Sunday, July 15, 2007

Taking back the empties © by adrian

As a man, I am incomplete, a total failure. I have never been able to find the missing gene that would allow me to identify with my fellow brothers, there is absolutely no other possibility. I am a failure.

I am almost 70 years old, and I have never in my life seen a complete game of any sport played on those fields or courts or ice men use for such things. I don't beep my car horn at women with big breasts. I don't wear my cap on backwards, I don't even wear one. I don't adjust my private parts in public places.

I spent most of my youth curled up in a big easy chair reading Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Plato, Freud and Jung while I listened to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, I wore an ascot and a beret, I was disgusting!

Wait, it gets worse... I cook, I do my own laundry, I sew. If there is a problem in my relationship with my lovely bride of 7 years (much to our surprise, we both re-married late in life), I am always the first to state the obvious "we need to talk". I will discuss my deepest feelings and inner thoughts with anybody, I will happily open up to the bus driver, I am not afraid of what others think of me. When I get served badly, I tell the person involved that their actions are unsatisfactory, and if served well, I never miss expressing how much I enjoyed what just happened. None of that "have a nice day" stuff, but real solid contact and thanks.

Don't get me wrong, I am a capable individual... I could do a pretty good job of wiring your house, I can do your plumbing for you, not just changing a washer, but big grown up stuff with blow torches and the like, I could even present you with a fairly good plumbers butt. If something mechanical is broken, there's a pretty good chance I will be able to fix it.

As I said though, as a man, I just don't measure up, I just can't do any of that "guy" stuff that men do so well. I am a failure.

I almost forgot, I don't drink beer very often, and if I do, it's always one of those honey brown beers, you know, the kind that, to use Arnold Schwarzenegger's words a "Girly Man" would drink.

In the city I live in we have just started a returnable wine bottle deposit system, an almost fine idea, except for one tiny, tiny flaw... you are required to take your wine bottles back to a beer store, so for those of us that don't beer much, it's a non event and sadly they simply go in the recycle bin. This though, has created a new "cottage industry" of people that go out on recycling days with huge shopping carts and roam the city picking up bottles so that they can return them and enjoy the refundable deposit for their efforts.

It's been about four years since I was last in a beer store and my cousin, bless her soul, brought us a six pack the last time she came to dinner, so now I had 2 six packs and a twelve pack of empties to return, I even had 3 wine bottles in the recycling bin that could go back. I was ready. I threw the empty wine bottles in a plastic bag and the cases of empties in the car and drove off to do my deed. I was pumped.

As I arrived at the parking lot of the Plaza where the beer store was, I realized my grip on the steering wheel was tightening, I could feel a nervousness building, I was slightly nauseous as I started remembering just how "manly" beer stores are, how totally incapable I have always been at navigating these places... the minute I open the door, they all know my secret, they all know that I do not belong there, that I am not one of them.

On parking, I noticed that my brain had stopped working and I could no longer remember what brand of beer I drank. I sat for a few minutes and then convinced myself that this had to be done, I would at least go in and look around, maybe I would recognize the bottle in the displays they have on the wall of all beer stores and if my vocal cords stayed paralyzed with fear, perhaps I could just point and some kindly clerk would help me.

Well, as you know, life does not always unfold the way it is pre-imagined. Apparently since the last time I was in a beer store they changed the interiors rather dramatically and failed to notify me. There was no row of bottles on the wall for me to point to, everything was bare except for a check out island in the middle of the store, one at the back, and a long row of those roller things I recognized where I would return my empties to if I had not cowardly left them on the front seat of my car. To one side I saw a cavernous room that men were casually walking freely into and strolling out with cases of beer under their arms. Everybody was staring at me, they were all waiting to see what the Gringo would do, I found my voice and said to the clerk standing in the centre island "Is this self serve, do I just go in there and get what I want?" "Yep" he answered.

I am now in the largest refrigerator I have ever seen in my life... it is stacked with hundreds, possibly thousand of cases of beer, I am in what I perceive is "Man Heaven". I wander about aimlessly, I cant find what I want if my life depends on it, I know if I stay in here much longer, I will be found in a corner, humming quietly and sucking my thumb... I retreat. As I flee to the exit door the clerk calls to me "Couldn't find what you were looking for?", "No, it's OK, this was just a practice, I will come back next week" I reply. I get to my car and without looking back drive away.

It's Wednesday now, and I have been driving around with my empties crashing and rolling about the car floor, reminding me of Saturday's folly... I must do this thing, I must return these bottles, I must be strong. I must also remember the name of the brand I drink when I go into that dreadful place! I will buy 24 bottles this time, I won't need to return for another 4 years. If I can cut back on my drinking, I might be able to squeeze 5 years out of this new case before I have to return it.

Full of resolve I jump into the car. I even understand the lay of the land this time, I am ready, I am pumped. Life is good!

I live ten minutes away from the beer store. After driving 5 minutes or so I notice on the sidewalk the occasional street person clanging up the street with his/her cart full of bottles, I think how sweet that they have been able to take advantage of this new system and find some spare change without the need to beg.

I turn down a side street about four blocks from the beer store and notice more people with their loaded carts. For a brief moment I think that I am a jerk, and maybe I should stop and give these bottles to someone, they certainly can use the money more than I, but no, I am challenged and want to overcome this fear of the dreaded beer store, I need to do this, so I drive on.

I round the final corner, I'm about 3 blocks from my destination and finally confronted with the insanity of it. The scene is like every End of Days movie I have ever seen. As far as I can see, in the direction I am traveling, and coming over the hill from the other side is a long endless shuffle of disheveled people and carts & bottles clanking, falling, spilling... everybody funneling into the mouth of the beer store parking lot. Everybody has arrived today to collect their prize. Today is recycling day!

At first I think I should just keep driving and try again some other time, but I know I might never be able to prepare myself to do this again, so I soldier on. Anyway, I reason, I'm fairly shopworn, used and disheveled looking myself, with my wine bottles and a few loose beer bottles in a plastic bag I will just blend in, I will be in a store full of others that don't belong there either. God has created this cover for me so that I can return my empties unnoticed.

Wait, it gets worse... I park the car and as I'm walking toward the front door clutching my sad offering of empties I notice a fellow who owns a bar just down the street from where my studio was a few years ago. We were neighbours for 15 years. He is loading up his empties to take back and replenish his restaurant stock for the day. He sees me for the first time in 4 years and I can see in his face he is embarrassed for me, for a brief moment I'm sure he wonders if he should ask me if I want any of his empties to help me out. He must think that I can certainly use the money more than he. Instead he decides the way to deal with his former indigent neighbour is to look away and pretend he hasn't seen me. Just as well, because I am now swept in the maelstrom of people and carts and empties sliding into the store. To try to turn back now could precipitate a disaster.

I am pushed into the store by the moving crowd, everybody with their carts and boxes full to the brim, all anxious to get this transaction finished, so they can go back out and find more treasure. As each arrived at the front of the line I notice that every bottle they are claiming is being argued over and fought for. The clerk reaches into bags and boxes and various other offering that he is presented with and rejects many and hands them back to the surprised supplicant. I am never able to determine why the various bottles are rejected and I doubt that the people they are returned to know, but suffice to say that for every pile of bottles that is inspected, more than half are handed back to the presenter as not refundable. They turn around after they get their money, shuffle outside and dump the bottles that are not accepted into the closest garbage bin, sometimes simply on the lawn beside the beer store and then go on their way. None of this seems particularly useful for the cities recycling plan.

My turn arrives and I hand my submission to the clerk and wait for my gold. I have no idea what the amount of loose change I am given totals, it wouldn't do me any good to count it anyway, I don't know what the empties are worth. I do feel a sense of triumph and am delighted that I have passed inspection, I've shown myself to be a worthy scavenger. They have accepted my humble offering, for a brief moment I am part of a group, I am one of them!

I panic briefly as I realize that I still need to get my new case of beer, but pull myself together and aim for the "Cold Room". I am able to quickly find what I need, snatch it in my arms and boldly stride back to the counter beside where I was a minute ago. The fellow that had served me interrupts his sad task of returning unacceptable bottles to the people that have reached his counter and calls into a microphone for "front counter checkout". Someone eventually arrives, takes my money and sends me on my way.

I figure in about 4 to 5 years I'll have some empties to return, maybe by then the scavengers will have cell phones on their carts and I can phone ahead for a pickup, I'm pretty sure I will never be able to do this again.

On telling this sad story to my bride, I asked her if she would give me a son, so that I would have someone to help me learn the ways of manhood. She just smiled, and then asked me if I would like a beer.