Sunday, November 13, 2011
Tales from the Scrap Heap
They come out on Sunday nights, just as the sun is setting.
“There they are,” my sister said the other week, “the metal people.”
We were outside our parents’ house and I could see a few people at the end of the block going through garbage cans. They’d have a lot of competition as the evening wore on.
We’ve grown accustomed to seeing people collecting soda cans and bottles so they can get the deposit money. They tend to be elderly Asian women lugging overstuffed trash bags on their shoulders.
There was one lady in particular who used to come around every Sunday night. This was back during my chronic Diet Coke addiction, when I was drinking the vile stuff for breakfast, so she made a small fortune every time she stopped by my house.
I don’t know anything about her, since we didn’t speak each other’s language, but she had a nice smile and she’d always clasp her hands together and bow slightly whenever I gave her some bottles.
She had an eye for the recyclables, that’s for sure. I handed her a bag of soda bottles one time and gestured that there were no more. But she scanned my trashcan anyway and, sure enough, she found a discarded water bottle that I had missed.
I went cold turkey on the diet soda after a major reflux incident and I never saw her again.
Lately, I’ve noticed people of different ages and ethnicities going through the garbage and they’re looking for more than just bottles and cans. They want metal.
Now we’ve been throwing out a lot of metal in the last few months as we clean out the house—battered pots, scratched up frying pans—stuff that we didn’t want to keep and isn’t good enough to donate.
Who Goes There?
Maybe that’s why we’re seeing these folks around our house, but I really think it’s a sign of bad times, of people doing anything they can to get by.
I’m always tempted to speak with these people, but there is the language barrier. And while I would never pass judgment on anyone, I don’t want to embarrass them by asking why they’re doing this.
Yet I’m dying to know their stories. Who buys this stuff from you? How much do you get for it? Do you make enough money to feed your family?
We came out one afternoon to find an Asian couple with a little girl going through the trash. I offered them an old glass bottle, but they politely declined. The girl said “bye-bye” as they left.
Last week we put out our mother’s old ironing board, which she had used for years. I can easily picture her standing in the kitchen and dutifully getting the wrinkles out of our clothes.
It was a little banged up, but still usable. However, it’s more suited to a house than an apartment, so we decided to toss it.
We already had a pile of trash outside the house, so I tried to set up the ironing board so it wouldn't obstruct the sidewalk.
The last thing we needed is some Whiplash Willy to trip in front of our house and haul us into court.
I wasn’t even sure the garbage men would take damn thing, since they can be so picky about junk sometimes.
It disappeared in less than an hour.
Whoever took it didn’t wait for sundown; they scooped up that ironing board in the middle of the day. I hope they get plenty of use out of it.
The Metal People will probably be with us for a long time. Given the current economy, you’d better pray to God that you don’t become one of them.