I always "try on" my trash cans before purchasing — jogging potential can-didates down the aisle of the store so I can select the one I can best maneuver. This is for those inevitable mornings when the trash collectors arrive before my first cup of coffee and I have to do the pajama-dash down the 15 steep steps to my Baltimore curb bumping a full trash can behind me.

Two weeks ago, I was alerted by a door-hanger that I would receive a new trash can from the city within the next few weeks at no cost.


It also stated that I could be fined for not storing trash in a durable can with a tight-fitting lid. Good! Because rat carcasses festooning our streets are more than a public image issue: A recent study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that city residents who have rodent problems are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety symptoms. I'm not entirely certain that even the most rigid plastic can deter voracious vermin, but I guess I'll have to wait for another Hopkins study to confirm what my gut already tells me.

Now, I realize I shouldn't really look a gift garbage can in the mouth, but the one that was delivered two days later is The Incredible Hulk of trash receptacles. It's 42 inches tall and 26 inches wide, and I'm 64 inches tall and I'm not going to reveal my width. The point is, when I dragged it up my steep steps empty I was winded; its 65-gallon capacity could easily store a month's worth of refuse festering rodent-free inside. Problem is, I would never be able to get it down my steps safely. And neither could my husband, who uses a cane.

The warmish weather and festive garland of Jolly Green Giants lining our Mount Washington street brought the neighbors out on delivery day. The couple next door informed us that there was a prior door-hanger giving residents an option of refusing the can by calling 311, but either the wind or our dog must have confiscated that messaging.

Enter our indefatigable neighbor. In her early 90s, she just doesn't take any rubbish — or rubbish receptacles, apparently — from anyone anymore. She had called the city to refuse the ridiculously large can, but one was delivered to her anyway. She told us to leave our trash cans out and she'd arrange for pick-up.

Luckily, my husband was outside last week when the city came by to pick up the cans. They loaded our scrappy neighbor's can into the truck and prepared to drive off. He called out to the city workers: "Aren't you going to pick up our can and our other neighbor's, too?" They asked if he had called to arrange for it. He said he hadn't — one neighbor had called for the three of us. They checked an enormous printout that cascaded out of the truck like Santa's Ungrateful List, but we weren't on it. They were sorry.

Didn't they have return forms with them, my husband asked? Couldn't they just take a photo of the can's serial number? They politely said no.

"It's just that you're here," he said incredulously.

The city workers drove off and my husband went inside and made two separate calls to two other polite city employees who scheduled a pick-up. He then notified our other neighbor that he would have to do the same.

So the next day, the city came by and picked up our can. But not our neighbor's. He apparently hadn't made the call yet.

And then came the morning when my husband heard a knock on the door, and, surprise! It was the same city employee who stopped by to pick up our can last week. He said he was notified he had to pick up a can at our address.

Speechless, my husband pointed to the neighbor's can across the street, and suggested the city worker take that one.

It seems that this "Baltimore Trash Can Rumba" is destined to continue down the street and throughout the weeks ahead. Don't get me wrong, I want a cleaner and healthier Baltimore City. But this program seems fraught with, well, waste.

I look forward to the data that indicate a significant decline in the rat problem as a result of the more than $9 million taxpayers spent on this program. But the data better include the high costs of these return shenanigans — or else it's just plain trash.

Janet Fricke Combs is a freelance writer living in Baltimore. Her email is janetfcombs@gmail.com.