My Anonymous Source

Garbage-TruckA guy at the Quickie Mart took me into his confidence.

“There is a rumor going around about Otis,” he told me.


Otis is our trash collector and about the sweetest guy imaginable. Every Thursday morning at first light, his old Ford truck rumbles down our road and shutters to a stop. Otis then ambles out of his cab to spend a few moment romping with Scooter before picking up whatever we pile at the end of our driveway.

Well, not everything.

Occasionally, he will leave an item, along with a note that reads. ‘Greg, remember the trouble you got in with your wife the last time you tried to throw this out?’

“What are they saying about him?” I asked.

“He’s poaching trash.”

Everybody knows that.

A few years ago, our county mandated that all trash must be picked up by a certified hauler and carted off to the county burner, which is forty miles away. The thing is, we live near the border and the neighboring county has its own burner just eight miles away.

Common sense would dictate that trash be directed to the nearest burner – but that is not how government works and since the economics of hauling it forty miles is so far out of whack – our contractors limit each customer to the meager offering of a single tiny cart to be picked up on Wednesday.

At dawn on Thursday, Otis rumbles by to gather the remainder and illegally haul it over the border.

“Who told you?” I asked.

“I can’t say,” the guy said.

“Why not?”

“They asked to remain anonymous.”

Later that day at The Big Box Store, another guy whispered, “There is a rumor going around about Otis.”

“Let me guess,” I told him, “whoever told you prefers to remain anonymous?”

“Not exactly,” he said.

“How’s that?”

“I heard it from two different sources.”

“Who both refuse to be identified?”

“Bingo! …and uh, don’t tell anyone that I told you.  Okay?”

At the John Deere parts counter, a clerk confided the same thing and it was all the buzz at the scale house.

And everyone insisted upon remaining anonymous.

Finally, out of pure disgust, I resolved to get to the bottom of it. The next time someone told me that their source preferred to remain anonymous, I turned it around. “But tell me, who have you told?”

“I dunno if I can say,” they said.

“Look,” I told him, “they promised not to tell on you, but you didn’t promise to not tell on them.”

It took him a moment to stumble through the fog of doubt before emerging into the bright light of clarity. “I suppose that’s true,” he said.

“Then cough them up.”

He did.

Having some experience in investigations, I constructed a “ring of associates” graph and traced every twig of innuendo back to its branch of hearsay and every branch of gossip back to the trunk of rumor. Along the way, I found that each, “Don’t tell” and “I heard it from multiple sources” originated from the same single source – my buddy Stan.

“Stan,” I said, “I hear you are spreading rumors.”

“Who from?” he said.

“They prefer to remain anonymous.”

“That really sucks.”

“But didn’t you ask that of them?”

“That’s an entirely different deal,” he said, “I pass along credible information, not rat on people.”

“Spreading rumors while hiding behind anonymity is not what I would call credible.”

“How is that different from what you get from FOX, CNN, MSNBC, Buzzfeed, The New York Times and Washington Post? They all rely on single anonymous sources.”

I just shook my head. “But why Otis? He is such a sweet guy.”

“Promise you won’t tell?”

I did.

“I’ve been consulting with the county on a project to expand their burner. Apparently, the metropolitan area can’t handle its own waste and wants to ship it out.”

“And what does this have to do with Otis?”

“The county is making more money off the metro trash than the local stuff.”

“Oh no….”

“Right.  They can’t admit it because they still have to honor their contracts with the local haulers and service the taxpayers– but the more trash that gets poached locally, the more capacity there is for metro trash and the more money the county makes.”

“Which is why they asked you to spread the word about Otis and boost his business?”


“And they asked you to do it anonymously so none of it gets back to them.”

“You betchya,” Stan said, “that’s how government works.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It sure is, but you didn’t hear it from me.”

Author: Almost Iowa

42 thoughts on “My Anonymous Source”

  1. Love your analysis of the rumor mill. And of trash economics. But now I’ve got to put out our containers, art correctly measured distances from each other, with the right attention to detail… We have our own Otis who collects recyclable bottles; like yours, a really nice guy.

  2. That is exactly how things work! Possibly, Stan isn’t behind all of the behind the scenes ways in which things actually get done, but you can bet someone like Stan is always around somewhere.

  3. Here, they’ve stopped most of the recycling. Apparently, the Chinese don’t want our trash anymore, fancy that. And we can’t somehow figure how to use it? Government can be more than strange. –Curt

      1. Yes, and then the bottles were recycled. As kids, we even earned a little money gathering tossed bottles. In 1971, I was ED of an environmental organization that held community recycling drives in Sacramento. We took in paper, cans, and glass. We had some 500 volunteers working for us with a once a month recycling drive serving 10 different locations. 10,000 families took advantage of our services. If we could pull off something like that ever so long ago… –Curt

  4. Dare I ask if this story is for real or is it fake news? I grew up in a small farm city and the gossip mill never stopped. Ever. Great story.

    1. Coming from an extremely small town, I write in such a way that my friends and neighbors can say, “hey, that’s me”, they can also say, “no way that is me.” In other words, everything I write is fiction grounded in the purist of truth (yeah, it’s fake news).

    1. As a system architect, I discovered long ago that all systems function in two modes; formal and informal. Formal systems are the way we expect things to run, or at least the people who paid or lobbied for them expect. The informal system are how thing actually get done.

      An efficient and effective system is not one where there is small gap between the formal and informal modes, rather it is one where there is a large gap and everyone is good with that.

  5. You know, I had a feeling I knew who was behind it from the very beginning! lol! 🙂 And also… “Common sense would dictate that trash be directed to the nearest burner – but that is not how government works….” isn’t that the truth haha.

    1. There is no conspiracy too great or trivial to not suspect Stan at its root.

      The thing with government is that it is rule driven, make that lawyer driven. Frequently, the rules contradict not only themselves but common sense. In these cases it is up to the ruling body to make changes – and that requires politics. Hence, the insane nature of governance.

  6. I think Trashgate could be a new thing. Psst. Hear Homeland Security is getting into trash hauling to supplement the bullet budget? (you didn’t hear it from me)

  7. Having some experience in investigations, I constructed a “ring of associates” graph and traced every twig of innuendo back to its branch of hearsay and every branch of gossip back to the trunk of rumor.

    Absolutely brilliant writing here, Greg. That’s no rumor. It’s the truth. And not from an anonymous source.

    1. Colleague #1: What’s Greg up to? He’s never been so busy.
      Colleague #2: He’s constructing a “Ring of Associates graph” to reveal who brought beets to the potluck.
      Colleague #1: You think I should tell him?
      Colleague #2: Someone has got to.

      Colleague #1: Greg, The beets at the potluck came from you. We fished the can out of the food drive box and replaced it with stuff people eat – but we had to do something with the beets, so…..

      Colleague #2 How did he respond?
      Colleague #1: He’s working on graph to figure out who my accomplice is……and that would be you.

  8. I heard (from an anonymous source) that a particular news channel (that shall remain anonymous) ordered a dumpster to cart away their trash and they couldn’t find one big enough. So now they get rid of a portion of the trash every day by “sending it off”.

  9. When you said Otis was poaching trash, I thought we were headed toward “picking out the good stuff and re-selling it on eBay.” Around here, Otis wouldn’t have much to haul across the county line — you’d be surprised at exactly who is out before dawn, picking up the discards in ‘good’ neighborhoods. I’d tell you their names, but I wouldn’t want to out my anonymous source.

    1. “picking out the good stuff and re-selling it on eBay.”

      The technical term for that is “dumpster diving”. It’s fairly common around demolition sites…

      1. My best dive took place about a decade ago. I found the teak surround for a hatch on a Cheoy Lee sailboat leaning up against a dumpster. I brought it home, cleaned it up, sanded and varnished it, and made a bundle on eBay. And, yes: I do check the dumpsters here from time to time. People are very good about leaving the good stuff outside the dumpster for convenient browsing.

        1. A couple of years ago, we added an addition on our house. In the process, I saved all the windows and the sliding glass door, which I took to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They turned it all down, even though it was in great shape. By that time, the dumpster was gone and I had to order another.

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