Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Before Charlie killed himself he made one last trip to the dump. He wanted to leave things neat and tidy for his family.

The dump lady was pretty shook up about it. Charlie had just left with his emptied trailer. It was a typical Oregon late-winter morning -- dark gray and green and pouring rain.

I had pulled up to the little entry shack where you pay before dumping your garbage. I don’t really know the dump lady but see her every couple of weeks when I haul out the recycling and trash.

There’s a dollar off if you recycle at least ten pounds of stuff. And another dollar off for the senior rate. “Two bags, senior, recycling,” is about all I had ever said to the dump lady. I give her the seven dollars and she says, always stopping to think about it first, “That’s, ah, in Bin Number…” and directs me to one of the four giant steel bins that later gets trucked to the Lane County landfill.

But this day the dump lady needed to tell me about her tomorrow-to-be-dead customer. “He said he was in a hurry to get home because he had to call all his friends today and let them know.” I was waiting for Bin Number directions, rain splattering in my open window. “You know, he’s the second person in Cottage Grove that’s done this.” I turned off my engine.

It seems that Charlie was old and had cancer and just didn’t want to suffer through chemotherapy. So he decided to wrap things up, neat and tidy, and be done with it. (Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon.) Tomorrow was the day. But first he had to get rid of a trailer-load of junk.

The dump lady and I speculated about what we would do if it was our last day like that. We agreed that going to the dump in the rain probably wouldn’t be a priority.

But on the other hand, why not? Charlie was doing an admirable thing. Based on my experiences dealing with a house full of stuff to get rid of after someone dies, Charlie was doing his family a big favor. There’s a fuzzy line between heirlooms and junk. Generally, few of the first and a whole lot of the other. One day that recliner is a treasure. The next day a dead albatross, likely hanging from the neck of somebody once dear. One day a lifetime’s worth of priceless objects. The next day junk fought over by the kids.

Today I took another load of recycling and trash to the dump on a typical Oregon early-spring morning -- light gray and green and showers. I had been wondering how Charlie’s story turned out and wanted to ask the dump lady. Actually, I don’t even know the guy’s real name but had started to think of him as “Charlie.”

The dump lady and I went through our little routine about fees and directions and then I asked her, “Did you ever hear how it turned out for that guy who was going to kill himself?”

“Oh yea, I asked the fellow who had helped him move his stuff. It went off right on schedule. A doctor was there. His sister arrived the next day. I guess she was going to try to talk him out of it.”

We agreed that she probably couldn’t have changed the guy’s mind. But you never know.

“It wasn’t how I would want to go,” she told me, “but it’s your own choice. I voted for it.”

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act was approved by voters 16 years ago. It “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.”

From the back of the dump lady’s shack grunted a smoker-raspy voice from an unseen woman: “It should be legal in Florida.”

“Lots of old people there who should use it?” I laughed.

Enunciating each syllable the now-hostile voice said, “That - is - not - what - I - meant - Sir!”

I suppose death is no laughing matter. The showers had passed and a truck honked for me to hurry up.

“Well, they’re lined up behind me so I better go,” I said. What I didn’t say was, “I wonder how many are lined up in front of me?”

“You know, I never got his name,” she said.

“I always thought of him as Charlie.”

She tried it on. “Charlie. All right, we’ll call him Charlie.”

~ ~ ~

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