Thursday, June 10, 2010


Yesterday, I took my accumulated aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles to the recycling station that is located in the parking lot of a now-vacant grocery store. The recycling bin has been there for years; the store left maybe six months ago. I was mildly surprised to see a new employee weighing the recyclables. The new person is a bespectacled young African-American man who is much bigger than I am, and he wears his hair (what a peculiar old expression) long and natural. The previous employee was a young woman who took some pains to look like a boy.[1] I think the best word I could use to describe her demeanor would be “guarded.” She seemed to me not so much defensive as she was protective, and she was the sort of person who made me worry about her—briefly. I actually told her I was a little concerned about her the last time I saw her because when the supermarket moved out it meant that the recycling employee became the customer’s cashier. Normally, the employee would give the customer a voucher that he or she would in turn take to the store for the cash payout. When I saw that the young woman had been given a till of sorts and the responsibility of paying the customers, I told her I hoped she wouldn’t have any problems.

By problems, of course, I meant with the sometimes-unsavory clientele who frequent the recycling station.[2] Once, while my recyclables were being weighed and valued, a young man with a loose grip on himself and reality approached the recycling station with a handful of cans and bottles. He waited a minute or two before he became unhinged about some perceived insult or injustice. I truly feared for the employee’s safety (and my own), but the deranged man ultimately threw down his tiny mess of recycling and stomped away across the parking lot toward the Taco Bell, cursing all the way.

Yesterday, when I arrived at the recycling station, I saw that a woman with a big load was being served and other recyclers were converging on the big bin along with me. I unloaded my recycling bins and got in line behind the woman with the big load. I was joined immediately in line by a black guy with a single plastic bag (clear) of cans. He seemed like he either wanted to ask a question or go ahead of me in line, but he said nothing to me—at first. Then two women in a cream, 70s-era Chevy pickup outfitted with a camper shell pulled into the parking space next to my truck. One of the small windows on the camper shell had been broken out. By this time, I had emptied my garbage/recycling cans into the garbage/recycling cans used by the recycling center, a required part of the recycling process. So I was standing next to my empty cans, which happen to look just like the recycling company’s cans, when one of the young women approached me and asked if my cans were free to be used.

I told the young woman that the cans were mine, and she retreated to her companion at the Chevy. I stacked my cans and took them quickly back to my truck. I saw then that the other woman, the one who had not spoken to me, had hopped into the bed of their pickup, and she seemed to be rearranging the contents of the bed, which included a baby stroller. The woman who had spoken to me was attending to a toddler girl, who was standing on the lowered tailgate of the truck. When I returned to the recycling center, my stuff was being weighed and tallied, and the black man finally spoke to me: “What she axe you? She think you work here or something? I knew you wasn’t working here.” He went on like this for a moment or two, which suggested to me that he, too, thought I was an official of the recycling company—based on the fact that I was standing next to garbage cans that looked like official garbage cans.

As I stepped over to the mouth of the recycling bin/trailer to receive my rewards for helping the environment, the black man stepped over to the Chevy pickup. It was clear now that the woman in the bed was sorting loose, uncontained recyclables, and that’s why they needed the cans just to get their stuff over to the place of business. The black man walked right up to the little girl and the woman who had spoken to me, and he said, “She got some black in her, ain’t she?”

Without hesitation or irritation, the young woman replied, “She’s black, Mexican, and little Filipino.” And thus began a lively and friendly conversation between the black man and both women.[3] I walked past the confab when I returned to my truck with my cash, and I learned (overheard, really) that there was another child, younger and belonging to the other woman, asleep in the cab of the Chevy. I discovered, too, that the loose recyclables in the pickup bed were piled in a cascading formation from the hole on the side of the camper shell. Most of the recyclables appeared to be plastic water bottles, and they amounted to a waterless waterfall, flowing from the intentional opening (I understood now) in the back of the Chevy.

I smiled at the cute little Black/Mexican/Filipino girl as I made my way between the two trucks to my driver’s side door, and I said, “Bye, bye.”

[1] Before the young woman, there was a friendly middle-aged Hispanic man, and before him I don’t remember. Actually, I remember several people but not in order.

[2] Yes, I know, I’m a member of this group.

[3] This conversation was punctuated by several double negatives and the exclamation, “Exactly!”

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