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This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Washing the Tin Foil

I’m in London, washing tin foil. That statement doesn’t make any more sense to me than it does to you, but it’s true, nonetheless.

I’m on an extended holiday in England where I am visiting friends. The advantage to staying with locals is not only the excellent room rates (free!) but also the opportunity to learn local customs — such as the ritual washing of the tin foil. You just can’t get these kinds of experiences at the Marriott.

You see, England is deeply into recycling. But there’s no consistency from one region to another. So as I have traveled around (or travelled, as they spell it over here), I’ve had to learn the recycling rules of each new neighborhood. The rules range from rational to idiotic.

In the particular borough of Surrey where I first stayed, it was pretty much only a minor bit of sorting. Paper from metal, etc. Perfectly reasonable. When I moved on to visit friends in Suffolk, it got slightly more complicated. We were up to three wheeled bins, a green box and a compost. Paper, for instance, went into the blue bin unless you had wiped your mouth with it, which contaminated it with food product (gee, one lousy spaghetti stain) and, thus, got put into the black or grey bin. I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble on that one.

The hands-down winner for nuttiest system I encountered, however, was Newcastle-under-Lyme with a grand total of nine (9) different colored boxes, wheelie bins, colored plastic bags, and kitchen slopbuckets (one for cooked and one for uncooked food waste).

Which is why I am washing the tin foil. Right now, I’m in London and although we only have to deal with a few various bins and boxes, there are some unique peculiarities. Used tin foil, for instance, must be folded flat and put in the green box (not the green wheelie bin – that’s something else). But it cannot have any food product on it. Ever tried to get tin foil clean after broiling dover sole on it? Trust me, it ain’t easy. First you have to soak it overnight. Then you scrub it with a toothbrush. All so that you can throw it in the trash.

Why am I doing this? Why, for the very same reason that I am watering the weeds. You see, the friend that I am staying with in London keeps her garden fairly wild. She has pots all over the place. Some of them have tomato plants or herbs. Others have been sitting around untouched for years and now sprout nothing but weeds; pots of weeds. But when you ask the lady of the house if she would like to have you clean them out, she is as shocked as if you had suggested that you throw away her furniture. So, when asked to water the garden, I dutifully water each and every potted weed with the same careful attention that I give to the flowers. Because it’s her house and her rules.

It’s a lot like the workplace. Sure, you are asked to do stupid, unnecessary work that would be much more efficient with a better system. But the boss sets the rules and your job is to follow them. No matter how obvious it is that your way would be infinitely better.

Company rules and regulations are all based in some sort of good intention. But like the nine different recycling bins, sometimes the system gets out of control. You can complain. You can cram the suggestion box with improved plans. But in the end, you have a responsibility to follow the regulations, no matter how insane they are. And at some point you find yourself washing tin foil with a toothbrush.

By the way, if you are being driven insane by the minutia, you just might be tempted to wipe the spaghetti off your mouth with a piece of toilet paper, then then flush it down the loo at the end of the meal. There’s probably some rule against that, too. Thankfully, it never occurred to anyone to tell me about it.