Dad was a thrifty, amateur mechanic. Although this would occasionally backfire, he usually got the job done. Our full size van had some damage to one of the doors, and it didn’t quite shut flush with the body. This was a standard door, not the sliding door you see in minivans. He went to the junkyard and found a replacement door. This was before YouTube, so it required some creativity and ingenuity to get the old door off and the new door installed. It was a different color, of course, so we were THAT family for a while.
So that picture isn’t 100% accurate, but you get the idea. It turns out that getting the door replaced was the easy part. The real challenge was disposing of the old door. Since we had a big family we somehow ended up with two city trash cans. They are big, hard rubber cans and the door fit nicely into one of them. Well, it fit nicely except the fact that the lid wouldn’t shut at all. The lid was wide open, and it was obvious that a van door was sitting there in the trash can. We dutifully put the two trash cans by the curb on trash day. One can was filled with trash bags from the house. The other can had a huge van door wedged into it. I was pretty sure they weren’t going to take it, but Dad said it was trash, so they should pick it up.
He heard the garbage truck coming and went to the window to watch. Dad said that the trashman took one look at the ridiculous door sticking out of the trash can, visibly shook his head, and moved on to the next house. Dad was incredulous. A challenge had been issued. A gauntlet thrown. There was no turning back now. To do so would be a strike against his manhood. That van door was trash, by golly, so the trashman WOULD pick it up.
Dad decided that the problem was the amount of door sticking out of the top of the can. During the next week he concocted a plan. He went to work with his bench vice and sledge hammer. He had to break the window first. Then he managed to hammer down the top part of the door to the point that the trash can lid would at least sit down on the door, but anyone paying attention would still see the banged up van door. Dad figured it was good enough, and that the trashman didn’t really pay that close attention to what the truck was picking up. The next trash day we once again dragged the enormously heavy can out to the same spot by the curb. The air was electric with anticipation as Dad heard the garbage truck coming into the court. He rushed to the window to behold his ultimate victory, but the wary trashman was on to his schemes. The clever fellow took some extra time to investigate the can, and the still recognizable van door clumsily bent inside. As though toying with Dad, he seemed to consider picking up the can, but instead quickly hopped in the truck and moved on.
I was gone during the day, but when I got home I eagerly asked Dad how it went. He retold the tragic tale with frustration and chagrin, but also admiration for his adversary. I asked, “So, what are you going to do this week, Dad?”
He replied in a deep monotone, “The same thing I do every week, Bryan. Try to take over the world.” He didn’t really say those exact words, but that surely was his tone and demeanor. The trashman had mocked him, made a fool of him, and upped the ante. This would be the week. Dad would see victory.
Obviously, the key was to get the trash can lid completely shut, and that was going to take some work. This was Dad’s personal project, so I don’t know exactly what he did. Neither did I offer to help, intrinsically knowing that this would be an affront to his masculinity. For hours we could hear the clanging of hammers and the whir of power tools from the garage as he mysteriously worked his magic. Like a mad scientist in his lab, sparks flew as Dad threw every bit of willpower, wit, and brute force at the van door. He finally managed to get it folded in two different places, so it wouldn’t stick out of the top of the can, but it wouldn’t fit in either. He spent more hours figuring out how to flatten it, finally making some progress when he put boards on it and drove over it with the very van from which it was pulled. (In hindsight that seems kind of disturbing, like feeding scrambled eggs to the chickens who laid them.) The investment in sweat and tears paid off in the end as he was able to fit the door into the can with room to spare. In an inspirational moment of genius he put a trash bag on top of the compacted door to hide it completely from view. He had the win in hand. All that remained was to claim the prize.
For the 3rd time we lugged the trash cans out to the curb, once again setting the van door can in the same location as the previous weeks. There they sat, both looking completely innocuous, with lids closed and with the street number painted in white on the fronts. It was a trap, waiting to be sprung.
The Summer morning dawned like any other. Humid, still, unaware of the epic battle unfolding on this lazy suburban court.
Coffee in hand, Dad stands on the front porch, bravely showing that he will not be intimidated. It’s not that he isn’t afraid, but rather, he has the courage to take action in spite of his fear. There he stands, as the distant rumblings of the garbage truck slowly near. The truck rounds the corner into the court and Dad surreptitiously takes a sip of his coffee as if he is simply out enjoying the morning air. The truck picks up the first can and flips it over, depositing the contents into the compacter in the back. The trashman eyes the 2nd can suspiciously as he moves the truck forward. Dad nonchalantly leans against the banister, watching, waiting, with dread and anticipation. The front yard is the only space separating the two combatants, and in a fateful moment their eyes meet. Neither looks away. (I don’t know who backed down first, but I like to picture Dad resolute and unwavering.) The trashman looks again at the 2nd can. He knows something is amiss, but without searching through the trash he can’t be sure. The moment stretches out timelessly … He finally extends the truck’s arm and lifts the can. The gears whir as the heavy can is hoisted in the air. It tips and Dad watches as a bag falls, quickly followed by a dull hunk of mangled metal. It thuds as it lands. Dad smiles. The trashman looks ahead to the next house, and the corner of his mouth turns up in a small smile too. He is a worthy knight who fought well, and he is willing to recognize defeat. The garbage truck drives away as Dad finishes off the best cup of coffee he’s ever tasted.
Flush from his victory, Dad regales us with the tale later that day, laughing with unsuppressed joy. Something is bothering me though. “Dad, you spent countless hours messing around with that van door over the past few weeks. All that aggravation and annoyance, not to mention damaged tools and scraped knuckles. Couldn’t you have just taken the van door up to the landfill? It’s like 5 minutes up the road.”
He shakes his head regretfully at me, his apprentice squire. “Sure, but this was so much more satisfying. It’s the principle of the thing, Bryan.” I realize I still have much to learn.