Bottles and Cans

by SpaceBass

An editorial on perspective.

I recently moved, and I've been working on getting the old house, which I rented, cleaned up and cleared out. I lived there for six years, so needless to say the cleanup is a rather big job. For the past month, I've been going over there every Wednesday night to put out trash and recycling to be picked up on Thursday morning. Last night was my last chance to get rid of the rest of the twelve metric tons of cardboard boxes that I'd collected in the basement over the course of my stay there, since this Friday I have an appointment with the landlords to give back my keys.

Now let me make something clear: when I say 'twelve metric tons of cardboard boxes,' I am employing hyperbole. Which is to say, I am exaggerating the amount of boxes for comic effect. In fact, there were only eleven metric tons at best. Seriously, there was enough cardboard stuffed in the basement to feed a family of trapped cats for hundreds or thousands of years, long enough that they could be fruitful and multiply, and eventually evolve into sentience and develop a civilized society that could work together to create the tools they would need to free themselves from their basement prison, whereupon they could find a nice sunny spot and promptly go back to sleep.

That's a lot of recycling.

When I put out an inordinate amount of crap on the curb, I tend to feel a little guilty that I'm creating much more work than the recycling guys could reasonably expect to encounter when they head out for the morning. Yes, I'm paying for the service through garbage fees and municipal taxation; but I can't help but feel lame when a pile of cardboard grows so high that I have to put a little red light on top of it to warn off low-flying aircraft. In situations like these, I enjoy assuaging my guilt through the judicious use of bribery.

Our state has deposit bottles and cans; when you buy a beer or soda, you pay an extra five cents per bottle or can at checkout. Then, when you return the bottles and cans, which you can do at any retailer that sells any such items, you get your deposit money back. This is a program that predates the local curbside recycling, and which was basically developed to encourage people not to toss their empties on the side of the road when they were cruising along the freeway enjoying a nice cold brew.

Anyway, the point is that empty bottles and cans are more valuable than just being something shiny to distract small children and current U.S. presidents with; with a small amount of effort, they are money in the bank, baby. But then, I'm personally too lazy to make even that small amount of effort to get my deposits back, so I save up all of those bottles and cans and use them as bribes come recycling day. You see, when the recycling drivers come across deposit items, the drivers get to keep the deposit money for themselves. I've put out incredibly excessive amounts of stuff before, some of it not entirely well sorted or possibly even recyclable, but it all got hauled off because I put a couple of bags of cans next to it. At least, that's why I like to think it got hauled off; even if they would have taken it anyway, though, perhaps the drivers themselves felt a little less annoyance because of the little bonus they got along with it.

I knew that I was going to have a lot of stuff to put out for my last chance recycling, so I'd kept around some bottles and cans to put out as well. But last night something happened that I'd never personally encountered before, although I'd heard others complain of it: a couple of guys came by and took the deposit bottles and cans for themselves.

I had put out the trash, most of the bottles and cans, and some of the cardboard somewhat early on in the evening. I came out a little later with another load of broken-down boxes and there was this dude going through the bin. He was kind of scruffy looking: dirty untucked shirt, sweatpants, long scraggly hair, baseball cap. He had already stuffed most of the cans and bottles into the paniers on his well-used bicycle that was propped up next to him.

My initial reaction was to say, "Hey! You can't do that!" But as I was about to, he spotted me and spoke up first, asking if I minded what he was doing. For some reason, I shook my head and waved for him to continue.

He was very polite and chatted with me a bit as he finished going through the bin. He asked where I had gotten a particular brand of beer bottle. At first, when I told him I'd bought them directly from the brewery in Sun Valley, Idaho, he thought he wouldn't take those bottles, since most local stores have a policy that they won't pay deposits on brands of beer and soda that they don't sell themselves. It's extremely unlikely that any local store would sell this particular microbrew from Idaho. The bottles did list an Oregon deposit on the label though, so the guy reconsidered after a little bit and decided to take them as well, eagerly stuffing them into his saddlebags along with the others he'd already crammed in.

As we chatted, I came to learn that the guy was a disabled veteran. He told me he would go around collecting these bottles and cans so he could have some extra money to use for the noble pursuit of sitting on his couch drinking beer and watching wrestling. Actually, he called it "wrasslin'," which was a really incongruous pronunciation juxtaposed with his slightly faded british accent. It was refreshing that he didn't try to feed me some bogus story about why he wanted the deposits, as I would have expected.

When he'd gathered all I had set out, the veteran thanked me again and advised me to have a good evening, then awkwardly mounted his bike and slowly rode off. My neighbor across the street happened to be out washing his truck, and after the guy had gotten down the street a bit, my neighbor called over to me joking about whether I had made a new friend. I laughed and nodded, and when I thought about it, I guessed I was kind of happy that I might have helped that guy out in some small way.

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