Though I grew up in a predominately Italian neighborhood, with cookie cutter houses sprinkled across lanes, courts, and avenues in a suburban oasis, my mother was a Colombian immigrant whose parents were from a shanty town outside of Bogotá. My father was a dyed-in-the-wool Mick. In most Italian neighborhoods, that heritage might have led to a long and windy road of unfortunate that would tragically end in “early suicide” or another missing persons ad. But for some reason or another, my family was more than just “good” in our town; we we’re liked, maybe I’d go as far as to say respected.
For the majority of my childhood, I woke up for school on Wednesday to the sound of garbage trucks and the smell of the Colombian blend coffee my parents drank at the kitchen table. Years later, that Colombian blend came to mean something else altogether.
On Tuesday nights, Mamá always cooked some sort of food like cazuela de mariscos that smelled to the high heavens. I always thought she planned it for those nights so when pops took the garbage out, the night crawlers wouldn’t go rummaging through it too long before it was carried away by local rubbish management in the wee hours.
On Tuesday nights, my father also stayed up hours past midnight, brewing and drinking coffee to fight the urge to sleep. Those late nights, he enjoyed a little coffee in his Jameson, if you catch my drift. So, taking out the trash was not just some peaceful domestic chore, but instead a drunken commotion, full of colorful Irish banter and the sound of crashing trash cans on the side of our house. My father always cleaned up after though, more than he ever cleaned inside of the house. He made sure those cans were lined up like he had a Masters in linear algebra. And yet, every Wednesday morning, there they were empty and toppled over like all the others down our block.
Whatever he didn’t finish from the bottle on Tuesdays nights made it into his coffee on those Wednesday mornings.
When I was 17 years old, I snuck out one Tuesday night to get a blow job from some girl who lived a few blocks over. With my dad’s temper, it was a risky proposition, but I knew if I got back before the garbage men came, I’d be in the clear. I strolled back, feeling like the man, when I could hear from the parking lot the crescendo of tin cans. Shit, I had come back too early.
My father was stuffing the garbage with a bag of last night’s leftover boiled cabbage. He put one last bag of garbage into the bag, tied the trash tie, and closed the lid. Then, he dragged the trash out to the curb and stumbled back into the house. I waited for him to stagger upstairs before attempting to enter my house. I slipped to my room undetected and slept as well as a recently ejaculated teenager possibly could.
As the morning came, I woke to the smell of coffee. I walked in a daze to the bathroom to piss and looked out to see my father taking out the coffee grinds before the garbage trucks came. I looked down in my early morning fog and noticed a stain of hardened cum and ruby lipstick at the bottom of my Hanes tee shirt. Mamá would go completely loca if she saw this, so off to the trash I snuck to dispose of the evidence.
The stench of the discarded boiled cabbage was almost too much to bear as I removed the lid. So I tried to maneuver as quickly and quietly as I could to take care of this shifty business. I figured the best place to stick this shirt was in the bag my father just brought out. I untied the bag and inside, covered in coffee grounds, I discovered a brick of what I would find out later would be Colombian cocaine.
The dots began to connect. The stinky meals. The Colombian blend. The pass to live in the neighborhood. Just then, rounding the bend was Mario’s Rubbish Management truck. I threw everything into the trash and stood there frozen, petrified. A large man hopped off the back of the truck as it pulled up. He grabbed the trash, and shouted, “Tell your old man Mario says ‘top of the morning’ will ya?”
He winked and tossed back the empty tin can to the curb, it rolled silently to the curb. I know it made a noise but my heartbeat was deafening. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to face my father. As we both stood there in the early twilight, we watched the truck drive around the bend and into the distance. From his grip, I knew there was a conversation to be had. I just hope it could wait until the coffee and whiskey was long gone from his breath.