The canners would come down our side street Thursdays. Thursdays: trash day was Friday. Gray 95 gallon bins wheeled between the driveways. Like a vein of recyclables. Beer cans, plastic soda bottles. CA CRV. It was competitive, and the regulars would get first dibs. Skimming the bins at sundown. But if the neighbors put the bins out late the stragglers would get the haul. Sling a trash bag over the shoulder and ride off one-hand on a bicycle. We’d see them from the stoop, ashing in a soup can.
We figured they were homeless. Or addicts. Or both. One afternoon we see a Black man stop his shopping cart in front of our bin. In a familiar motion, flip the lid and sift through the jumbled contents. Tilt the bin on the lip of the curb and strike his hand in. “Hey man” my roommate says from the stoop. “We have more cans inside. D’you want them?” Surprised, the man says yes. We go inside and come back out with two milk crates of cans. “Thank you” the man says. “I just got off work. I come home and I do this.”
We began collecting our cans in brown grocery bags. Double-bagged. We’d rinse each one and stack them. Beer cans, plastic soda bottles. Six-packs on weekend nights. We’d place the bags beside our bin on Thursdays. They’d be had in an hour or two. Our proffer to the canners. The conscientious White boys. Believing it beneath the dignity of any man to dig in the recycling.
Eventually we saw the neighbor was taking them. Our neighbor L. And he outright asked if he could have them. By then I had saved some bags myself. Beneath the back deck so they wouldn’t get stolen. Rained on so the cans were soiled, the bags were soddened. A deposit for beer money, untapped. We gave them all to L. “Surprised you don’t just turn in the cans yourself” he said. For maybe 15 bucks. Yeah. But we weren’t the ones hustlin’.