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Green Can Mondays This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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My father demonstrates his OCD every day. In the morning, he climbs out of bed to wake his slumbering children. He first gets my brother Adam up at 6:25, then trots across the hallway to pull me out of bed at 6:30.

“Emily, it's time to get uh-up.” The word “up” always has two syllables, with the first much higher than the second. This burst of sing-songy energy shocks me every morning. While Adam and I prepare for school, my father returns to his room to put on his uniform. Each day, his khaki pants complement a primary-colored polo shirt and a neutral wool sweater. (During warm months, khaki shorts are substituted for the pants.) Next, he pulls on his gold-toed socks and single knots his white tennis shoes. He fastens his gold watch with its black leather band on his left wrist, and combs his hair with a black comb, six inches in length. After dressing for the day, my dad doles out five-minute warnings. Adam and I count on him to walk purposefully into the hall between our rooms exclaiming, “It's 6:45.” And we know he will return minutes later to announce, “Now it's 6:50” (as if those nifty gadgets called clocks are entirely unreliable).

As Adam and I tromp downstairs, my father follows close behind, offering bits of news from the Middle East, baseball scores, and advice about tests scheduled for the coming school day. The three of us enter the kitchen, where my mother nurses her coffee and prepares breakfast. Then my dad ventures outside to collect the newspaper. He opens it and begins to read just as Adam and I run out the door to the garage, offering our tired, unenthusiastic renditions of “Bye, Mother, Daddy. Love you.”

On Mondays, however, my dad's morning routine changes considerably. That's the day the city of San Rafael collects the trash in our neighborhood. Being the capable, helpful guy he is, my dad assumes the trash collecting responsibilities in our household. He compiles our family's excess on Sunday evenings and rolls our black plastic trash can and brown recycling bin to the curb each Monday morning. Straightforward? Not for him.

The trouble spurs from another pesky waste receptacle: the green can. The green can, originally designed for yard waste, is collected every other Monday. The city of San Rafael assumes that residents will have only enough yard waste to fill the can every two weeks. Our neighbors haven't the slightest idea which Mondays are Green Can Mondays, and which are for the black and brown cans only. Residents loiter outside their homes on Monday mornings, looking to gauge the majority vote on whether or not the green cans should surface. Several years ago, my father designed a system to alleviate the confusion.

At the beginning of each calendar year, my father purchases a black, soft-backed calendar book. Not a fan of computerized calendar programs, he continues to use the paper version. In 2009, he decided to end the confusion surrounding Green Can Mondays once and for all. He penned a “GC” on every second Monday for the entire year as a reminder.

Around the same time, my dad struggled with another scheduling problem. He had heard that washing one's hair on a daily basis could be unhealthy, so he decided to switch to every other day. Remembering which days were hair-washing days mid-shower, however, proved difficult. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday wouldn't suffice, because weeks have seven days and his hair would get washed on Sunday and Monday, two days in a row. That just wouldn't do. In a flash of brilliance, my father decided to coordinate Green Can Mondays with hair washing days. Green Can Mondays would begin weeks of hair washing on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. In the following week, he would wash his hair on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, then begin again on the next Green Can Monday. The plan was infinitely anal but foolproof.

With clean hair and a sound plan for our family's yard waste, my dad became the “It” guy on the street. Neighbors looked to him for the final word on whether or not the green cans needed to appear curbside. He received calls from residents and the homeowners' association asking for his secret. And he often shared it. My father was on top of the world.

A few months ago, San Rafael opted to take an environmentally friendly approach by incorporating composting into the regular sanitary services. A wonderful idea? Not for my dad.

San Rafael announced that compost would go into the green can with the yard waste. With the addition of weekly food scraps, the city assumed that the green cans would fill up much more rapidly and require weekly collection. Our neighborhood was overjoyed; never again would its residents need to question whether to put the green can out on Monday mornings.

As my neighbors celebrated their victory over the confusing waste collection system, my dad suffered. He knew his days of organized hair washing were under attack. How was he to know when to wash his hair if Green Can Mondays no longer existed?

At some point years ago, Adam, my mother, and I opted not be ashamed of my dad's odd behaviors, but rather, to embrace them. Yes, he is a little anal and a little dorky. His calendar schedules every moment of his day, but he is never late for any of our events. His khakis are boring, but buying gifts for him is never challenging. And his hair-washing system is unbelievably embarrassing but totally functional. His quirks make him the indescribably wonderful father and person he strives to be every day. While his planning may appear boring to some, we equate predictable with reliable, and I can think of no better quality for a father.

And the resolution? Beginning in 2013, my dad will have a new black calendar book, much like the old ones. There will be no little “GC” markings on the Mondays, thanks to the environmentally conscious composters of San Rafael. Rather, he will be marking every other Monday with “HW” for hair wash.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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