Margaret and Dick   


June '05: Scofflaw

The other morning I noticed that our garbage can was missing.  We put it outside on Monday-Wednesday-Friday collection nights.  Furnished by the city hall, it is a solid plastic structure with locking handle that is meant to be dog-proof.  It’s probably bear-proof, for that matter.  I was not amused to lose it.

I went down to SIVOM, the office of municipal services, which is right in our neighborhood.  SIVOM is housed in a gorgeous old mansion now in the public domain, with a tall wrought iron fence with stone pillars around it.  I noticed walking inside the fence that there was a supply of these garbage cans in the yard right next to the office door.  This was encouraging. 

“What do I do to get a replacement?” I asked the woman at the desk.  She was uncertain, and phoned a colleague upstairs to clarify the procedure.  I showed her the phone bill with our address to prove that we are residents of Limoux.  “Here’s what you do.  You have to go down to the gendarmerie (police station) and file a formal complaint about the theft.  They will fill out a form in duplicate.  You bring a copy back here and we can process your request.”

A trip to the gendarmerie to file a complaint involves an hour or more of bureaucratic process and a waste of my time, not to mention the time of the gendarme who fills out the complaint form.  “Okay, I understand, will do, and what time does your office close?”  “We close at

I headed out the door to go home and reflect on the pervasiveness of bureaucratic process in France.  On the way out of the yard, I noted that her office window overlooks the garbage can supply.  She’s not looking.  Shall I just lift one on the way out the gate?

No, it’s not worth the risk.  So I went home and got busy on other projects.  As the afternoon came to a close, I had to decide.  Shall I walk over to the gendarmerie and file a complaint?  No way.  Shortly after six o'clock, I took a walk over to the SIVOM office.  No lights were on.  The heavy iron gate was still unlocked.  Trying to look as if I belonged there, I entered and selected a garbage can of the same size as the one we lost and walked out with it, closing the gate carefully behind me. 

As I walked home I noticed that this garbage can seems pretty heavy.  I open the lid.  It has a sack of garbage in it.  Oh no, what have I done?  Stolen the one actively-used garbage can of the municipal services office of Limoux?  Are there confidential documents in there?  No, it looks like garbage.  I dumped the garbage into a can at a nearby apartment and continued on my way.  I’m in too deep to turn back.  And this is the only can I saw in the stocks of this conveniently small size. 

How long will it take the janitor of the SIVOM to notice that their garbage can is gone?  What are the chances that he will mention it in the office and that the office worker will remember Mr. Higgins of 48 rue Paussifile?  I’ll risk it. After all, they have LOTS of brand new empty garbage cans over there. 

During the night I wonder just how long it will be before the gendarmes knock at the door to investigate the theft of the municipal services office garbage can.  I hide the can in the bathroom until I can develop a strategy. 

In the morning the solution was clear.  I labeled the garbage can with the address of our back door, which opens onto another street: 19 rue d’Engasc.  So now even if the gendarme shows up I can honestly say that we still have no garbage can at 48 rue Paussifile.  

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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The gypsies of Perpignan