Slow Down

By: Andrew Cox

I do not know exactly when I learned that garbage trucks ran every day and not just on the day they collected our trash. I figured “Garbage Day” was universal. Santa can make it to each house around the world in one night – surely, these garbage men treat every Tuesday like Christmas: trucks flying off to every neighborhood unobserved in broad daylight. Somehow it clicks – “Garbage Day” could be on a Friday; Santa is not real; the world does not revolve around me; the sun does not revolve around the Earth; I will eventually die.

My family lived in Beechwood Terrace Apartment Homes in Antioch, Tennessee when I started Crieve Hall Elementary. I was not zoned for Crieve Hall, but my parents knew how to work around the system.

In August 2016, Sarah Jones of Google Reviews writes on Beechwood Terrace, “Crime ridden area, not safe.” 1 star.

In June 2016, Timrese Leslie also of Google Reviews writes, “It’s so pretty how it’s set up and the river behind it and it looks like a gift from god.” 5 stars.

I can only review Beechwood Terrace with a seven-year-old’s vision, “It was the place that I lived with my family, and we did a bunch of stuff like play and fight and eat McDonald’s.” 5 stars.

My family lived at Beechwood until 2nd grade when we moved to a house that was again not zoned for Crieve Hall – no problem, I never changed schools. I attended Crieve Hall from Kindergarten to 4th grade: 2001-2006.

I can describe Crieve Hall more clearly than my childhood apartment.

You enter Crieve Hall Elementary through tempered glass doors under an archway that usually hung banners with “Golden Words”: Trustworthiness, Courage, Kindness, Citizenship. Through the doors, the school first features an open area with random pictures and plaques. You look to your left at the administrators’ offices. You only go there to begin the day if you enter alone with a hastily-written note from your mother. Now you look straight ahead – more tempered glass doors that lead to the portables that feature special classes like art and music. You never go through those doors to start the day. You walk past the offices and look at the two hallways: one to the left and one to the right. You are in Kindergarten and 1st grade – you walk to the hallway on the right. The hallway ends with a door that leads to a long, cemented path which takes you to a jumble of red plastic perched on mulch with metal sidekicks in the form of swings. Alone is a plastic volcano that you can climb to the top of or just sit under (make sure the mulch does not stick to your denim because of rain). Instead of walking to the jumble of red plastic, you can walk up a grassy hill that leads to two baseball fields. You are back in the open area; you are in 2nd – 4th grade, so you walk to the hallway on your left. It is a shorter hallway with two rooms to the right: the nurse’s office and a room that you never quite figure out. At the end of this hallway stands the library. You either take quite nicely to the library or see the library as a mere extension of the doldrums of schoolwork within the American education system. Standing in front of the library, you now look to your left and right at two hallways. You go to the right for the 2nd – 4th grade classrooms. At the end of this hallway stands another door with a path that also leads to the jumble of red plastic, but the special-class-portables are along the way, as well. Standing in front of the library again, you turn left towards the cafeteria/gym/only place in the building where 300 kids can be properly seated for assemblies. You remember the multi-purpose room as a cafeteria the most. For each lunch, sixteen typical school tables are rolled out and folded down – eight tables to each side. Here, you learn some important lessons: table manners, “inside voice,” how to socialize, how to make people laugh, how to crack the case of opening milk cartons, how to sit just close enough to your crush to make him or her notice but not too close, and how to not eat vegetables. You notice a scene painted on the cafeteria wall of happy children flying kites on a wavy level of grass. You are only tall enough to reach the grass. You scrape the paint with your index finger leaving green flakes on the table and a green nail not easily washed. Your green nail gets you in trouble.

 The lunch trays are made of Styrofoam and are thrown away by everyone’s favorite janitor Mr. Graham. The school year consists of 180 days – 180 Styrofoam trays. This goes on for five years – now 900 Styrofoam trays. The EPA says this particular Styrofoam takes 50 years to decompose. Garbage trucks pick up your Styrofoam collections to take to landfills where the trays slowly break apart into the soil. You hope to outlive your Styrofoam collection.

***

Spring 2004 - it is 2nd grade Field Day, and I am the anchor in the relay race. The distance is the fencing all the way around the larger of the two baseball fields.

***

Ms. Martin gave each student in her 2nd grade class a large laminated sheet of paper with blanks to fill in our information; it was an “About Me” project. That is how I best remember being 48 inches tall and 52 lbs. at age seven.

“My dad told me I will be 6’2’’ when I am older,” I tell Ms. Martin.

“Cool,” she says in that fake teacher voice. My driver’s license now says 5’11’’.

In 1st grade, Ms. Wilkes gave us a project to glue 100 objects on a poster board. My dad did that one for me; he drew a pig and glued 100 pennies inside of it.

In 4th grade, Gregory Deegan and I carried a tray of pennies to the office for the Penny Drive to help Hurricane Katrina victims. We dropped the tray and had to pick up every damn penny.

In 3rd grade, we had to pick a President and give an oral report. My mom chose for me: Jimmy Carter.

“He’s a peanut farmer!” my mom says. It was an election year, and my mom was excited to piss off the Republican parents of my classmate Cheyenne Maynor. She reported on Ronald Reagan.

Did anyone do William Henry Harrison? I can’t remember. He would’ve been easy to do since he died 31 days after being sworn-in.

Cheyenne’s dad took her along when he ripped Kerry/Edwards posters out of people’s yards.

Crieve Hall let the children vote between Bush and Kerry. Bush won easily.

***

My Ten Favorite Crieve Hall Classmates

1.     Clayton Smith

2.     Nathan Tutt

3.     Evan Waller

4.     Jack Mast

5.     Bailey Bonte

6.     Gregory Deegan

7.     Graham Stoker

8.     Milé Ferguson

9.     Joshua Smith

10.  Joshua Perencevic

I have no regular contact with any of them.

***

            There are four teams. My relay team is in 3rd after Katja Vujic’s frustratingly slow, gangly run. She slaps my hand, and I take off. Jessica Saad is the anchor for the 2nd-place team. She was built much like Katja Vujic, so I fly by her immediately. I never ran better in my life than in this relay – from the left field corner to home plate. Sure, my leg muscles eventually grew and I would run faster, but in this moment, my body did not fail me. I would be constantly reminded of my scrawny, ineffective body through eight years of baseball, two years of wrestling, and one year of football. But I could run, dammit. In that 30 seconds, I learned its beauty. Left foot step. Swing the right arm simultaneously. Shift the weight to the left foot toes. Bring the right foot through. Land on the heel. It’s a cycle – a symmetry – of losing and regaining balance; you have to be willing to lose balance to go forward.

I had power. I had symmetry. I had energy.

A close 2nd, but I was embraced as a champion at home plate.

I slept with an oxygen tank in Kindergarten because I had asthma. I grew out of it.

***

“A Metro Public Works employee was killed on the job Tuesday night when he was hit by a garbage truck,” Hayley Mason of channel 4 news Nashville writes on July 15th, 2015. The report continues, “Police said 19-year-old Chandler Harris was riding on the back of the truck on Commerce Street around 11 p.m. when the truck got too close to the wall…and pinned him in between the truck and the wall.” He fell off the truck and was run over twice. I corroborate the details through other local news sites. Chandler Harris was riding on the back on the passenger side. It was the corner of Commerce Street and 5th Avenue N; that is near the Ryman auditorium.

Chandler Harris was one of 300. Or more specifically, one of 34 kids that went to Crieve Hall from Kindergarten to 4th grade from 2001 to 2006. I remember him as a blonde, freckled country boy with a round face. We didn’t talk very much; we had different teachers four out of five years. In 4th grade, I heard a rumor that Miss Jackson caught him sticking his fingers down his throat to throw up in order to leave school sick. He did not respond to pleas for “inside voices” and “butts in chairs” as quickly as most other students. He had green nails.

***

Garbage trucks can weigh from a range of 40,000 lbs. to 64,000 lbs. They are listed under the heaviest on-road classification for trucks.

***

Jenna Smith is the spokeswoman for Metro Public Works. She said she had not seen an incident like this in the 20 years she had worked for the department. Chandler Harris was the first on-the-job fatality that the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration had recorded since it started doing so in 1985.

The Nashville Mayor at the time Karl Dean issued a statement:

Our hearts go out to Chandler Harris’ family and friends, including his father, another dedicated Metro employee. Chandler died tragically while serving our city. We value the work he did, and we grieve the loss of his life.

Nashville Public Works Website: “On your pick-up day, place your cart on the curb or in the alley with the arrow on the lid pointing toward the street or alley. Your trash will be picked up between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.”

11 p.m. – I didn’t know garbage trucks picked up that late.

***

I cannot shake how much our memories would coincide. If I ran into Chandler, we would’ve immediately had something to talk about.

“Hey! Remember how we used to leave lunch?”

“Yeah, we had to sit on the floor on these green squares in the middle of the cafeteria.”

“Two rows – boys and girls separate. And we had to leave a square in between or else we were too close.”

“Right, right, and it was alphabetized, too.”

“That’s right! That’s why I remember always being near the front. I guess you were in the middle, usually.”

“Yep. Man, I hope they cleaned those floors…Wait, what was that janitor’s name? He was cool.”

“Uhhh…OH, Mr. Graham!”

“Yeah, Mr. Graham. Good times.”

“Yeah they were.”

We had a shared experience. Chandler could have helped round out this story and my description of Crieve Hall – a larger story of growing up as the most innocent of the 9/11 generation. Did he remember Ms. Bev turning on the television with the towers and smoke like I do? No, he had a different Kindergarten teacher. Maybe seeing the towers and smoke is my pure reconstruction – what kind of Elementary school teacher would turn on the TV in front of all of us? It did happen in the morning when we would watch Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton; PBS might have cut away to the towers too quickly for Ms. Bev to react. But that would be how I logically make sense of the memory and not the memory itself.

Butterfly in the sky

I can go twice as high

Take a look

It's in a book

A Reading Rainbow

I can go anywhere

Friends to know

And ways to grow

A Reading Rainbow

I can be anything

Take a look

It's in a book

A Reading Rainbow

A Reading Rainbow

***

I can’t write this alone.

Chandler could have provided details on teachers I did not have. He certainly had more exciting run-ins with teachers if the vomit-rumor was any indicator. Without him, a part of the story of Crieve Hall from 2001 to 2006 is lost. That went down with him when he fell from the truck. 34 collections of memories became 33.

I go through Facebook checking off the 33 names I need to finish the story. If I ever write it, I know they are within reach.

***

I only remember talking to Chandler once. I feel inadequate knowing that this is all I truly have of him. It was the 2nd grade Field Day, and we were all going to the larger baseball field for the relay race. Everybody began running up the hill. I started to go with them. In front of me, Chandler turned around and said, “Hey, don’t run. You’ll have more energy for the race.” I took his advice. Chandler and I walked side by side up the hill.