf pickups, there are still two (2) other neighbors with bags of leaves on their curbs. They, too, have withstood the angry winds and await their reward, a prompt and courteous pickup of their leaves. We wait in solidarity, together.


9) Water falls from the sky, in the form of light flakes of crystallized ice, which some call snow. The precipitation accumulation results in the coloring of the world a shade of white, the hither and thither of childhood delight, and of course, the postponement of scheduled leaf pickups.


10) First week of December – signs are posted around town advising that a special leaf pickup will be made on December 8th.


11) December 8th – snow. See item #9.


12) Second week of December – still no sign of leaf pickup. The other two neighbors’ leaf bags have disappeared. I suspect that they have succumbed to governmental pressure, undue influence, and common sense, and have brought their leaf bags to one of the designated leaf drop-off areas under their own power, though perhaps not of their own volition.


12a) To the question: “Why wouldn’t you just take your leaves to the leaf drop-off area yourself?” I respond: “My trunk is full, and the leaf bags are dirty – I don’t want to scum up the inside of my car. Besides, now it’s a matter of principle. I mean, I pay taxes for this stuff, right?”


This is a sly move on my part – by invoking the “matter of principle” argument, I am performing the time-honored trick of misdirection, allowing the questioner to assume that, as in most situations, the “matter of principle” here is secondary to the true motivator: my own well-documented, occasionally excessive frugality. However, by leading the questioner to believe that cheapness is the secret number one motivator, I protect from discovery the true number one motivator – that being laziness.


13) I decide to seek help and/or additional information. Having misplaced the original “leaf mailer,” I search for the proper department in the local Yellow Pages’ “Blue Pages ‑ Government Phone Numbers” section. Scanning the list of local agencies and phone numbers, I see neither the word “leaf” nor “pickup.” I do see a phone number for “Officer Friendly.” I am tempted to call and say hello, but I do not wish to waste the time of Officer Friendly and cause him to perhaps not be so friendly in the future. I also see a line that reads, “If The Office You Wish To Call Is Not Listed Above Dial The Following Number For More Information.”  Impressed by such indiscriminate use of capitalization, I resolve to capitalize more myself, and I call the number.


14) A Woman Answers, And I Explain That I Seek Someone Who Can Illuminate The Mysteries Of Leaf Pickup. She Says That I Need The Office Of Public Works, And That She Will Transfer Me.


15) I explain my situation to the man at the Office of Public Works, who seems more shocked by my statement that there are bagged leaves on my curb than he would be if I were to inform him that his grandfather liked to frolic in the streets wearing women’s dresses. He takes my name and address, and says he will have someone take care of it. 


16) Third week of December – with the leaves still not picked up, I realize my mistake from my previous phone call (see item #15) – namely, that I did not specifically ask WHEN the leaves would be picked up. I call back and get the same man, who does not seem to remember ever having spoken to me before. I repeat the tale thus far, and mention that it might be nice if the leaves could possibly be picked up before Christmas. He takes my name and address, and says he will have someone pick them right up.


17) First week of January – having realized that “right up” is a relative rather than an objective measure of time, I call again to seek clarification. This time, I am transferred directly to the offices of Waste Management, the company the township contracts for refuse removal. It occurs to me that someone, somewhere, is putting the “refuse” back into refuse pickup. Kelly, the woman at Waste Management, is very nice. I lower my demands, explaining that all I need to know is whether they will EVER come to take my leaves or not, just please tell me the truth. She says that she will see what she can do, and takes my name, address, and phone number. “I’ll get back to you either way,” she says.


18) Second week of January – more snow. The leaf bags are now frozen solid. Kelly has not called. Outlook bleak.


19) Third week of January – worried that the presence of the eight (8) leaf bags may retard the growth of grass underneath come April, I call the Office of Public Works once again. I explain the situation once again. Shock, surprise, “We finished with leaf pickups back in December.”  I give my name and address, explain that I have called three times before. The man, whose name is Manny, puts me on hold a moment to look something up. He comes back on the line and says, “Oh yeah, I’ve spoken to you before.”


20) Now that Manny and I have established the history of our relationship, I ask Manny, confidentially, what he can do for me. He tells me that they are no longer picking up leaf bags. I ask if I can put them in with my regular garbage. Manny, as before, is shocked. “No, man, you can’t do that.” But, he says that I can have my leaves picked up along with grass clippings and other debris. Just put them next to your regular garbage, no more than ten (10) bags, he says. I explain to Manny that this won’t be a problem, since I only have eight (8) bags. “Okay,” I tell Manny, reviewing. “I put my leaves right next to my regular garbage and they’ll take it – I leave the bags open, right?” “No,” says Manny. “You have to tie them up.”


21) I hang up with Manny, and go directly outside to the bags of leaves.  I attempt to re-tie the severed drawstrings and move the bags down the curb to where the regular garbage awaits. Alas, the bags are frozen to the ground, and cannot be moved without tearing.    


22) I reflect that petrified leaves in plastic bags must make some sort of modern artistic statement against the futility of confining nature, and decide that I will leave the bags where they are, until the weather warms or someone offers me a gallery show, whichever comes first.




Publication details:
Dabbene, Peter. (2009). "Suburban Complaint # 673: The Leaf Pickup." peterdabbene.com (accessed ).

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