It was my high school science teacher who got me interested in people’s trash. If you would’ve known him, you would understand. The man was a lunatic. Imagine a cross between Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Emmitt Brown from the Back to the Future movies, and you’d have a pretty good description.
He was the one who stood in front of me and about twenty other students one day and said that from a scientific perspective, garbage was the most important thing in the world. To him, archaeologists and anthropologists didn’t get much of their information from the things ancient civilizations had left behind, but from the things they threw away. From their garbage.
That little fact may well be the only thing I remember from high school science. It’s managed to stick like a burr in my brain for twenty years. Maybe that’s why I get such a kick about taking the family’s garbage to the dump. I get to see what other people are throwing out. It tells me who they are and what they care about. And, maybe more importantly, what they care about no longer.
I was at the dump the other day when a truck backed in beside mine. The man climbed into the back and began tossing bags over the railing and into the dumpster. I tossed a few of mine.
“How ya doin’?” he asked me.
I tossed a few bags of my own while we made small talk about the weather. I finished unloading before he did, so I leaned against his truck as our conversation wore on.
The man had finished with the garbage bags and was now tossing in other castoffs. A Tiger Woods poster that had come unrolled in transit. Four tiny golf clubs and an even tinier pair of golf shoes. A Nike golf hat.
I was beginning to see a pattern.
“You got a kid who’s a golfer?” I asked him.
“Was,” he said. “Not anymore.”
I nodded. I knew too well the fickle nature of a child’s attention. What he or she is inseparable from one day is landfill fodder the next.
But that wasn’t exactly the reason in his child’s case, because just then he held up another crumpled poster and said, “It was his fault.”
“My kid loved golf, and he loved that guy,” he said. “We’d go down to the par-3 almost twice a week. He’s only seven, but he’s pretty good, you know? But then all…that…happened, and even though he can’t understand much of it, he hears stuff other people say. The other day I was out mowing, and I saw all this stuff in the trash. Said he didn’t want to play anymore.”
“I tried talking him out of it,” he said, tossing the poster into the dumpster with the anger and hiss of a fastball. “But I couldn’t. He just said he didn’t care anymore. But I can’t blame him. I did the same thing once.”
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“Yep, back in the 80s. I was in Little League. Loved Pete Rose.”
“Let me tell you something, buddy,” he said. “There ain’t no heroes anymore.”
He jumped from the bed of his truck and waved goodbye, leaving me to ponder his last words.
There ain’t no heroes anymore.
Was that true?
I thought back to the heroes of my yesterdays, surprised that I had so many. I was equally surprised to remember that all of them had at some point let me down, whether through their poor choices or the realization that the person they portrayed to their fans and the media wasn’t the person they truly were.
I guess that’s what happens when we put someone on a pedestal. We try to be like them and forget they’re often trying to be someone else. We see the ideal, but not the reality.
The pessimist in me says that anytime we put our faith in another person, we’re sowing the seeds of disappointment. Because it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or how famous you are, in the end you’re nothing but a person. A fragile, weak, fallen person. No different from anyone else.
But the optimist in me says different. He says that we all need someone to look up to. We all need someone who lights the fire of a dream and sets an example. And I believe that. I really do.
But was that man right? Are there really no more heroes?