Let’s face it: For describing an over-the-top, cringe-worthy catastrophe, “train wreck” seems woefully bland and out of date. So do “FUBAR” and “cluster you-know-what,” the term’s less-than-genteel, more salty cousins. In 2016, there is one and only one term to use when you’re describing a tragicomic calamity that’s definitely more tragic than comic. That term is “dumpster fire.”
Ah, great American dumpster fire, how you have swept the stage, a verbal and visual ingénue, in a most disheartening year! You used to be confined to grimy alleyways next to professional football stadiums, a mere victim of an enthusiastic drunkard’s stray and smoldering charcoal. Or perhaps you were perched at the edge of a down-market used car lot, next to a forlorn and empty former Blockbuster Video, suddenly engulfed, as the cold hand of fate would have it, by a stray Virginia Slim. Now you bring people joy!
Witness the Attractions of Dumpster Fires
Google “dumpster fire,” and you will see what I mean. In my research for this story whilst on a plane to New York City through a turbulent chop that almost tossed my Chardonnay onto my computer keyboard—this would have qualified as at least a three-alarm dumpster fire, I believe—I discovered a flurry of charming dumpster fire images and GIFs on the Internet, and even a color photo of a blazing port-a-potty fire! I unearthed a Twitter carnival of political writers bemoaning the proverbial dumpster fires of 2016; I even witnessed real dumpster fire alerts from earnest local police departments.
I also discovered, much to my competing delight and dismay, that I am not the first to defend the humble dumpster fire from this avalanche of reputational assault, nor to insist that dumpster fires do not deserve this level of calumny. Witness American hero Henry Grabar, a writer at Slate, who officially beat me to the punch on June 22, 2016.
After detailing the many who have compared the Donald Trump campaign to a dumpster fire—Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Slate itself, with the marvelous headline “Hot Mess Endorses Dumpster Fire”—Grabar saucily proceeds to rob me of my Pulitzer: “In this case,” he argues, many observers “boarded the good ship Garbage Fire without pausing to think much about garbage fires at all. If we had, we would have realized it wasn’t a very good metaphor for Donald Trump’s terrible campaign, because actually, garbage fires are good.”
Here I will quibble a bit, for it is not just the Trump campaign that is a proverbial dumpster fire. It is the entire presidential campaign and perhaps all of 2016 itself. That said, Grabar is right on the money about the merits of dumpster fires, pointing out that burning garbage is actually often quite smart, environmentally savvy, and even welcomed in sophisticated Scandinavian countries!
An additional point: In Texas, from which I hail, ranchers adore dumpster fires, particularly when working on construction projects. If there is a burn ban (there frequently is due to dry weather), they are simply out of luck. Garbage festers. Coyotes howl. Armadillos do whatever it is that they do. All is not quiet on the western front.
This Brings Us to the Republican Convention
But this just scratches the surface. Let’s go further: Dumpster fires are also vastly entertaining and unappreciated. A spokesman for Republican Sen. Ben Sasse recently pointed this out when responding to questions about the Republican National Convention, which opens its giant maw of almost-certain disaster next week, much like the Cave of Wonders in Disney’s “Aladdin.” Here is the quote: “Sen. Sasse will not be attending the convention and will instead take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state, all of which enjoy more popularity than the current front-runners.”
Finally, someone is giving dumpster fires the credit they deserve. This is spectacular. It is on-point. It is hopefully inspiring the Founding Fathers to happily nod in their graves.
Finally, many things are worse than a dumpster fire. When I used to live in New York City, I recall walking down Avenue A or B or some such letter, a neighborhood that was shady at the time but is now likely home to 26 Topshops, a Lululemon or two, and some random store that sells acai smoothies for $84 a pop. Anyway, back in Ye Olde Shady Days, I remember hearing a suspicious squeaking from a smallish dumpster off the street.
I suppose I should add a trigger warning here. TRIGGER WARNING: RATS, LOTS OF THEM, ON TOP OF THE DUMPSTER, RESEMBLING A GIANT RAT GARBAGE MOUNTAIN, SCRAMBLING IN A COLOSSAL PILE LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF INDIANA JONES. SO HELP ME, THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF THEM, AND I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP: THE WHOLE THING WAS SHAPED LIKE AN ENORMOUS TEEMING AYERS ROCK OF RATS. Truly, this was a sight to behold.
In any universe, a squeaking, writhing rat-mountain dumpster is infinitely worse than a regular old plain-vanilla dumpster fire. Think about it: A dumpster fire is an oasis of cleansing flame! A solid A+ dumpster fire could even reduce an average, ordinary, everyday dumpster to a clean, sanitized ash-ridden box resembling an apartment that someone might pay $6,000 a month to rent in Brooklyn.
I’m not picking on Brooklyn, by the way. There’s a dude in Austin who actually did this—he goes by “Professor Dumpster”—but he probably only had to pay like $1,500 a month.
Alas, just like many frustrating elements of 2016, I suspect the great dumpster fire libel will continue, unrelenting and unresolved. And really, what can one do? Compared with “dumpster fire,” something like “a 3,000-pedicab pileup—pedicabs, not cars, because Uber was driven out by local politicians in [your city here]—and said pedicabs are driven by rabid grizzly bears, just before an earthquake, and oh, there are fireworks in the back of the pedicabs, and they’re all already lit, and then there’s a sinkhole, with crocodiles in it’” seems a bit wordy for describing 2016.
Well, then. “Dumpster fire” it is.