by Adrian McKinty
(with apologies to Heinrich Von Kleist)
Michael Coalhouse’s war against the council began when the refuse collectors refused to empty his yellow recyclable bin because it contained non recyclables. When he got home from work at the foundry he found a notice pinned to the bin explaining that it "contained a non recyclable plastic bag" into which Coalhouse had thrown all his old beer bottles.
He called the council’s help line but it was busy. He left messages on the council’s Facebook page but got no response. On the fourth day he went down to the council offices on the High Street and was told that he needed to make an appointment by email. He tried to make an appointment by email but the municipal website was experiencing technical difficulties. He went to Councillor Smith’s constituency surgery and told her all about his problem, but she sided with the refuse collectors and gave him a leaflet on eco consciousness.
On the seventh day the binmen came back and again did not empty his bin. On the eighth day Coalhouse attended the meeting of the council’s Sustainability and Waste Management Sub Committee. He demanded to be heard but he was tossed out by security. At work the next day he was formally cautioned by a police officer. When the cop had gone the foreman said that he didn’t want any troublemakers and Coalhouse was “let go.”
Coalhouse brooded. On the fourteenth day his bin was again not emptied. He drove to the council offices and protested. He was accused of “making a threatening gesture” and was asked to leave. He did so. When he got home the police were waiting for him, so he circled the block and drove out to his storage locker near the reservoir. He filled fourteen vodka bottles with petrol and put a rag in each of them. That night he firebombed the council offices and left a message with the local paper letting them know who had done it and why.
He lived in the bush for the next eleven months coming into the city only to mount lightning guerrilla strikes and get supplies. He attacked the recycling plant on Gaia Street and destroyed the council vehicle depot on Evergreen Terrace, an incendiary attack that wiped out the city’s entire fleet of bin lorries. He sank a garbage barge anchored in the bay by means of a home made limpet mine. He released baby alligators into the storm drains and used on site methane to blow up the city’s main sewage plant. Two days after that outrage Mayor Cunningham returned home from the Single Mother Initiative Open Day to find his house on fire and his garden gnomes beheaded.
You didn’t need to be Foucault to read the death spiral subtext.
Peace feelers were sent out over Community Action Radio. Helicopters dropped leaflets on the forest where Coalhouse was suspected of being holed up. Coalhouse agreed to surrender himself if his yellow bin was emptied and Jimmy Carter, Stephen Hawking and Fiona Apple were brought in as official witnesses. Only Carter was available and Coalhouse said that that would do.
Coalhouse surrendered the same night and was remanded in custody without possibility of bail. He faced multiple counts of arson and criminal damage and a possibility of thirty years in prison.
The recyclable bin was emptied on the 14th. Jimmy Carter officially certified the fact a day later.