The Quilted Squirrel

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Trashed: A Hostage Situation

If you’re just joining us now, you may want to pause here and digest the contents of Trashed: A Theft on Lake Street, the first post in our ongoing investigation into the whereabouts of our trash cans.

To recap—our trash cans are missing, trash is piling up, and our primary suspect happens to be our next-door neighbors.

For privacy reasons, I won’t reveal the exact name of the security product firm next door. Let’s just call them [name redacted]. They’ve been around for over 40 years and pride themselves on outstanding customer service. From my brief and limited interactions with their employees, I know two things: a.) they’re very interested in moving into our space after we move at the end of August and b.) they’re bothered by the smell of the poultry and seafood emitted from the seafood and poultry store around the corner, which probably explains the impulse behind fact “a”. We enjoy the luxury of a totally fish-odor free office space, making it all the more covetous.

I also know that one day last week as I was arriving at the office, I noticed that my go-to parking spot was occupied by a large white van with a [name redacted] logo on each side. It appeared that [name redacted] was waging a game of parking lot musical chairs, which, I feared would snowball into a full-scale fiasco in which the equilibrium of our plaza’s entire parking ecosystem would be rocked indefinitely. Like the environmental balance of the former Great Barrier Reef, these things are delicate and should be preserved before it’s too late—unlike this Great Barrier Reef reference, which, much like the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, came far too soon.

It wasn’t until later that I learned a third objective fact. Apparently, sometime during the winter, there had been some confusion over whose parking spots were whose, prompting a formal but brief summit on parking lot etiquette, initiated by [name redacted], during which [name redacted] asked us to stop “parking in their spots.”

It appeared there was some gray area, and that the spots straddling our offices were disputed territory. But the white van in my usual spot was on the other side of our office. We’d been careful not to park in [name redacted]’s spots, choosing instead the spots of less confrontational businesses nearby, like the fish and meat guys. You can’t be too uptight about anything when you spend your days slinging fish. How else would you tolerate the smell?

Was the van strike just one small passive aggression in a larger campaign of which the trash cans were also involved? I can’t be sure, but its memory haunts me like a bad dream. It reminds me of a similar story, in which an obsessed individual journeys across the sea to track down, once and for all, the elusive creature that’s been haunting him. It’s a classic. But this is no time for a Finding Nemo reference.

***

Let’s return to the present, forget the white van and anthropomorphous fish for a moment. There’s someone else I need to introduce—another possible player in this intricate web of intrigue and trash. Twice now, on the heels of visits from members of the firm next door, our landlord has entered our office unannounced to inquire about our last day in the space. The conversation usually goes something like this:

[Landlord enters]

[No pleasantries exchanged]

Landlord: When are you moving out? I need an exact date.

Us: We’re moving at the end of August. August 31 is our last day.

Landlord: When is the soonest you can move out? The firm next door is planning on moving into your space.

Us: We’re moving at the end of August. August 31.

Landlord:

Us:

Landlord: [Exits]

That’s more or less how it goes down. A conversation like this would typically raise no red flags, but this one took place the day after our trash cans went missing and mentioned the primary suspects in our case.

Let’s pause here for a brief but relevant digression. Senior year of high school, I took a forensic science class. I learned about rigor mortis, measured the angles of blood spatters and looked at a bunch of hair samples under a microscope—all of the practical life skills a public-school education promises to deliver. But, most importantly and most pertinently, I watched at least one whole season of CSI: Miami. In between David Caruso’s searing one-liners and shots of characters dramatically removing their sunglasses to squint at one another in disbelief under the glaring Florida sun, I learned one very powerful nugget of information: those who commit crimes always return to the scene of the crime they committed.

The tax dollars that funded our classroom CSI: Miami marathons were about to pay off big time.

I couldn’t help but wonder if [name redacted] and our landlord were working together. Had she really stopped by to ask about the timeline of our move, or was she giddy with the risk of visiting the scene of a theft to which she was an accomplice? Was she working on behalf of [name redacted] to get us out of our space earlier?

I started trying to connect the dots and, after several moments of surface-level speculation, it became clear. We had a hostage situation on our hands, and innocent garbage receptacles were at stake.

First the van. A sign. No, a symbol. No, an interpretation of a symbol acting as a sign presenting itself as an omen. The semiotics were getting dense but as an investigative reporter I had to read into everything. Then, the missing trash cans. Then, the sudden need for us to be out of our space as soon as possible so our neighbors could set up camp. Because now, they weren’t just interested in our space. They were officially moving in, but not soon enough for their liking.

So where did that leave us? Our parking spaces under siege. Our trash cans held captive in an unfamiliar office with unfamiliar trash. And none of us equipped to negotiate the hostage situation in which we, and our cans, were embroiled. Something is definitely rotten in the town of Hamburg, and this time [name redacted] can’t blame the fish guys down the street.

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