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I began my Saturday by carrying out the trash.

That is when I discovered that my trash cans were missing. Somebody had stolen them, again.

This was the third time in 13 years that somebody has copped my cans. This time the trash cans disappeared on Memorial Day weekend. The time before that, it was Christmas of 1989. The first time the cans were hijacked was just before Halloween in the mid 1980s.

My trash cans seem to be stalked by a perpetrator who celebrates major American holidays every 3-4 years by sneaking into alleys and snatching battered rubber forms.

I took the loss of my trash cans well. One of the benefits of being a veteran homeowner is that when domestic calamity strikes, you expect it.

The first time my trash cans were lifted, I went crazy. I jumped in my car and conducted an alley-by-alley search. I never did find my missing cans, but I learned something. I learned that I never again wanted to poke around strange alleys. The things people put in their trash. Disgusting!

The second time my trash cans were stolen I reported the theft to a passing police officer. Judging by the reaction of the officer, I think it is safe to say that catching trash can thieves is not the highest priority of America's men and women in blue. The policeman was cordial. But he was busy. I got the feeling that after the policeman had dealt with the matters of murder, rape, robbery and auto theft, he would get right on this trash can caper.

As a previous victim of trash can theft, I looked on the bright side of the recent larceny. At least this time the thief took the trash that was inside the cans. The time before last, the perpetrator dumped the trash, then copped the cans.

I was, however, burdened with the duty of replacing the missing receptacles.

This was not a task I took lightly. Trash cans matter to me, as they do to many right thinking people.

A few years ago, for instance, trash was a big issue in Baltimore politics. In 1982 Mayor William Donald Schaefer wanted to change the city's trash pickup schedule to once a week. City Councilman George W. Della Jr. objected, saying the city was bound by ordinance to keep the old twice-a-week schedule. The matter went to court, where Judge William H. Murphy Jr. of the Supreme Bench ruled in favor of twice-a-week trash. A year later Murphy went on to run against Schaefer for mayor. Schaefer prevailed in the mayoral contest but lost the trash fight.

I followed this matter closely because it had a direct effect on my life. If the city went to once-a-week collection, I would have to buy bigger trash cans.

It didn't. I kept my old trash cans, until the holiday heister struck.

Image makers say that how a fellow handles his trash tells us a lot about him. When, for instance, junk bond millionaire Michael Milken was trying to convince us he was just a regular, sympathy-deserving fellow, he had himself filmed taking out his family's trash. The trash ploy didn't work. It might have got that rotten smell out of the kitchen, but Milken got 10 years in the big house.

As for me, I know what I need in a replacement trash can. I want something squarish, made of rubber, with a high-quality lid. I customize my trash can lids, attaching them to the body of the can with a piece of clothes line. This keeps the lids from disappearing. At least until the entire apparatus, lids and all, vanishes.

I have finally resolved the big question, namely what message to paint on the sides of new cans to prevent them for being stolen.

I painted my address on my former cans. It would work keep thieves away for three years or so. But then its repellent power would wimp out. I got the idea for a new trash can inscription a few days after the heist, watching one of my kids' Little League games. I was on the sidelines talking about trash can theft with another Little League dad. As anyone who has spent time watching a Little League game knows, after a few innings, any subject, even trash cans, is considered lively fodder for conversation. Anyway, the shortstop's dad suggested I paint a skull and crossbones on my new trash cans. It symbolizes danger, he said, and scares away thieves.

Moreover, he said the skull-and-crossbones technique had been field-tested. When he put the skull-and-crossbones image on his wife's bag lunches, he said, her lunches stopped disappearing from the office's fridge.

It is worth a try.

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