When I wake up Monday mornings, just like most middle-aged slobs, my most fervent prayer is: Please God, let nothing remarkable happen. Just give me a ho-hum week. Keep it on an even keel.
So you can imagine my reaction when I walked out of my house on Monday morning and I saw a gigantic dumpster squatting in front of the house two doors down.
I said: "Oh, God, will Bob Ryan stop at nothing to get back at me?"
It was a hulking, rusted monster overflowing with rocks and schmutz and great hunks of trees that had been scooped out from somebody's yard. And as big as a troop ship! I expected an entire Kosovar village to empty out of it momentarily. And I thought: This is a nightmare. It's going to be here for months, isn't it? Every day more hideous junk will be piled on top of it. Old mattresses. "Lamar for President" buttons. Immense, reeking crates of unsold copies of "Monica's Story."
Once you let a dumpster into your life, it's almost impossible to get rid of.
Sort of like Marion Barry.
America's Best-Loved Feature Writer, Mr. Henry, had a dumpster in front of his house for 14 months. "The workers showed up for three days, and then they were gone. It was the beginning of deer season," Henry explained. "Then it was dove season. Then trout season. And soft-shell crab season . . ."
But what can you do, right? If your neighbor is having work done to his house, you have to grin and bear it. My street is his street.
Except in this case the work was being done ON ANOTHER STREET! It was the big house around the corner with a pretty front yard, completely unmarred by any enormous, stinking trash receptacles.
Like I should have this thing on my street so it won't clash with the Mercedes parked in front of your house?
Excuse me? Is my house up on cement blocks? Do I have chickens in my yard?
I did what anybody in an upwardly mobile neighborhood would do. I called the dumpster company and said if the dumpster wasn't removed in 24 hours I would turn it into a Starbucks.
"We just put the box where the contractor tells us," I was told.
The box? Is this something from Tiffany? Howzabout I tell you where you can stick the box?
Apparently, my diplomatic restraint did the trick. It was gone by the next evening. It had been there 36 hours. Another few hours and folks on my block would have called in NATO and asked for "The Swedish Embassy Special." (You know, a few windows blown out, a couple of walls crushed in, but no fatalities.)
I later walked over and talked to the people who were having the work done. They assured me they didn't know where the dumpster had been placed. Maybe they thought Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys had put all their garbage in sachets and flown them to Neverland. Come on, boys and girls, clap if you believe in fairies.
The crisis averted, I recovered enough to be able to read the paper. And -- great news! -- a bill had passed the House that would allow high school graduates who reside in the District of Columbia to get an in-state tuition break at state schools throughout the nation. This was terrific, since my 16-year-old daughter would be entering college in a couple of years, and I had hoped to send her as far away as possible.
That's when I was slammed by the second rude shock of the day. Toward the bottom of the story, I read that Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) was opposing this bill on the grounds that it would be outrageously expensive. He wanted the children of the nation's capital to be limited in their choice of state schools to Maryland and Virginia. As in: anywhere but Vermont. We're happy you like Ben & Jerry's, but please, let us send you some.
Excuse me for taking this personally, but with her characteristic sophistication and academic acumen, my daughter had narrowed her choice of schools using the standard: "somewhere cold." Vermont was at the top of her list. Plus the University of Greenland, which I don't think qualifies as a state school.
I called Sen. Jeffords's office and told his press guy: "Gosh, we've always thought of Senator Jeffords as `Uncle Jim' in our house. Now we find out that Uncle Jim not only doesn't want my sweet baboo to go to college in Vermont -- but he also wants to `means-test' the D.C. kids. If their families make over a certain amount of money, he doesn't want them getting in-state tuition. This from a man who already enjoys the great benefits of our capital city, such as garbage pickup in months ending in `y,' and drinking water that hasn't killed anyone in weeks. He has two children. You think we insist that they be means-tested to get into our fine local school, the University of the District of Columbia (motto: `Just Like a Real Kollege')? All I'm asking for is a little reciprocity."
The press guy proceeded to tell me all the great things Jeffords had done for education in Washington, and how he reads to an elementary school kid every week for an hour. He even sent me a fax nine pages long about what a positive force for D.C. students the senator is. I felt so much better. But since my daughter already knows how to read, maybe the senator could come over once a week and walk my dog.
I could sense some discomfort in the press guy's voice. And being the remarkably empathic human being that I am, it struck me that this was his rude shock of the morning. I could almost hear him sweating, desperately spinning how he would break this to his boy. "Great news, senator, The Post is going to feature you in an article about higher education!"
I had to feel for the guy. He wakes up in the morning, wanting nothing more than a ho-hum day to spread the good word about the gentleman from Vermont, and the next thing he knows, some fat, bald columnist drops a dumpster on his career.
Maybe he can turn it into a Starbucks.