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When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with garbage trucks, garbage collection and garbage men. Is “Garbage Man” politically correct? Just realizing I haven’t updated this memory to 2013. I’m from the last generation to grow up pre-Internet and pre-peanut-challenged children. I’m a bit old. So forgive me, “Trash Collector”, “Waste Manager”, “Disposal Artist”?

The garbage truck is my earliest memory of being obsessed with something/someone. When I’d miss the roar of the garbage truck, my parents would call me so I could run to the window and watch. I was in awe of the truck. A little afraid, but mostly fascinated by this half-truck half-monster that rolled down my street, feeding on garbage. I thought that’s what happened to our garbage; the truck ate it up. Because, like, where the hell else would it go?

I also grew up pre-recycling. So, I had no idea there was such a thing as pollution or landfills (although I did learn a little later the rainforest was being cut down for our hamburgers). Looking back, it was a pretty idyllic time. (Except for the rainforest and the Monarch butterfly extinction scare of 1985!) No one had ever heard of gluten, Family Ties was on TV, we played “doctor” IRL instead of sending each other private part pics. I imagine that’s what goes on today. I don’t have kids… another reason why I’m not in touch with stuff. Don’t be fooled by my use of “IRL”.

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But it wasn’t just the truck I loved. I was obsessed with the garbage men. The way they threw the bags into the truck, going from one side of the road to the other, yelling stuff at each other in secret garbage man language (or in retrospect, French). I couldn’t believe how they jumped on and off the truck while it was moving. These guys had handles built on the sides of the truck for them to hold on to while I had to be strapped safely into the backseat of my parents’ car like an asshole.

It was at that point I resolved I was going to be a garbage man when I grew up. Actually, my dream was bigger than that. Keenly aware that I had yet to spot a garbage woman, I vowed to become the first! How could I have known about girl power so many years before the Spice Girls, you ask? I have no idea.

The Garbage Man Stakeout

In a recent bout of nostalgia while writing my upcoming Montreal Fringe show, “Obsession” (PLUG ALERT!) I decided to revisit my first obsession. My first move was to try and track down the man known as “Garbage-Spider-Man”. I went on two early morning stakeouts, one in St. Henri and one in Westmount near NDG.

I asked the garbage men I saw about this elusive figure– he wears a costume and does ninja-style moves off the truck– but they seemed jealous I wasn’t asking about them: “I think he’s in Hollywood making films”. Early mornings are rough on a stand-up comic, so after two stakeouts, I gave up. You can read about him here. If I had seen this guy when I was a kid, my head might have exploded.

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My second, far more adult move was to contact the City of Montreal to organize an interview with a garbage woman. That’s how I ended up in the break room of a garbage depot in Griffintown with a group of men in orange reflector vests playing a card game called “Le Fouin”. They were all friendly, if not a little curious about what Phil (founder of The Main), Anik (Communications Director for Ville Marie) and I were doing there. I explained that we were there to interview France Beaudin.

Yo, Garbage Women Are Badass!

France Beaudin is pretty badass. She looks like the kind of woman Disney might base a cartoon on if they were in the business of putting out more female characters in vein of Brave. She has two kids she raises on her own and likes her job because of the security, the schedule and because it keeps her in shape. France used to be pretty serious about judo– probably one reason the guys don’t mess with her too much.

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I told her about my childhood obsession and she said that’s another part of the job she likes– going by garderies and seeing all the kids waving and waving back. Guys, I was normal! Little kids still love garbage trucks. France’s four-year-old son is always excited to see her truck. Um, like so was this 30-something-year-old woman. Anik gave me a reflective orange vest to put on and all of us went out back to take photos with the truck. LOOK HOW HAPPY I AM!

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France is one of only two women that work as garbage women in the Ville-Marie borough. The other one, Carole, drives the truck, which is obviously not as physical. I asked France what it’s like to work in a man’s world. It’s a question I get asked all the time: “Tell me Jess, what’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

“Tell me France, does everyone think you talk about your period all the time?” I asked her in my head.

France said she’s pretty much just one of the guys. That said, people do make a lot of ridiculous assumptions and seem pretty shocked she’s capable of doing her job. People are shocked I do comedy too! But, that’s not because I’m a girl. It’s because I’m so pretty, I tell myself. I also asked what her friends thought of what she does and it was the same response I get: “Wow you’re brave, I would never do that.”

So, I didn’t become a garbage woman, but hey– I did get to meet a pretty great one and found out we had a few things in common. She’s also really pretty, by the way.

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 France’s Short List

  • Don’t buy the garbage bags from the Dollar Store (or cheap bags that rip easily).
  • Cat litter in the summer is the worst (in case you needed another reason not to like cats).
  • If it’s hard for you to drag that bag to the curb, your bag is too heavy! Imagine you’re checking in at Air Canada and spread that shit out.
  • Despite the prejudices, more women should get into garbage collection and hang out with France!
Jess Salomon is a former war crimes lawyer turned stand-up comic… heralded as “a person who makes fantastic life choices”. Be sure to catch her show “Obsession”, premiering June 15th at this year’s Fringe Festival.    
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