I’m not usually one to talk trash, but I have a trashy tale to tell.

Last month, hysteria enveloped our quiet neighborhood when a postcard informed residents that for the duration of the holidays, our regular trash day would be switched from Wednesday to Saturday. It was the confusion over this card that brought The Great Disposal Debacle of December.

On the first Saturday before Christmas, folks were too busy buying junk on sale to think about disposing junk, and disposal crews enjoyed a short day. But by the Saturday after Christmas, cans were filled with the carcasses of turkeys and old doll-ies. And by the Saturday after New Year’s, people were too stuffed to remember exactly what that postcard said.

With no one sure, hysteria began to permeate the population. People began to wonder, “Is this trash day? What did the postcard say?”

“I don’t know. I threw it away” was the most popular response.

With so many postcards in the bottom of so many trashcans, people were left to follow the herd mentality. Finally, one cocky soul, confident this was trash day, put his trash on the line. Doors creaked for peeks, neighbors labored and phones buzzed. More cans followed. Joggers and mommies pushing jogging strollers spread the fear via cell phones urging spouses to make the curbside push. That’s when the dam broke.

Herds of people made the dash for the curb praying it wasn’t too late. It was that whole herd-to-the-curb mentality.

“It must be trash day,” I announced with a righteous tone.

“Why?” asked my wife.

“Cans are careening to the curb! Everyone’s gone trash toting. Our cans are stuffed! Hurry or we’ll miss the day,” I warned in my repent-or-burn voice.

“I don’t think it’s today. We’re back on the regular schedule.”

“Then why are so many people putting their trash out?” I asked, with a thumb turned street side.

“One person did, so they all did,” she said, yelling her social commentary as I rattled the cans to the street.

Knowing the Scripture about the truth setting people free, and eager to share that truth with my wife, I scouted the sound of every little delivery truck. Other neighbors joined my acoustical surveillance team as they cocked their ears out second-story windows. I have no doubt that time-lapse photography would have shown people scurrying with the fury of the Wal-Mart after-Christmas sale.

People ran across the street consulting neighbors — pulling out more cans — doors were opening and slamming in search of that truck. Finally, when rumor found its saturation point and could be circulated no further, a hard-headed neighbor emerged brandishing the postcard she had dutifully posted on her refrigerator.

As she circulated her epistle, converts found the truth and returned their cans to the hidden place where respectable neighborhood CC&R’s demand they be placed.

Some, who were unwilling to demonstrate Swagartlike shame for their sins, rolled their cans soundlessly over their lawns while still others employed the jerk-and-run method. Twenty-four hours after retrieving my cans, there were still a few holdouts keeping Yuletide watch o’er their cans by night — all the while awaiting the second coming of the garbage truck and muttering, “They’ll be sorry when the truck comes!”

Such is the logic of the hysterical times in which we live. I don’t mean to trivialize our post 9-11 fears with my garbage parable, but several things happened this week that caused the parable to come to mind. A sleeping guard caused panicked officials to evacuate the Seattle Airport. Fear came to the hearts of many over a fabricated story of men infiltrating the United States on Christmas Eve.

Now, the fear of smallpox is bringing back a controversial vaccination. Is it just me, or is our panic meter pegging a bit past normal — or even a “new normal”? Are we on the verge of warping back to the 1950s when we were digging backyard bomb shelters and looking for communists on every Hollywood set?

It seems to me that facts remain our best ally against fear. When you want to know which day is trash day, check the facts. Just as a factual postcard reversed the hysteria of our neighborhood, the world awaits the factual confirmations of international inspectors. Before we start acting on our fear, we have to ask ourselves whether it’s really trash day? Is it time to take out the garbage of the world?

If it is, great, but let’s stick to the facts when it comes to defining the garbage, shall we? While warning against the hysteria spread though “wars and rumors of wars,” the Bible encourages us to open our Christmas present and see that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Keeping a sound mind gets my vote every time.