We are trying to contain the aromas of summer


WHETHER YOU are rich or poor, young or old, wired or wireless, your trash stinks. It is part of the cycle of life. After expiration comes redolent decomposition, especially in August.

Anyone caught downwind of a fragrant sanitation truck recognizes this aroma as part of a Maryland summer. Proust had cookies to link him to memories of his past, we have the bouquet of spent crabs and other leavings from the summer table.

Part of our civic duty, our contribution to the commonwealth, is to donate waste, sometimes twice a week, to the municipal scrap heap. But until trash collection day, the rubbish remains with us. That stinks.

Recently I battled this malodorousness by using two techniques, one time-tested - soap and water - the other new-fangled- odor-fighting trash bags. The soap and water method is simple. You scrub the kitchen wastebasket, or the larger trash cans in the alley with soap and water. Cleanliness, the Bible advises, is next to godliness, but when you are up to your elbows in a sudsy trash can on a muggy summer's day, virtue is a distant concept.

As I scrubbed my alley trash cans, I thought of death and politics. When you are dealing with decaying matter, it is a short mental leap to mortality. Moreover, years ago as a kid assigned the Saturday duty of cleaning the family trash cans, I dispensed death in a direct way, pouring a pot of boiling water onto maggots that had set up residence in the bottom of fetid receptacles. Maggots, the larva of flies, are unappealing creatures, but they are tough. Only boiling water, not tepid tap, can knock them off. They also have been around since the dawn of time and have inspired some pretty decent writing about recycling.

Shakespeare, for instance, noted their role in returning our bodies to nature's basic elements. He put it better, having the ever-reflective Hamlet say, "We fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes for one table: that's the end."

Politics came to mind during the scrubbing session for several reasons. One of the trash cans, a black plastic number with "Believe" emblazoned on it, was a gift from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. One day, as part of the mayor's effort to clean up the city, a truck dispensing the trash cans rolled into our center-city neighborhood. A neighbor snagged a can for herself and one for me.

Political analysts in other parts of the country may wonder about the wisdom of this kind of linkage - every time you take out your trash you are reminded of your mayor. But in my experience, trash is at the heart of the Baltimore political scene. I recall a spirited fight back in the 1980s when William H. Murphy Jr., then a Supreme Bench judge, ruled that Mayor William Donald Schaefer could not reduce city trash collection to once a week. The issue carried over to the 1983 mayoral elections. Murphy, a candidate for mayor, won the trash fight, but Schaefer won the election.

I remember reading some years ago how City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro engineered what I still regard as the quintessential act of constituent service in Baltimore - getting rid of stinking crabs. Mimi got a city dump to stay open so that Augustino "Bud" Paolino could make late-night deposits of fragrant crabs from his East Baltimore crab house. Sadly, the city councilman and the crab house, once fixtures on the Baltimore landscape, are no longer with us.

New technology is helping battle the age-old trash odor problem, a fact I discovered this week when I held an impromptu "stink off" at my home, testing three types of odor-fighting trash bags.

A key development on the trash-bag front is the ability of a scent to blend in with the foul odors and neutralize them. This strategy of infiltration, combined with more flexible bags is, according to a spokeswoman for Glad Tall Kitchen Bags, largely responsible for recent victories over stench.

Indeed the Glad Bag (40 bags for $6.99) with its three-ply odor-shield did an excellent job handling the chicken bones, watermelon rinds, coffee grounds and other redolent material I stuffed in it. So did the Hefty Kitchen Bag(40 bags for $6.49) with its Odor-neutralizing patch and the lemon-scented America's Choice Tall Kitchen bag (15 bags $1.59).

I let all three bags, stuffed with garbage, molder overnight. The next morning when I stumbled into the kitchen I smelled nothing wicked.

As I picked up the bags and sniffed for more evidence, I heard a trash truck rolling down the alley. Quickly I bound the three bags into one, and presented the trash guys with a bundle of technology-wrapped refuge. It smelled not of decay, but of citrus. Or as Shakespeare might put it, "Something lemony-fresh this way comes."

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