SCHEER: Much more than a plea for a tote

Mark Scheer

Margaret from Ely Avenue had a problem.

So bad, in fact, that across the top of the letter she sent me she wrote: “CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME?” She even used all capital letters. 

The situation, it seems, was desperate. 

Margaret from Ely Avenue needed new garbage totes. After weeks of trying, according to her letter, she was unable to obtain new ones.

Margaret apparently lost two totes when someone, or a group of someones, set them on fire back in May. Why people set totes on fire is anyone’s guess. A lack of hobbies? No job prospects? A hatred of refuse receptacles? I just don’t get it. 

Anyway, Margaret says she filed a police report and was told to call the Niagara Falls Department of Public Works where someone told her to call Modern Corp., where someone there told her to call the department of public works.

Margaret says she spoke with representatives from the city and Modern on four occasions, only to have all of them, as she put it, “keep passing the buck.” 

Obviously frustrated, Margaret wrote a letter to Mayor Paul Dyster that she said generated no response and finally called WIVB News Channel 4 in Buffalo where people are supposed to be able to Call for Action unless, apparently, they want new garbage totes to replace the ones someone, or a group of someones, set on fire for reasons that hard to understand. 

Oh Margaret from Ely Avenue, now I know why the top of your letter reads “CAN YOU HELP ME?”

“I am a taxpayer and a voter,” she wrote. “I want my totes. No one will help.” 

Well, as fate would have it, Margaret’s letter landed on my desk at precisely the right time. 

You see, as if the start of a sad country music song or a metaphor for the life of your average newspaper editor, a few weeks ago, “the wheels fell off my garbage tote.” My house needed a new tote, too, and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what I needed to do exactly to get a new one.

Unlike Margaret, I’m a big shot “Regional News Director,” which means, sometimes, when I make a call people answer my questions. 

City Administrator Nick Melson, who happened to be out of town when I called him, had one of the city’s attorneys, Doug Janese, return my call. Doug told me that the department of public works is indeed the right place to call if any resident is in need of tote replacement. The city’s contracted refuse collector, Modern Corp., delivers the totes to homeowners on their garbage day once they are placed on the list as needing new receptacles. 

So, Doug took down my address and the address of Margaret from Ely Avenue.

If all goes as planned, both of us will have new totes at some point this week. 

Not sure why Margaret had such a hard time getting her totes replaced, but all’s well that ends well, I suppose. 

My only hope now is that Margaret reads this column. She didn’t leave me a telephone number on her letter and I never got around to getting over to her house this weekend to let her know the good news. 

Very likely, as is the case with life, the new totes will hit her curb and Margaret from Ely Avenue’s Monday newspaper won’t be delivered so she’ll just assume the city or Modern or maybe even Call 4 Action got the job done. 

I’m OK with it.

It always feels good to help people even if there’s no credit involved. 

Helping Margaret prompted me to finally figure out how to get my own garbage tote replaced so, in her own way, she actually helped me too.  She may have actually helped me even more with a couple of possible titles for my first best seller.

I really do like “The Wheels Came Off My Garbage Tote: A Memoir on Life as a Newspaper Editor”

Although “Why People Set Garbage Totes on Fire: A Case Study on Odd Niagara Falls Hobbies” has a nice ring to it, too.  Either way, I thank Margaret from Ely Avenue for thinking of me and our newspaper as a place where she could come to get help with a problem others seemed unwilling or unable to help her fix. 

I also got through another week of my column responsibility because of her letter, and that’s honestly the best gift of all.

Contact Regional News Director Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.