The Sunday Magazine

A COVID-19 confinement chronicle: week three — Michael's essay

"Thinking about garbage got me thinking about the people who collect it ... They are however, crucial to the workings of a city, like bus drivers, firefighters, cops and grocery store workers."
A sign warning people to stay two metres apart greets visitors to Sudbury's Bell Park. (Erik White/CBC)
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For some reason, I got to thinking a lot about garbage this week. We seem to have more of it than in the pre-isolation era.

The newspapers pile up; in the kitchen, the blue box overflows; the recycling bin is packed. Perhaps eating at home all the time increases the garbage intake. That would explain the pizza cartons. Thinking about garbage got me thinking about the people who collect it. We rarely think about them until the once-every-10-years garbage strike, and then we obsess about them as the junk piles up in the parks. They are however, crucial to the workings of a city, like bus drivers, firefighters, cops and grocery store workers.

It is a mean, tough job. Garbage workers don't have the luxury of working from home. They do the job in all kinds of weather, winter storms or August heat waves. They are taken for granted, like daycare workers, cabbies and school crossing guards. If the COVID-19 virus teaches us anything, it's to pay attention to people who rarely intrude on our thoughts. Frankly, if I were told to choose between Bay Street lawyers and garbage workers, I'd have to think about it.

One of the minor fatalities caused by the pandemic is the print edition of Playboy magazine. It was on the down slide, anyway; COVID-19 pushed it over the edge. As it goes, so go a lot of teenage memories for men of a certain age. The first issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover was published in 1953.

Later in the somnolent '50s, when rock and roll exploded, the combination of the two hit male adolescents like a Force 9 sexual gale. Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Hugh Hefner inflamed an entire generation of young boys and scared the hell out of their parents. As we got older, we liked to tell people we read the magazine for the articles, not the centrefold. How easy it was to lie.

Hefner concocted the Playboy Philosophy which was supposed to tutor young males in the ways of sophistication and refined hedonism. Ten years later Betty Friedan would write The Feminine Mystique almost as a direct counter to Hefner and his works and the debate was on. Hefner died at the age of 91 and is buried next to Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood.

Garbage workers don't have the luxury of working from home. They do the job in all kinds of weather, winter storms or August heat waves. They are taken for granted, like day care workers, cabbies and school crossing guards.- Michael Enright

Toronto drivers, as we all know, are the worst in Canada: rude, reckless, incompetent road ragers. It was only a matter of time before the worst of them would use the pandemic-emptied streets as race tracks. Stunt driving and speeding are on the increase in a major way. According to police, speeding offences have increased almost 30 per cent over the same period last year. Stunt driving offences, where the driver is going more than 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit, have more than doubled over last year. One driver crashed his car, apparently driving at 160 kilometres per hour in a 30-kilometres-per-hour zone.

Pandemic or no pandemic, some things never change.

Physical distancing doesn't protect us from sad news, unfortunately. Mel Watkins died this past week at the age of 87. Though his name and fame might be unknown to younger Canadians, in the '60s and '70s, he was the country's leading economic firebrand. He was a passionate economic nationalist. He alerted Canadians to the dangers of foreign ownership of the country's resources, especially by the United States. The Watkins Report in 1968 detailed American control of our economy. He was a proud left-winger. He co-founded the Council of Canadians and took a special interest in the Indigenous people in Canada's North. He was a delight and a challenge to interview. I will miss him.

Are we in danger of becoming a nation of distance scolds? We are supposed to stay two metres away from each other, but on narrow, crowded sidewalks, it's difficult. People give each other dirty looks while waiting at an intersection for a green light.

The other day, a woman was sitting on a bench at a busy intersection angrily shooing away people who got too close. She had her coat, backpack and grocery bags strewn across a second bench, refusing to move them. After giving me a dirty look as I approached the bench, she took out a rosary, blessed herself and began to pray. No doubt thanking her heaven for small mercies.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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