On the corner of Exilstraat two men were rummaging in full rubbish bags. Not fly-by-nights, they were working too systematically for that with their full-length kitchen gloves. Rubbish that had been put out a day too soon. They were mainly interested in the paperwork. Sometimes they studied an envelope and took it to a doorway to check the house number and nameplate. I cast a glance into the very heart of Western civilisation. Rooting around in people’s rubbish on Sunday morning in order to retrieve the address of the woman who has put out her far from rat-proof bag at the wrong time.
Civilisation is… having a Secret Garbage Service brave the throwaway needles of diabetic patients, a comb caked with cradle cap, dog vomit in a newspaper, the toothbrush with shoe polish on it, the two-month miscarriage in a Tupperware lunchbox and the apple peel curled round cat poo, in order to make the local residents aware of their civilised obligations.
Civilisation is… enclosing the address wrapper sent to one of the neighbours with the rubbish before putting the rubbish bag out in the street two days too early.
The Dutch nose-picking monopoly. The ability to convince yourself that you are the only one who sneakily throws away a ball of paper or a piece of chewing gum in the street. Others more or less keep to the rules, nobody sees me anyway, and on a world scale it doesn’t matter, no more than peeing in the swimming pool matters or a ball of snot under the kitchen table. A waste peel and box logic that is also strictly adhered to with regard to environmental legislation. Dumping used heating oil, or laboratory poison in all the colours of the rainbow, is rather like masturbating in secret. No one sees it, and what you get rid of you’re done with. It was all taught us tacitly. By our educators, who every so often thought they were invisible, and still didn’t know where to keep their hands. Traces? ‘It could just as well have been someone else.’ That is how the murderer dumps his body, like a hard lump of snot that you stick to the bottom of the chair with its own slime.
From Movo Tapes (De Movo Tapes, Homo Duplex O, 2003)
By A.F.Th. van der Heijden
Translated by Paul Vincent
First published in The Low Countries, 2014