by Ryan Tippets
The thing about working at a wastewater treatment plant is you don’t tell anyone you work at a wastewater treatment plant.
You say you work for the city.
It’s no one else’s business if you spend two days a week wading through processed shit.
It’s a job just like everyone else’s.
Sure I got my fare share of shit tasks I got to do, but you know what? I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. And then I put on my waders. And my gloves. And my eye protection. Ain’t leaving nothing to chance. Don’t know if you can catch Hep from splash-back, and sure it’s processed, but you never know.
Thing about working at the plant, you never know what kind of treasures you’re going to find.
Think about it.
So we got these long concrete tubes here, open on the top, lined with UV bulbs as a last ditch effort to kill anything living in the water we’re looking to pump back to the public. They look like the Roman aqueducts minus 100% of the grandeur.
I’m standing there one day, having a smoke, when I see something floating on top of this water you’ll be filling your kid’s cups with later tonight. Someone’s blown up a condom and tied it off at one end, and now its bobbing down this river of supposedly drinkable H20 like its doing time trials for its own little regatta.
Not the prize I’m talking about finding, I’m just sayin’.
It was pretty devastating.
Anyways, we got these filter beds, about eight feet by twenty. We pour the processed sludge in and leave it for thirty days to dry out. By sludge I mean shit. At the end of the thirty days we shovel it all out and haul it to the back of the property to a huge compost pile we keep. Offset the pouring of the sludge so there’s almost always a filter bed needs shoveling.
You would not believe the amount of used tampon applicators I find in the beds.
It’s like a thousand polyethylene buoys guiding your way down the river Shit, compliments of the fine ladies of Peidmont, Alabama.
This one day, I’m mid-shin deep in sludge waiting for Joey to come back with the backhoe so I can fill it up. This would be July, so I’m sweating out about fifteen keystones from the night before.
So I’m just standing there basically, thinking about alternative means of employment when I really notice what’s sticking out of the back corner of the sludge pit.
Remember me talkin’ about treasures?
Think about it.
What happens when some kid needs to toss his stash because his parents are about to tear through his room, or when someone’s party gets busted up by the cops, where’s the first place they go?
They pay tribute to the porcelain throne.
And guess who’s on the receiving end, gloved hands held skyward.
We’re supposed to take any pot plants we find back by the compost pile and burn ‘em.
This was the first time I’d found one, and to be completely honest with you, I didn’t quite make it to the burn barrel that day.
Took a little detour to the back end of the compost pile, the side facing the fence.
The side no one goes to.
This would have been a few months ago.
Now I have quite the patch growing out on the back end of the property.
Better yet, when I meet my customers after work, I’m one of a thousand rednecks in town with a job that requires me to work outside. I could work anywhere. We all look the same. Same burgeoning beer bellies. Same deeply-tanned, soon to be cancerous skin. I could work anywhere.
Do I think its wrong selling people weed I scavenged out of shit?
It’s processed after all.
Not that any of them have asked the specifics of my operation.
The thing about it is, when you sell a product people have to put in their mouth, you don’t tell them you work at a shit plant.
It’s bad for business.
Ryan Tippets is a photojournalist in the Coast Guard. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and three sons.