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coming up...
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Be Careful What You Ask For (05/02/21)

We have always been told “be careful what you wish for,” that also applies to what you ‘ask’ for!

My friends and I walk for about an hour every morning, and I am always in search of things along the walk that I can incorporate into a piece of art. Recently, I have noticed an increase in those mini-bottles of booze laying in the streets, sold in three locations within our walking area.

I assume the increase correlates to the increase in homeless in the area as well, and really hurts my heart thinking they are increasing their alcohol consumption. The increase in the homeless is really an issue this country, well actually the world, needs to address.

Since I started noticing the increase in the bottles, I figured I’d create a piece of art that addresses the issue, and so started picking them up and documenting where they are found in relation to the locations where they are sold.

In the first couple weeks of collecting them, I’d picked up around 50+ bottles.

One morning I was getting ready to take out our recycling to the bin, and noticed a young guy pulling the aluminum cans out of the bin. I grabbed $40 to take down to give him.

I got down to the bin, said hello, and noticed the guy seemed to be in pretty good shape for a homeless guy scavenging for recyclables. For anybody that knows me or has read other stories posted, I have experience dealing with the homeless.

As I started talking to him, he seemed to have all his senses together, and after I gave him the money, I got a thank you, and a comment about it only going to food. I've heard that line several times before. “I can barely scrounge up enough to eat, I don’t have anything left for cigarettes, booze, drugs, or anything else.”

I felt bad for the guy, and told him I’d bring him down some more cash, it was the least I could do. I ran upstairs, grabbed the remaining cash I had on hand, a little over $60, and took it down to him.

I got another wholehearted thank you. He then started telling me how happy he was the restaurants were starting to open again, because that meant more change laying around them, and more food scraps that were actually edible to pick from. Argh, we really need to help these folks.

He kept chatting, and told me that recyclables were more difficult now, because many of the local recycling stations had closed, and the few that were still open where only taking aluminum—no more plastic.

That entire line of conversation just got me foaming at the mouth. Not only does this country and the world need to help the homeless find a suitable place to live and decent medical and mental assistance, but as a planet, we really need to address the plastic waste issue as well. I thought “the whole world is going to Hell!”

Coming back to reality, I asked this guy about the small bottles of booze that were laying around. Had said he seen many of them, but they were worthless to him, so he didn’t bother picking them up. Hmmm, for me, a two-fold opportunity!

I told him I’d pay him 50 cents a bottle for as many as he could gather, just needed to have the lid on them, and asked if he was interested. I got a quick “yeah, sure!” I let him know I’d be back down at the recycling bin a week later, so Friday morning, 6 a.m., and would cash in any bottles he had found.

We agreed we’d meet again in a week, and I left not thinking much more about it. I put a reminder on my calendar so I didn’t miss the appointment, wondering if he would show up, and went about my week.

Friday morning at 6 .a.m. I was watching the recycling area, and he was a no show. I didn’t feel too bad, I’d given him a little over $100, and I hoped that got him something decent to eat for a while.

I was just about to leave the balcony and head out for a walk when I heard somebody yelling “hey, buddy!” There he was, and to my surprise and dismay, lugging a large black plastic bag. He looked like a bad night’s dream of Santa. But I noticed he was wearing new, bright blue sneakers. I could only imagine the story behind the shoes.

I grabbed my wallet, checked to make sure I had plenty of cash, and headed down to meet him.

“Hi, my name is Chris. It’s really Christopher, but I’ve always been called Chris. My dad called me Chrissie. He was such a fuck, he wanted a girl not a boy!” He shook himself like he was shaking off a bunch of bugs “Wow, sorry about that. Hey, I found almost 300 of those bottles. And I got a new pair of shoes with the money you gave me last week!”

I stood there for a second not sure what part of that comment to react to. “Glad you got new shoes.”

But before I could get another word out, Chris told me that he was only able to find so many bottles because of the new shoes. He had got them right after I had given him money a week earlier. “My old shoes were shit and full of holes, I could have never put in so much mileage to find all these bottles without these new shoes. I got a couple pairs of socks too.”

“Were you able to get something to eat?” I asked.

Yes he had, he had been eating at the Mexican restaurant up the street, where he could get a full meal for a little over $5. “They know me by name, but they call me Cristobal. At least it’s not Chrissie.”

He then opened the bag, and crud, it was full of those little bottles, complete with lids. Oddly, a couple common brands were dominant, and as I grabbed a couple and looked at them Chris told me that E&J and New Amsterdam were the cheapest and those made up the majority of the bottles.

“Do you want to count them?” Chris asked. “Uhm, do we need to?” I asked.

“Well, I lost count a little around 300, we could just say 300.”

By now I was really starting to like this guy, and felt really bad that he was having a bad spell in life. He had a great attitude and was extremely personable, something rare these days with the younger crowd, whether they have a home or not.

I got out my wallet, and gave him $200. A bit shocked, Chris grabbed the money, thanked me, then looked at me like ‘oops,’ and asked if I was sure about the amount. I laughed at how quickly he had snatched the money, but yes, I was sure.

“I can keep looking for you, but I don’t think there will be that many in a week now that I grabbed all of them, but you never know.” Chris said!

I didn’t want him to wear down his new shoes chasing down mini booze bottles for me, and at this point, I think I had more than I needed for the piece of art I was working on, so told him it wasn't necessary.

With impeccable timing, Chris asked “what are you doing with all these bottles?”

"Well, I'm working on a piece of art." I felt a bit guilty I was just working on art while he was trying to find something to eat!

We continued to talk for a while and I found out he was trying to get to his family in the Bay Area. I let him know that we would do anything we could to help him out, and if he wanted any further assistance, he knew where to find us.

As has been the case with many homeless I have tried to help, many will only take as much help as they are comfortable with, and the challenge of trust is always an issue.

Chris said thank you again, and would let me know if there was anything else we could do. And off he went.

A few minutes later, as my friends and I were out on our walk, we saw Chris coming out of the Mexican restaurant up the street with a bag of food. “I love their food! Thank you man! See you next week—I already found a couple more bottles for you.”

- - - - - - - - - - (updated 05/04/21)

Already a happy update to this story.

Yesterday morning, around 6 a.m. Chris came up to the apartment. "You said to let you know if I needed anything."

Yes, we did, and were happy to let him use the shower, put all his clothes in the washer, and use the phone to call his Mom. We found out she lived in Antioch, a town I knew well in an earlier life. One of my friends had family in Antioch and we had visited regularly.

This spawned another opportunity! Road trip! Chris was in tears when we told him we'd take him home to Antioch. It would give us an opportunity to help him get off the street, to get him home to his family, and to provide us an opportunity for a couple days adventure back up north.

And would give me an opportunity to refresh the artificial flowers at a spot in a Napa cemetary. A moment of sadness came from the thought of this, but would bring me happiness taking care of.

We put Chris in a neighboring hotel, and planned our journey for Friday of this week. We are always up for a road trip.

"Oh, by the way, I found another 40 or so bottles for you." Chris told me, as he curiously looked at the piece of art I had just begun to do 'proof of concept' samples for. "It's different" Chris said. Different is good!

Related reading: Darren | What's This Life For?

 

#homeless #Chris #bottles #recycling