Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to present a temporary art installation which I like to call “A Tribute to America.”
On trash day, if we’re lucky, the garbage truck comes around and the collectors dump our cans in the truck and leave them lying on the street. There they stay all day until I come home from work and put them back by our house.
Whenever I see these empty garbage cans, I think of America.
You see, America Gonzales used to live next door to us. She was in her late 80s, a Cuban woman who spoke nary a word of English. She could often be seen puttering around in her nightshirt, toothless but still active. She took it upon herself to haul our empty cans back from the curb to keep the neighborhood orderly.
America lived with her son, Jose Gonzales. He is still in the neighborhood but now he lives a few blocks from us. He told me that America died a few months after Katrina, while she was still evacuated. Like many folks, especially older folks, the stresses and strains of that time took their toll. She was almost 90 at the time, a ripe old age to be sure, but who knows how long she might have lived if the levees and floodwalls hadn’t failed?
So when I see the garbage cans lying empty on the street, I think of America, and I get a little misty-eyed.