Tag Archives: recycling

The Morning Commute

Two strange things I saw on the way to work on the morning of Tuesday, July 6, 2011:

  1. An older Asian man, not unlike a Cart Lady, riding a bicycle, only his bulging trash bags, overstuffed with recyclable bottles and cans looted from curbsides, werre strapped down by bungee cords to the rack above his rear wheel, rather than tossed in a stolen shopping cart. I was waiting at a busy intersection (on the Southwest Corridor Bike Path at Whittier/Ruggles Street, for those keeping track), either for a break in the traffic, or for a walk signal so I could make my way across. Another bicyclist waited there with me (She was there first, and had clearly never heard of pressing the “Walk” button, but that’s beside the point). The older Asian man, on his salvaged Mad Max-esque warcycle of five-cent deposits, was heading towards me in the opposite direction. Rather than wait for a break in traffic — and it’s not like he was going very fast with all that weight on his back, so braking shouldn’t have been a problem — the man continued pedaling (slowly) across the street, with a mad smile. Perhaps he reveled in the thrill of near-death; or, maybe he was deranged and suicidal. There seemed to be more cars in the road at that particular moment than there had previously been.

    Even through the cacophony of revved-up engines and the mad blaring horns of morning commuters, I could still make out the strangest sound from the bicyclist. As one car swerved to avoid him, the man, unphased, cried out, “Bwang-CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG.” I’m attempting to spell this phonetically, of course — I’m not very well versed in foreign languages — but it sounded like the stereotypical sound of a Gong from a movie. Literally like the kind of magic Gong that cues the entrance of some kind of ancient mystic or fabled warrior. When the man finally reached my side of the street, he was laughing wildly to himself, and seemed to be completely oblivious to the presence of myself and the other bicyclist, plowing between us and nearly knocking us both over without a moment of hesitation.

    After that, the road was clear of all sign of cars, and we were finally free to cross.

  2. Riding down Massachusetts Avenue — a fairly major road through Boston/Cambridge, for those of you not from the area, and especially busy during commuter hours — I was preparing to turn left and pull into work when I saw a handicapped man in a motorized wheelchair. A man in a motorized wheelchair crawling along with the rest of the traffic in the middle of the road. Cars in front of him, cars behind him; he was fully situated in a lane of traffic.

    But no one seemed to notice or mind. Probably because he had decked his electric wheelchair out with banners and signs celebrating David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s win in the 2010 Homerun Derby the night before. It’s amazing the kind of things that people get away with in this city under the auspices of the Red Sox. They’re like the universal alibi.

So that was my morning. I guess what they say is true — “Tuesday’s coming; did you bring your coat?”

Bottles and Cans

I set the box down, turn my back to it, walk to the door and hear CRASH! CLANG!, the harsh, concussive orchestra, the echoing collision within glass walls/aluminum chambers, anticipate a soft plastic pop but find it’s drowned out/overwhelmed/consumed by that abrasive cacophony born of late drunken beers, breakfast cans of Coca-Cola Zero, jagged-edge pull-lids still covered in chowdah, all of which feel this crushing urge to prove their worth.

She keeps one hand on a cart/a tank—a prop from some post-apocalyptic time, with ruined treads and bulging sacks of scavenged somethings strapped to its flank—while she squats and sifts through the box. She plays the drum major, conducting a loose percussion section as her hand shuffles through the box/blue box/green box with its tri-angle’d arrow design and the sound slays a single cilia in my eardrum. She looks up at me with sunken, slanted eyes that bleed to jaundice at the edges and offers a glimmer of graciousness, an uncertain/empty smile from behind her dry, sagging lips. Not empty in that vapid way that other people offer—empty in her mouth, where nearly all her teeth have rotted out.

“Sankiyu, sankiyu!,” she slurs excitedly.

I respond with a slight nervous smile. You’re welcome? I never did much worth a welcome. I didn’t realize beer still made folks giddy three days late, especially when there’s nothing left to drink.

No, wait, there’s a little bit left, dripping on her fingers, flowing with the age’d, weather’d patterns/grooves cut into her sandpaper skin/making a medley of sugary juices, mold and soup in the base of the box/puddling on the curb/coating her frail old hands. They looked like latex gloves, her hands, six sizes too small—more like a finger condom used for five and a palm—stretched out, weathered nearly to the breaking point, worn down to a weak, translucent film of thin plastic, filled with pebbles and stapled to her sleeves.

I stand still and silent on the front steps, watching while she finishes her task, tossing empties into her cart with ardor and zeal; the steady clamor of the clinking cans hypnotizes/keeps my attention like raindrops. When she’s finished/when the box is barren, save for the sickening puddle of purée inside, she turns back to me and waves/mumbles “Sankiyu,” again as she pushes her cart up the hill and away; it must weigh 300 pounds, or more, but her fragile, 80-pound frame is determined. She conquers gravity and somehow makes it to the top of the hill. How did I not hear her approach in the first place? I tighten my velvet bathrobe belt. The sharp, discordant jingle/jangle of bottles and cans reverberates down the corridor of rowhouses on the street and I’m amazed it doesn’t wake the neighbors. With one hand, I grab the newspaper; with the other hand, the box/head back inside/wonder if the seven dollars and thirty-five cents she’ll make from the bottle deposit is really worth it.