Bottles and Cans

11 May

Homeless guy walking around with a giant industrial lawn and leaf garbage bag, gathering cans.  On a Wednesday morning.  Prime can gathering time; this is when people haul their garbage and recycling bins out.

How does he get this route at this time?  There are like 10 other homeless people who collect cans on my street, walking behind apartment buildings into people’s parking lots and rustling around the clinking clattering resonating trash cans– those things are like fucking tympanis– often at six or seven AM.  Up with the cock’s crow to go harvest cans, lest some other more enterprising homeless person get to them first.  Walking up steep hills with three layers of overcoats and snow pants on, with a black sweatshirt hood pulled up amplifying the sun.  Pushing a shopping cart with a bum wheel so you are constantly having to jerk it back to the left– pushing this up the second steepest hill in Los Angeles.  Getting to the point where you have the cart not just full to the brim but overflowing with a densely packed mountain of bottles and cans heaped up to the highest possible hump you can get without them falling out, and then on top of that four huge industrial lawn and leaf bags purloined from the city brush dumpster in the park, each full to bursting, packed drum tight like Cool Hand Luke’s belly after the fifty eggs, four of these lashed to the corners of this herky jerky shopping cart– restraining your now heavy and now even more awkward cart as you drag back down the second steepest hill in Los Angeles– dude. This is hard fucking work.  And a structured life: you’re up at six in the morning!  And you’re squabbling no doubt with fifteen other guys who want to do the same thing, OR, even more unbelievably, the other fifteen lesion-covered hairspray drinking schizophrenics have worked out a system, where one guy gets this block, this block and this block on Thursday, another gets them on Saturday, and so on.  I mean, this is how panhandling works– homeless people collectively have their shit together enough to assign one corner to one person on certain days; that’s why you never see two hobos battling to the death on the offramp over who gets to hold the VETERAN: HUNGRY sign.  They work it out, and in fact they give a cut to the cops, who enforce the territories in exchange for a piece. Probably they do the same for the bottle and can racket.

So it’s  a whole elaborate second economy, that comes from the eight or ten cents extra you pay to purchase a bottle or can in California.  A big part of which goes back to whatever scam recycling company is run by the mayor’s cousin or some major donor.  But it’s a system.  An industry. Homeless people have to get up early and do hard work and report to some kind of collective organization. And it’s a fucking efficient system; it is fucking air tight. Because not one bottle or can will be left by the side of the road.

So, homeless people basically have jobs, with these bottles and cans.  What, then, is the point of being homeless if you still have to get up early and answer to an asshole boss?  I get that a lot of them don’t choose this life, but a surprisingly high amount of them do; although now of course, they couldn’t get an apartment even if they wanted one- you can’t get a legit job with no address and showering shitting and shaving is a three hour ordeal and etc.  But it illustrates that if we had work for these people, they could do it.  People with severe mental illness and drug addiction and no doubt terrible control over their violent and/or sexual impulses have sorted out an entire industry that is absolutely efficient, completely among themselves. What if we could channel that somewhere.  What if they were harvesting genetically engineered sugar cane that could grow outside the tropics to make the kind of ethanol that they make in Brazil that led to that country being 100 per cent energy independent. Not the bullshit Iowa primary kind that costs more joules to make than it creates, the real kind that actually works.  What if they got minimum wage and a place to sleep in exchange for replanting the blackened post-wildfire San Gabriel Mountains with Douglas Firs.  What if we sent them to the moon to painstakingly harvest helium-3 as though it were a white plastic grocery bag of crushed Fanta 2-liters next to a decaying couch on the curb.  What if.

Because look at the energy and industry these vagrants scratched out of nothing against all possible odds.  Meanwhile those of us with air conditioning and cars can’t figure our fucking shit out.  The unshakable human spirit, etc.

4 Responses to “Bottles and Cans”

  1. ben January 9, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    you’re a fucking literary genius…literally.

  2. Brigitte June 15, 2019 at 8:59 am #

    I am reading in chronological order. Best writing out there.


  1. This Is An Attempt To Collect A Debt | delicioustacos - March 5, 2013

    […] These are the growth sectors of our economy.  Scams.  Scaring the stupid, elderly or poor into sending checks. Make money from home, by paying us money. Unemployed?  Sign up for our employment service where you pay us money.  Switch your balance to our 19.95 per cent APR credit card and get a payday loan at our financial institution right next to the liquor store.  Send us your social security check and Jesus will take away that gout.  The California State Lottery could make all your dreams come true and if you win Gelt Financial can buy your annuity off you for 40 cents on the dollar.  They’re gonna start scamming hobos out of their fucking bottles and cans. […]

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    […] A picture of some poor fucker bent over a trash can trying to scrounge up a couple bucks worth of bottles and cans for a beer. They’ve finally done it. They have made a sign that would literally make Jesus […]

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