Posted by jdg | Monday, January 18, 2010

I am walking to the pizza shop in our neighborhood to buy a two liter of diet soda for two dollars when a homeless man stops me to ask if I've seen any bottles around. There are four inches of snow over everything so I nod towards the footprints I've just made and say not back there. He segues into a typical request for funds and for once I can tell the truth: I've only got two dollars in my pocket and I'm going to spend them over there. Still, I don't tell him those two dollars are earmarked for diet soda. On my walk back the two liter is cold and heavy in the waist pocket of my Barbour coat and he's sitting there on a park bench and I ask if he still wants bottles and he sure does so I tell him to wait there for five minutes. I walk into my warm home, past my wallet full of money without taking off my expensive boots (a purchase I justified because they were MADE IN THE USA), leaving a trail of snow from the treads and the cuffs of my jeans down to where we store the hidden shame of my addiction to diet cola. Getting to the store for the ten cent returns in our tiny car is often too much of a hassle so I let the empties pile up. I'm actually thrilled to hoist a garbage bag filled with at least a hundred bottles and cans onto my back and head right back out into the cold where I drop them at the feet of the homeless man. It's all Coke or Pepsi products, I say, none of that off-brand shit, so they shouldn't give you any trouble over returning those.

"What time is it?"

It is getting late. He doesn't thank me. I watch him calculate a route through the darkness and snow to the archipelago of bodegas and ghetto grocery stores that impose limits on how many bottles one man may return to deter men like him from returning anything for the meager cash this labor provides. There's a plastic bag wrapped around one of his ratty tennis shoes. The old man hoists ten dollars worth of aluminum and plastic onto his back with the promise of malt liquor or a hamburger or whatever the hell he wants spurring him away from me, and I can't remember the last time I felt this ashamed.