Recycling keeps you young
In Chicago, you’re never more than half a block from a recycling bin. When I moved to demi-rural Ohio, the lack of recycling was one of many bits of culture shock I experienced. My apartment doesn’t offer recycling pick-up, so the only other option is the county recycling center.
The facility isn’t that inconvenient: It’s sort of across the street from the grocery store, although it’s half a mile down a dead-end service road, accompanied only by the county’s juvenile detention center and buffered by woods against the rest of civilization. (While necessary, these two facilities have been deemed undesirable and isolated from the rest of the community as much as possible. Meanwhile, the adult jail is downtown, across the street from the library, and three inmates have successfully escaped by jumping from second-floor windows in the past year.)
After a couple of weeks in Ohio, I’d amassed some cans and bottles and papers that I wanted to dispose of, so I made my first pilgrimage to the recycling center. At the time, I didn’t have a car—you don’t need one in Chicago, and while I’d arranged to buy my sister-in-law’s old car, it would be a month before I made the trip to New York to pick it up. It was a lovely spring day anyhow, so I enjoyed a pleasant walk, despite having a sack of garbage on my back.
I had some other errands that day, so after dropping my waste in the appropriate dumpster, I tried to take a shortcut through the back of the recycling center to get to my bank. This wasn’t possible: There was a rusty fence that I didn’t want to jump, mainly because the traffic light where I imagined I might cross the highway turned out to be a small forest and a treacherously muddy ravine away.
So I slinked back to the main entrance and a confrontation.
Much like the toilet at a big-city nightclub or the Wisconsin State Fair, the recycling center had a professional attendant on hand—and my arrival on foot really, really, really messed with his head.
He had glared suspiciously when I came in, but my unauthorized wanderings through the recycling center grounds fully flowered his paranoia. He demanded to know what I was doing, and I explained that I was new in the area and had hoped for a shortcut.
"You can't go through that way," he informed me quite needlessly.
"I see that now," I said.
Then he got to his real question. "You just get out of juvie?" he demanded.
In his certainty that I’d just gotten out of the little big house, the attendant failed to notice my crow’s feet, the white patches in my stubble, or my generally ancient countenance. In fact, he didn’t think I’d just “gotten out.” His tone accused me of escaping, and he was already mentally spending the bounty he’d get for recapturing me.
Apparently, I’d moved to a community where 42-year-olds often escape from juvie so they can take some recycling in.
I assured him that I was not a criminal, but he wasn't going to give up this opportunity for Justice™ that easily. "Then why are you on foot?" he demanded
"Because I walked here" was my fairly obvious response.
“You can’t walk places,” he said, quite certain that locomotion is only possible when aided by automobile. To drive his point home, the attendant demanded to know where I had walked from, and when I provided an exact route, he informed me it simply wasn’t possible to get here from there.
I allowed my existence to serve as my counter-argument.
He couldn’t come up with any more lines of inquisition after that, and I was free to go. He didn’t actually say that, but I could tell he wanted to, and was only prevented by the fact that we both knew the county sanitation department didn’t provide him authority to detain miscreants such as I. He settled for shaking his head as he turned away and murmuring to himself about how confusing the whole situation was.
I hope he's happy. He single-handedly put another junior felon back on the streets. Meanwhile, I’ve learned the secret to staying 16 forever. You can find it in the mixed plastics bin.
Greg has written for a variety of obscure trade magazines on topics such as cabinet-making, metalworking, libraries, civil engineering, and minor-league renaissance faires. He currently writes Free in the Break Room, which shares (fictional) stories about the (real) things left in his office's break room. He currently lives in Ohio, for some reason. Follow him on Twitter.