Whenever I have nothing else to do I worry about the garbage barge now sitting off Long Island, N.Y., after a journey to the Gulf of Mexico and back. Newspaper reports indicated that absolutely no one wanted the 3,000 tons of refuse and that is why the barge returned.
I found out that this information was wrong. When I approached the barge in the Central Islip inlet, a man with a shotgun shouted, "Stand back or I'll shoot you. What are you doing here?"
"I just came to see the garbage."
"That's what everyone says, but we're not fooled. You want this trash for yourself."
"That's not true. We have all the garbage we need in Washington and we don't want any of this stuff."
"You may have garbage," he said, "but it's not the high-grade New York variety."
"What's so special about New York garbage?"
"It contains everything from pickles to forged traffic tickets. We have nuclear waste and McDonald's coffee cups. People in New York have a very high standard of living and therefore they dispose of only the best in the way of refuse. You couldn't find a better variety of trash than we have on this barge. And we're not giving it up to anyone no matter how much you beg for it."
"I'm not going to beg. New York is entitled to its own rubbish. What kind of landfill will your garbage make?"
The man laughed. "Only the best in America. Did you know Atlantic City would fall into the sea if it weren't for Manhattan trash?"
"What I don't understand is if you have such great slop why no one would take any of it when your barge sailed south."
"That was a good-will trip in which we wanted to call on southern ports and Mexico to bring regards from Mayor Koch," the man said. "And it was very successful. When we showed up with the waste in Mexican waters they met us with gunboats, planes and helicopters. Old-timers said they had never seen a garbage scow given that kind of a greeting by the Mexican navy before."
"That's a real honor."
"The U.S. Navy is talking about bringing us to the Strait of Hormuz to show the people in the area that the United States means business."
"Why would they want you to do that?"
"We could show the American flag, and if the Iranians hit us, how much damage could they do?"
"This garbage scow has really paid for itself. At the rate you're going, there is no sense dumping any of the refuse into the sea. You could make more money selling it to tourists."
"We're considering that. There are a lot of people from Greenwich who would give anything for our bilge."
"Did you ever dream when you loaded this scow that its cargo would become so sentimental for so many people?"
"New Yorkers are funny that way. When they are loaded down with trash they keep screaming for someone to take it away, and when it's gone they cry for someone to bring it back.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he yelled.
"I just picked up a crushed Coca-Cola can and a Kool-Aid wrapper."
He raised his gun. "Put it down or I'll shoot. That is the property of the people of Central Islip and the EPA."
"I'm sorry. Every time I see a scow filled with New York garbage I lose my head."