The Waste of Man
By Chris Milam
I watched a guy take a dump in someone’s backyard in the fall of 2011.
A few of us rudderless vagabonds were chewing time at a rundown temp agency. This was not a place to land a gig as a middle manager at some local business that made headlines in the Sunday edition of the Journal News. It was the final voyage for the desperate, when yes was the only answer allowed when offered any job, no matter if we were interested or not. We were the family dog hoping Honor-Roll-Johnny would slip us a fatty hunk of an overcooked pork chop under the table. We walked there every morning because most of us didn’t have cars, or if we did, they strained across the streets of Hamilton on hypothetical gasoline fumes. We came for the complimentary coffee and plastic chairs. We stayed because there was nothing else to do.
We gathered behind the brick building to smoke cigarettes. Well, bum a cigarette then smoke it, if your charm game was strong. Homeless people aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the concept of handing out free cigarettes. A Marlboro Light was something to behold, to worship at its slim, smooth altar. When you’ve lost your family, income, clean clothes, loving memories, hope, self-respect, access to a meat lover’s pizza, and all the other sad residue of being a spiritless nobody, cigarettes became important. Earned income credit important. In-Progress on Submittable important.
Once, I landed a brief job through this agency. It was at the Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, a forgettable town a few miles to the east. They paired me with a guy who owned a vehicle, though we didn’t speak the whole way there. Quiet sat next to quiet and that was fine by both of us. We left the Texas-sized parking lot and made our way to the hectic kitchen and met Scott. He was in charge of all the ne’er-do-wells who worked in the shadows. I was assigned the harrowing task of washing dishes. Stack, scrape, rinse, dishwasher x 10,000. It was a bit demeaning if I let my mind play around with that destructive thought, but I was also genuinely grateful. I was making a few bucks and doing something other than feeling sorry for myself from sunrise to sunrise. I only worked there for three days, but they let me cook that last day. Stirring scrambled eggs, sliding trays of bacon into the oven, slicing tomatoes, getting intimate with the sausage gravy. It was somewhat cathartic and rewarding. That sounds pathetic, I guess, but at that precise moment in time, when I was an addicted feral smudge, I felt reborn. Or a rung above not dead.
The best part about that job, besides the free lunch, was break-time. They had a smoking hut with picnic tables; it was a pleasant tomb to chill out for a spell. And those ashtrays. Oh, my. I beat everyone there on my second day, and I didn’t have any cigarettes. The silver, cylindrical ashtrays were a buffet of used tobacco. Jack shook the hand of the pot. I was like a farmer harvesting acres of corn, stuffing my pockets with quarter-smoked Pall Malls, and half-smoked Virginia Slims, and the Nobel Prize of ashtray diving, the barely-smoked Marlboro Light 100. I’m almost certain Jesus winked at me from above. I morphed into Tom Brady minus Gisele, the Super Bowl rings, and his Ark of the Covenant face. I wanted to write a victory speech thanking my unknown co-workers for not being selfish and hotboxing their cigarettes down to the filter. I filled my belly and wrecked my lungs that week.
Beneath a groggy sun, a man with gray denim skin dropped his pants, squatted, and relieved himself. In someone’s backyard. Behind a cute, two-story light blue house. The tiny, immaculate lawn was introduced to the waste of man. He did not appear to be embarrassed. His pockmarked face revealed not a shred of pride, or a shade of red, it was almost defiant. I looked at him, the ground, within, and then back at him. I wanted to scream at him for disrespecting the owners of the house and himself, and for reminding me how my life couldn’t possibly sink any lower. Or ask why not use the restroom inside the office? Was it out of order? But the truth is, when a man takes a dump on someone’s property in full view of his homeless brethren, he’s probably done. He pulled up his saggy jogging pants and walked back inside the building, presumably for another cup of coffee.
I don’t know how I truly felt that day. Disgusted. Angry. Lonely. Empathetic. Confused. Empty. Disgusted. But now, when I’m driving down High Street, the carotid artery of Hamilton, Ohio, I glance out the driver-side window at the former home of that temp agency. It’s gone now, replaced by a payday loan company, but it still holds the wrong kind of memories, the ones that make you cringe or cry or go quiet. The ones men in backyards want to forget.
I hope he’s still alive and surviving. I hope I was wrong, that he was not done. Maybe he’s a middle manager somewhere around here, sitting on the throne in his office restroom, thinking about redemption and lost years and discarded cigarettes, same as me.
Chris Milam lives in the past. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, Ellipsis Zine, Jellyfish Review, (b)OINK, The Airgonaut, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.
Photography by Gessy Alvarez