Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Officially, my job is to inspect hospital radiology departments. That’s what I got interviewed for. In all fairness, they did tell me that I would also go out on emergency field calls. Little did I suspect that I would find myself paying visits to the city garbage dump on a regular basis, Geiger counter in hand.

The city dump? Huh?

Well, what happens is that people go to the hospital, where they get injected by one of my former co-workers with a radioactive drug (radiopharmaceutical) for their scan, and when they go home, they don’t follow the instructions of what to do with their trash. The city picks up their garbage the next day, and when that trash truck arrives at the city dump, it passes through—and sets off—the radiation detectors.

Radiation detectors at the city dump?

That’s right, boys and girls: from California to Maine, trash trucks in this country (and others) drive through a gigantic, sensitive radiation detector when they drive in the front gate.

So the city called me, Friday.

“Hey, Tom. One of our trucks set off the alarm. Can you come check it out?”

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

When I go out on a call like this, I am not expected to show up in a suit and tie—the uniform we wear when inspecting hospitals. Tennis shoes and a short-sleeved shirt are de rigueur. Hey, it’s hot out there.

So I drive out there, and whip out my $25,000 device (I’m not telling you what it is, or where you can buy one. Actually, you can’t buy one. If you tried to buy one without a permit, stern men in dark business suits and even darker sunglasses would show up, asking your neighbors questions about you.). I start walking around this radioactive garbage truck, and I’m waving it at all of the usual places where radioactive trash would be hidden inside the vehicle.


Hm…I don’t want to release this truck, and have it come back to bite me. What’s probably going on is the patient who went home got injected with some Technetium 99m-based radiopharmaceutical, and with Technetium’s 6 hour half-life, it decayed down to background before I got there.

But, what if I’m wrong? What if I’m not putting in enough effort to find whatever’s inside this truck? So I detached the probe from the body of the device, and started poking and prodding parts of the garbage truck that I normally ignore. I took that probe, and started vigorously inserting it into all kinds of obscene nooks and crannies. From a distance, I looked like a desperate porno star with a fetish for big trucks.

I discovered something fascinating. Something I had never thought about, before: along with all of the solid waste that goes inside garbage trucks, there is a fair amount of liquid waste. A large Coca Cola from last week’s visit to McDonalds. The half-empty jug of milk. The Coors from last night’s party. You know how at the Jack Daniel distillery they filter the raw whiskey through a gigantic barrel filled with charcoaled oak, and collect it at the bottom? Well, this liquid waste has been filtered down through old pizza, half-eaten In N’ Out double doubles, and baby Jesus’ used diapers. And it’s all sloshing around at the bottom of that garbage truck.

Well, boys and girls, my $25,000 government-issued radiation device—whose name I will not tell you—found the latch that releases all of that lovely, fermented liquid via the trap door at the bottom of that garbage truck.

I heard and unfamiliar “click”.

Then the trap door flew open.

Remember when George Clooney and John Turturo stared in awe at the flash flood that was bearing down on them at the end of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”?

Well, that was me. My jaw dropped, and I stared, immobile, while a wall of pickled trash juice came right at me.

Self-preservation instincts took over, and I jumped away in a rather impressive flying ninja leap of death. I believe that I screamed, “Blegthuperwhoa!” at the top of my lungs while my body flew backwards.

I almost made it.

Sure, 98% of that liquid landed harmlessly in the soft dirt, in front of me. But that other 2%.

Oh, that 2%...

From the waist down, I looked and smelled like a homeless guy had vomited on me.

Did I mention that I took the train to work, that day? (I keep the Celica in the garage at work, and only use it for hospital inspections, and field calls). People on the train kept sniffing the air, and glancing around. I just sat there, my nose buried in a book about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When I got home, the Basset Hound was thrilled. She ran up to me, tail wagging a hundred miles an hour, and couldn’t stop circling and sniffing me. She said, “Wow, you smell great! Where have you been?”

1 comment:

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