Saturday, April 1, 2017



   Several years ago phones were ringing every morning and text messages flooded portable devices at city hall. These communications were complaints about blue bins. In a nutshell, blue bins used for recycling in the City of Cortland were reported either missing or stolen from the property of city residents. The complaints stretched over the summer months and into fall. 
   Blue bins seemed to disappear during the night after garbage and recycled materials were collected in the several wards. If a blue bin was left out near the street all day and into the night, that blue bin became a target. Residents of every ward were complaining. Initially police and city officials offered lip service to this problem. As the disappearance of blue bins continued, however, it was reported in the media and discussed in the neighborhoods by city residents. Angry residents demanded action at city council meetings.   
   The police chief issued special instructions to night patrols, and posted detectives in unmarked cars at certain locations where the most frequent loss of blue bins were reported. This police activity ceased after two weeks because nothing unusual was noticed or reported. Mayor, alderpersons and police were stymied
   At some point during the investigation it was realized that some of the missing blue bins were discovered in neighbors' yards, far into the driveway or behind a garage. In some cases people who reported a  missing blue bin never found it and had to order a new one. Blue bins were never stolen during the day of collection. It appeared to be an effort by one or more persons to punish the residents who had left their blue bins near the street on the night after collection. At least this was the thinking at city hall.
   The mayor mounted a publicity campaign to catch the thief or thieves. He spoke with residents, and all who would listen. He claimed to have an idea who was behind the escapade and the motive for it. He issued a warning to the perpetrator or perpetrators that the day of reckoning was fast approaching. But the disappearance and relocation of blue bins continued.
   Rumors abounded. Most of the suspicion was directed at college students or high school students on summer recess. It was believed to be an organized prank.  Police were directed to watch groups of teenagers at night as they walked around city streets, especially the side streets connecting to Main Street. But young people were never seen tampering with blue bins or tossing them down driveways. And not once did a resident who reported a missing blue bin claim to have seen a young perpetrator. The mystery deepened.
   Then one night the police stopped a senior citizen jogging slowly on Clinton Avenue at 2 o’clock in the morning. He was a resident of the city and he gave his name when asked. He also gave his age when asked: 81 years old. His brother was an alderman, he said. The police asked him if he had seen anyone or anything suspicious on his run. He said he hadn’t. They asked him why he was jogging so late at night. He told them he was trying to stay in shape for the big fight. With whom, they asked. The mayor, he answered. They laughed, then he laughed, and the police left him walking on the sidewalk along Clinton Avenue. The police officers later reported the incident to the chief. He told the mayor.
   The mayor knew this senior citizen jogger. He considered him an eccentric character and a complainer. He had received several complaints from him in the past and he had sat down in his office with him to discuss the varied complaints, such as uncollected trash between street and curb, unfilled potholes, untrimmed brush and trees which obscured traffic signs, garbage or junk left on lawns and porches week after week, rundown property, and blue bins left on the curb the night after collection. It was this last complaint that the mayor remembered particularly. 
   Also the mayor recalled a very personal remark made by the old man about the mayor himself: “You have the best smile in Cortland but you don’t do nothin’.”
   Several days later one of the mayor’s neighbors on Floral Avenue asked the mayor if he was collecting blue bins. The neighbor was smiling when he asked the question near the mayor's front door. The mayor smiled back and said he was not. The neighbor then led him up the driveway and behind the mayor's garage, where a pile of blue bins stood ten feet high. “Oh, my God!” said the mayor.
   The mayor asked his neighbor if he had ever seen any person or persons doing this. “I would have told you if I had,” was the reply. "Did you do this, mayor?" said the neighbor, again showing a big broad smile. 
   "I could ask you the same question," said the mayor.
   A new twist had been added to the blue bin mystery. It was now personal, or so the mayor thought. Immediately the face of the 2 A. M. jogger appeared like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
   The mayor talked to the police chief and requested a special night watch on the old jogger. He called him a suspect. The mayor and the chief both considered the old jogger as an eccentric individual but the old man did not have a record for disturbing the peace. On the contrary, he had a solid reputation as a good citizen. He had a vegetable garden in the city and he gave away most of his produce to his friends and neighbors. The chief did not think the old jogger was involved in the blue bin caper but deferred to the mayor’s request and asked his night patrol to watch for the old jogger.
   The mayor himself decided to stay up past midnight and perform neighborhood watch from his porch. He was usually asleep by 1 A. M. He had the embarrassing pile of blue bins removed from his property, but a new pile of blue bins appeared a few days later. His neighbor suggested that he use a bear trap and "catch the culprit." The mayor did not see any humor in the remark.
   In late October, as suddenly as the dislocation of blue bins had started, the disturbance stopped. No further reports of missing or stolen blue bins were received at city hall. The only sighting of the 2 A. M. jogger was in a housing parking lot off Clinton Avenue, at midnight, on the night before November elections. A patrol car spotted the old man placing flyers on the windshields of parked cars. He was questioned, and when he told police that the flyers asked voters to vote against the incumbent mayor, they laughed and left. No official report of the incident was ever made.
   The mayor retired and moved to Cortlandville a few years later. About the same year the eccentric old man moved underground. He left the unsolved blue bin mystery as a parting gift to be perused and debated on April Fool’s Day. 

[Cognomens and other revealing details were omitted in this story to protect the innocent and the guilty. J. P.]

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