They wander the alleys of Pacific Beach pawing the garbage in search of recyclable beverage containers to redeem for cash. Sometimes in packs, but more often alone. In daylight it’s mostly the transients. With night come Latino families driving dilapidated vehicles with Baja plates. The wife, and children, disperse in all directions in search of their quarry, while the father drives slowly behind.

Some scroungers have no respect for the neighborhood, leaving a clutter of garbage in their wake. Others take pride and leave the area neater then they found it.

Competition is fierce. Particularly, among transients who rely on income from recyclable collection to sustain their alcohol addiction.

One local transient shines among the rest. The comb-over man!

I spot him staggering down the alley. The greasy tendrils of his thinning blond hair plastered over the top of his balding scalp in the time honored fashion of the comb-over hair style.

Comb-over man has been around, on and off, for several years and I’ve come to admire his creativity. His technique to sustain a never ending quest for alcohol is different, although riskier.

Unlike others who paw through the trash for recyclable beverage containers, so they can redeem them for cash, and then use their cash to buy a cheap fix of alcohol, comb-over man has streamlined the process. He simply scrounges through the garbage in search of alcohol beverage containers in the hopes of finding some with a bit of alcohol left in them. He then downs the dregs. For reserve stock, comb-over carries a small bottle in his hip pocket. He pours any alcohol he doesn’t drink, on the spot, indiscriminately into his spooker bottle, unconcerned with mixing his drinks.

I watch Mr. Comb-Over belly up to a dumpster, shimmy over the edge, and climb in. He disappears inside and I can hear him rooting around while he mutters to himself. After a while he immerges, with a smile on his face, holding a beer bottle. He puts the bottle to his lips, throws back his head, takes a pull, and then tosses the now empty bottle back into the dumpster.

Once again our comb-over man disappears into the bowels of the dumpster, re-emerges with a beer can, and takes a pull. He spits out some of his swill, while swallowing the rest, then shouts; “Butts”. Apparently, the beer can had been used as an ashtray.

For a third time the comb-over transient disappears into the dumpster. This time he comes up beaming, holding a bottle of wine, and says to no one in particular; “This one’s almost full”. I watch him as he holds the bottle in front of his face while admiring his treasure. He puts the bottle to his lips and takes a long pull. This time, however, instead of swallowing, he immediately spews a stream of yellowish liquid out of his mouth and shouts; “Piss. It’s full of piss”.

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