Author: Susie Harris
Neighborhood: University Heights
Today I brought my glass and plastic bottles to the local recycling
center. The building I live in has no provisions for pickup. The man asked if I wanted my refund. “Sure,” I said, and he wrote out a slip for a $1 credit with instructions to take it to the supermarket a few yards away for reimbursement.
While I was waiting for the receipt I looked around and saw “the collectors.” Mostly men, the ones we hear rooting through the bins the night before collection day. There were maybe six or seven men and one woman chatting among themselves, commenting on how well each had done, comparing hundreds of empty beverage cans in huge clear plastic bags. I overheard one man say, “Glad to see you back on the job — just stay clear of my alley.” “Not to worry” was the reply. “I have my own now.”
I recognize two of the men from my alley. These homeless people, making their money in a respectable way, faces grizzled in beard and craggy lines from too much of the elements, too little of much else. People missing teeth with matted hair under greasy-looking baseball caps, several layers of clothing on spare frames, having a business meeting of sorts.
The laughter was not the sound that a belly laugh brings but a sharp, loud sound ringed with fear, maybe madness, from living life in a canyon, thanking stars above that everyone is drinking plastic containers of water, cans of soft drinks, and bottles of tea so that maybe tonight — cold, under a tarp, sheltered from the rain — a pint of liquor will get them through. Drink to drink. A new life cycle.