the toll of Trash2Treasure

I have a friend, Jake. Every morning, he wakes up to his internal clock, reminding him of the ritual events that must occur. Maybe a shower on a leisure day, or maybe just a hat will suffice. Every morning, the smell of cheap coffee fills his small room, as a single steaming cup of coffee is brewed. The early morning classes, which he proudly tells me he’s never missed, is the reason for his ungodly rise and prep. He’s always been a sharp dresser, donning pants that all his friends tell him are “too tight” for his tall frame.

“Never forgot to check the weather app,” he reminds me, casually fingering the layers he has carefully orchestrated. When he’s decently situated, he walks through the halls of his complex, passing by the nameplates of his neighbors. He owns two bikes, yet he prefers the pace of his walks for the clearness it gives.

“I listen to Gershwin sometimes when I walk,” he tells me.

He reminds me how uncultured I am, as if everyone should know the classical pianist. Nonetheless, he continues onward to his school day.

“Everything was scheduled,” he talks about the summer, unsure of where to start.

This summer he was in charge of something big — Trash2Treasure. He spent the last days of the spring semester collecting the unwanted trash of students and then spent the entirety of the summer sorting these forsaken items to later be sold to unprepared freshmen.

“He reminds me how uncultured I am, as if everyone should know the classical pianist.”

I visited him a few times, the storage room piled high with dusty goods — the summer heat, inescapable. Licks of

humidity would drench our backs in a few mere minutes, as we sorted through the broken and prized possessions. There was so much disorientation and chaos, something even he couldn’t mask. He battled the entire semester to keep the program running, and there in front of his eyes was everything he had to show for it. It was overwhelming. Anxiety would constantly follow him after a day’s work.

“I worked at the mailroom too,” he says, with a calm composure.

It was monotonous, he clocked into work with no sense of urgency, just a simple dull. It was easy: say hello to coworkers, complete the tasks given, and wait on customers. When he punched out, a day could be forgotten, no responsibilities left when he shut off the lights.

“I liked it a lot better.” A laugh almost escapes him.

I asked him how he felt when the beginning-of-the-year Trash2Treasure sale finally arrived.

“Like finals week on steroids,” he replied, laughing. A whole week of organizing volunteers and last-minute preparation was taking a toll. A compilation of a summer’s worth of work crashed upon him.

The giant arena buzzed with anticipation under its fluorescent light bulbs as dingy couches and other furniture alike was sold to eager young students. The sale was set and flying. The work and dedication finally manifested in Jake’s eyes.

“I pulled out my class schedule, because I didn’t know what classes I had tomorrow morning” he grinned. He was up sweeping the floors and cleaning up the last remaining bits and pieces of the now finished sale. It was 10 p.m., while other students prepared to reunite with friends from a summer spent apart, he longed for bed—exhausted.

“Like finals week on steroids,” he replied, laughing. A whole week of organizing volunteers and last minute preparation was taking a toll.”

“I’m applying to be CEO [of Trash2Treasure] next year,” he said, seeing the confusion in my face. Why, after spending an entire year tirelessly working on a project which drained you both physically and mentally, would you decide to repeat the entire process again? His shoulders shrug, he quips about how it would be a fantastic college resume builder, but it seems like shallow reasoning.

For the entire year, he’d rave about the program’s “tangible results” and “sustainability.” I think I started to roll my eyes after the fourth rambling. For the short time in which I had known him, I thought of him as an ambitious, yet lazy, college dude. We met through our mutual environmental organization, and with our first handshake, I knew he was business. I had mistakenly thought he was twenty-seven years old, beyond the rest of our young minds.

“I’m only twenty-three, I’m not that old,” he feigned hurt. He spent a few years in the National Guard, which explained impeccable posture. Surprisingly he lived with his fraternity brothers, another idea that bemused me. He wore tapered pants and elegant crew socks, juxtaposed with the classic fraternity brother wear.

“I’m just trying to get the college experience,” he justified.

Sustainability finds everyone in different ways. The grueling work it takes to create a sustainable environment on a college campus can be a turn-off for some students. However, for Jake, Trash2Treasure proved to be a worthy organization in which to devote his time and energy.

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