By Scott Sullivan
Assign Unto You
Some writers have all the luck. Assignments to cover luxury homes, posh resorts and restaurants, lifestyles of rich and famous people …
I knew I had it made when a former publisher told me to write about jumping out of an airplane. She also assigned me to photograph grass fires near propane tanks (“Get close-ups”) and runaway, panicked buffaloes.
Still, when I read that photo agency Noor had sent Kadir van Lohuizen to Jakarta, Tokyo, New York, Amsterdam, Lagos and Sao Paulo to show how those cities deal with garbage, I was jealous. I wanted to span the globe, bringing readers the constant variety of trash, too.
The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of solid waste daily, he reported. On average, Americans throw away our own bodies’ weight worth of junk each month. By 2050, so much plastic will be floating in the ocean it will outweigh the fish.
Van Lohuizen visited Jakarta’s 272-acre Bantar Gebang, which receives more than 6,000 tons of trash each day, taking pictures of thousands of people who scavenge the landfill daily.
New York leads the world in producing garbage. And that’s just its media.
Lagos struggles with its 21 million residents’ waste plus what’s shipped illegally from the United States and Europe. Who needs junk mortgages when natives build homes on trash heaps?
It’s hard to weigh leaving our winter wonderland this time of year. But somebody has to sacrifice to spread this important knowledge. So I pitched doing trash stories to my publisher.
“All your stories are trash,” he said. “Why do you need to leave here?”
“I have wanderlust.”
“So get lost,” he said.
I took that as an OK to do what’s grown popular with millennials: take “Survivor” style trips to remote places like the Guyanese jungle with just the clothes on your back, bow and arrow and a machete. Or to the Arabian desert with minimal food and water, mountain peaks, polar regions and other proving grounds. Extreme travel agencies promote these as “mastery experiences,” assuming you master them.
Either way, you’ll “cast off the complexities of Western life” — plus a fair hunk of change. Deprivation like that’s not cheap. Black Tomato’s “Get Lost” trips start at $20,000.
Since money is no object for my publisher, I picked Pullman. “Are you sure?” asked the Black Tomato rep. “No way we’ll insure that.”
What a waste, I thought. Then I remembered the Christmas present sent to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s home in Bel-Air, Calif. Nice beat if you can get it.
What do you get an ex-Goldman Sachs executive, hedge fund manager and Hollywood film financier whose wife’s August Instagram posting of them leaving a government airplane showed off the luxury brands she was wearing inspired a CYA department “investigation”? A Pullman adventure trip? Even better.
The box, covered in wrapping paper and labeled as being from “the American people” was full of horse ____.
Authorities closed streets around the unopen package and swarmed the area. Los Angeles Police bomb squad members and Secret Service agents surrounded it.
TV helicopter footage showed an officer opening the box, dumping out its contents and spreading a dark, clumpy substance across the ground. Three other officers shined flashlights on the manure and moved it with their feet to check if something else might be hidden in it.
Nope. It was pure as any gift given to politicians.
I always thought it would be exciting to be a cop. Thwarting mass murderers, Soviet spies and so on with Batman and Superman on call to assist me. Or to be a world-famous journalist like Geraldo going through Al Capone’s vaults and five wives, brawling with skinheads and hosting TV show topics like “Men in Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them.”
Ha! With my luck, saving Mnuchin from manure would have been my alternate career’s acme.
If you can’t right wrongs you can always write them. Let salvation be assigned unto me.