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Limited Resources: A Recycling Story

By Charles J March III.

Call me a Prince Charles communist peasant in a King Baby Syndrome society, but even though I don’t necessarily support the Mickey Mouse masked lab rat race—the capitalistically reproductive perpetuation of materialism, and mankind in general—I have within me the paradoxical, instinctual, sick obsession with, and compulsion to repurpose. I guess—more or less—it’s to help off-kiltered others keep rolling with the punches while on a sphere (that not even Captain Planet could save) suspended in an ever expanding waste-of-time-consuming space.

But I’m double-wide mobile home white trash in terms of my paragraphs here and such, as I feel like I’m basically aiding in the destruction of rainforests—but I posit it’s not like it much matters in this digital e-waste, toxic element age.

Semi-recently, on Cinco De Mayo, I recycled my iPhone 5s—but nobody wanted it.

It’s probably just wood pulp fiction, but they say that it’s better to manufacture farmed forests instead of virgin ones. I wonder if the Rio De Janeiro Art Deco Christ the Redeemer piece preferred his mother or Mary Magdalene.

I figure it’s like my grandma always maintains…“Well, everything in moderation.” So, let us go down this wonderful subculture rabbit hole, and see how far it goes…

I presume that my history of reusing junk began long before my sojourn to SoCal, when I was viciously, un-pH balancedly riding the highs and lows of an abused closed Loop carousel horse on a not so merry-go-round in the blue amusement park pier that is Chicago, to the tune of priceless time I may never get back—unless reincarnation or some other incantation actually exists. I do know that the rubber-tired dharma wheel keeps turning, even for the karma-centric blackout poets and Men in Black memory erasure artists. It’s never ending!

Luckily, I was able to come to Clockwork Orange County to reclaim myself, salvage some semblance of a dramatic stage-left life via a saving grace, and reintegrate into polite, plastic surgery society.

Don’t misconstrue, the recycled paper chasing rich, business casual, Great Flood capri pant-like khaki wearing imperialistically platinum card privileged one-percent have a God-given right to charter Noah’s Ark-like fishing yachts off the coast of Baja while in their boat shoes, but the juxtaposed exposé is that the rest of us working stiff tinmen are left to get the riff-raff wrath of being pushed into the 1” immigrant and minority midden men red debt margins of white America’s wild turkey guzzling alleyway gutters.

But we all have blood on our hands, especially those of us who accidentally slit their fists and wrists whilst trying to go through the glass ceiling.

Our landscaper, Aquillo, tends to the money growing sanguinello trees in our backyard for Bush Administration-like hedge funds to provide for his familia, and I usually get ichor on my meat hooks while clawing through the cardboard bins at our dwelling, especially when accidentally coming into contact with my diabetic roommate’s sweet little prick sticks, my other roommate’s girlfriend’s hygienic products, my former Aryan Brotherhood maintenance man foreman roommate’s rusty nails, and the confiscated syringes my other sharp-witted roommate failed to properly dispose of. I like to think this extreme sport contributes to giving me some sort of borne-illness superhuman immunity, but I don’t want to get into identity politics. I think I’m dealing with the discarded hands I’ve been dealt as best I can.

And while grave digging men of honor in crisis who courageously dumpster dive like Cuban torpedo refugees with sunken cheeks around spice of life artificial reefs to rescue small change stowaway treasures in the hopes of making the world a slightly better place—they have bigger fish to fry—but even their catch of the day winds up freezer burnt in their ice chests, which makes our hearts grow colder.

What we need is a clams casino where the wealthy throw pearls into our silky sow’s ear sea-change purse, before the bottle ends us up in the clink, or in a hearse.

Over the summer on a red-hot Christmas-in-July day which the subterranean weatherman, Benjamin, had code billed for nearly 100% humidity liquidity, cooler, calmer, more collected people than me were going along swimmingly while I struggled and side-slipped to the half-stepping beat of my plastic onomatopoeia grocery sacs which were held together by rubber soled Band-Aids that were ready to burst like a pregnant bag lady’s water as I approached a clustered and cloistered gathering that was like something out of the supermarket scene in Requiem for a Dream.

As Bob Marley’s  “Redemption Song” resoundingly played over the solemn Mexican MC’s circa ‘96, fixed-system of a downtrodden solmization boombox, I happened upon a complete diaphoretic cast of charismatically built characters. A convivial rainbow melting pot conveyor belt caste to be sure, which the plaza patrons probably perceived as bizarre, yellow-bellied, thespian pariah in a recycling stream of consciousness.

Redeeming may be the most humane thing I’ve ever seen—but, oh—the methane gas greenhouse humanity!

Among those in the wild cotton fevered, junkyard coyote chased slum dog street urchin wasteland was one poor black fellow who looked like he had just escaped a nuthouse. He was wearing nothing but filthy non-slip hospital socks and a scrub cap as he walked over the hazardous gum and glass riddled ground, and proceeded to take an illegal dump in a crystal clear demijohn (which we all knew was going to happen, because we’re psych ward psychics, attuned to the orderly waste-basket case intelligence of the universe) before picking up every bottle top, broken window parable pebble, and shard of left behind meth he found. This really tweaked me out. No one made haste to take him back to the looney bin, though, because a beautiful mind is a terrible thing to waste. Plus, someone might have wanted to take the lost madcap home after they saw what he had to offer.

While I was standing on the edge of what was a commonplace, homo sapien—and soon to be fiscal cliff—assembly line, a sallow, cheery, pre-melanoma miasmic man who looked and smelled like an expired Andy Warhol chicken noodle grooving soup can approached me carrying a multitude of empty suds containers. This twinkle-eyed man-child, blonde-haired surfeit bro beachcomber bum who drank from an ewer wore an off-white wife beater which appeared as though it had been pulled from an outside donation bin overexposed to the desert sun in the incinerating city of sin but, I assure you, he was very gently used, and the kind of person that I hope will inherit the earth (or what’s left of it, if people don’t do right by the environment) from The Lamb after the sheeple have been led to a steep slaughter.

As he crookedly made his way into the queue, he koozied up to me and started small talking straight away, asking, “So, what do you do for a living?” When I divulged to him that I bullocked for a rehab, he proudly said, “Oh, I graduated from Saddleback Community College, class of ‘88, with a certified alcohol & drug counseling certificate. Yeah, I used to be clean and help a lot of humans during the recycling hysteria of the 90s; however, as you can see from all of these cracked open Coors Light cans—it became an up-hill battle with a lot of climaxing psychotics who put silver bullets in their brain, which sucked the life out of me, and made me crack up and go insane. Needless to say, my career went on the rocks after that.”

Even though this guy was really good-natured and absorbing, I had to conduct the caboose of this Kurt Cobain pain train conversation; but bless his heart, he didn’t miss a beat, and stayed on the outgoing track by hopping onto the next poverty-stricken, empty souled mark in line, turning himself into a 200-pound skin tag.

Forgotten named bleach blonde leech man: “So, did you graduate from San Clemente High?”

Dark-toupeed and spirited, pale-skinned, garbage bag black knight clad, anonymous looking young ragamuffin kid named Jim: “Indubitably, I was hallucinating all right.”

“No, I’m just asking if you’re a Triton or not.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Cool, me too!”

That was the last I heard, beheld, or smelled of him, as he said that he was going to go get lunch, even though it was only 10:00am—an estimated three hours before we could receive our rupees—but they refused him service. I can still sense his spirit and his ever personalized and undoubtedly ongoing stories that have been shot through with holes, as if God were trying to mend him by sewing his extroverted seeds back into the grunge quilt of life.

This whole Himalayan salt of the open wound earth, flea-infested market lampoon took place behind a Dana Point Ralphs where low sodium kooks get thrown up upon the shore, and is something that the gated community residents, including the parents of my privately schooled roommate, across the street with a third Vinayaka-eyed ivory tower view probably abhor. I can imagine them peeking out from behind their blinds at the rubbish receptacle property blemish spectacle, complete with sleeping bag bed sore blighted lepers, and then in their neurotic Jehovah’s Witness Yiddishkeit diction, saying, “Oh, that Charles, he had such potential! Why couldn’t he just keep on keeping the accounts receivable books like our boy Jeffrey?”

Although, I think they’re beginning to understand that this just might be the best alt route I could construct after being denied admission to the Peace Corps and institutionalized public health science programs, even though I was a Navy hospital corpsman and lived in the hometown of Doc Holliday. They were, however, proud to hear that I was volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Second Harvest Food Bank. Maybe one day they’ll read about my donkey work in a pre-karung guni collected CNN newspaper.

But I’m glad that what began as a suggestion from our neighbor morphed into a form of method acting, American waste picking, Mike Rowe dirty realism, pseudo-gonzo goodwill hunter journalism, psyched out, self-consciously sociological, eccentrically eco-centric garbologist experiment form of freeganism way of life for this PET project refuse recluse, which all helps the slivered ends of some shawarma meat and last of the loaf pieces to be periodically put on our already fecund table.

Sigmund could probably analyze my rationalizations, but I suppose it really just helps me to have a better appreciation for things, while keeping those less fortunate in the forefront, and serves as a reminder of where I’ve come from.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been blessed to have somehow wound up living amongst millionaires in a Shangri-La-like pink Pablo Escobar-esque mansion and menagerie-type property, so I may be an unreliable narrator to hypocritically critique this three ring cirque du soleil; but I can assure you that I’m still tangled up in the poverty line noose and receive little-to-no pay for my silly, Canadian cooked, non-golden arm-and-a-leg laying goose efforts.

Do you think the former Bull, Ron Artest, can attest to my metaphysical Greenpeace mission?

One of the reasons I resurrect trash can corpses is because my lamented friend, Hector, always dreamed of becoming a mortician, and, was very waste management minded; but alas, he was gunned down in his prime by the paranoid third wheel of a love triangle, who thought Hector had impregnated the converging point in their cosmic equation. This Angulimāla maniac wound up pulling the trigger on his own brain shortly thereafter, thus fully breaking down the geometrically holy trinity arrow chasing chain.

With other Jains, we choose to honor Hector’s Beggars Pizza slice memory. We wait for the day when his thrown-away cultured spirit cannibalistically comes around once more.

More, more, more!

*

The Taoists say that waiting is analogous to nourishment—seems pretty loosely fitting, especially for emaciated, vacant stare vagrants, who subsist on moldy leftovers and languish in obscure gauntlet lines with empty sustenance containers, shackled to the hope of a few fiendishly awaited needle exchange rate shekels after they have given away all their possessions that would otherwise emancipate them from another day of going without.

It kind of reminds me of when I used to be very svelte due to some crappy life choices: I listened to some pretty heavy death metal, and had no scruples about scrapping and smelting anything I could scavenge. That was when I recycled for survival, and not as an exploratory Good Samaritan SanMan hobby. It may be a relapse, but I’m okay with the fact that I may never quit doing it.

When I first started, we used to get food vouchers, which, like a cliché clochard, I would get sick as a parrot at; but now they dole out cold, hard, trash money. This small monetary change was the prelude to something more momentous.

The white crystallizing moment that revolutionized American recycling came when China implemented their National Sword program, which was much more than double-edged: it sent toxic tsunami-like crisis ripples through more than three quarters of the world; it caused brusque exporters to ship barrages of burlesque garbage barges to any developing country they could, especially the Golden Triangle area where my imaginary friends smoke plastic ono opium resin for a higher purpose; it makes people want to commit seppuku with nurdle pellet guns (failed attempts cause rubbish bubble gum bolus bezoars); and it also contributes to climate change, which ultimately sent the Australian marsupials swimming for distant shores while carrying Morse code SOS messages in Gatorade bottles that had accidentally drifted down from Thailand’s recycling shanty towns.

Rats!

As recycling prices plummeted, paper trails from the tinfoil went up in petrochemical smoke, causing the green giants to close, which opened up opportunities for the jolly, door-to-door, mom & pop cultured, entrepreneurial poor. But they were few and far between, so the Amazonian cardboard box decanter encampments, comprised of pieced together panhandling art on homeless canvasses, saw the divine graffiti sign on the bottley-wallah street sweeper vehicle, and even though they didn’t want to board up, hawk their homes and press boarding house on—they decided that it was time to makeshift gears and go on a trail of tears towards the next redemption reservation.

One conception was San Francisco, the queen of recycling. Another was Portland, the hipster king. But on Thanksgiving, after we band of Gypsies and reclaiming pilgrims had traversed the land in search of asylum, we ended up at a place called Next Gen Recycling, and felt like we were back on the mend after our epic nomadic trek. There was a lot of chaos surrounding this new operation, but I was grateful because I had a cornucopia of bottles and cans. It was, however, as hot as a Hooverville man huddled over a burn barrel with an FDR diseased leg blanket on his shoulders during a dark and wild night in Jamaica, Queens.

There were metric tons of trash talk and street cries. One destitute and demented old woman who ham-handedly pulled up to the rim of the Grand Canyon-like depression scene with a car packed to the brim couldn’t believe the overwhelming line she saw, and threw up her hands in short-circuited, golden-yeared defeat, and proclaimed, “I can’t do this anymore! Here, do you guys want these bags of remains which have taken me months to accrue?” As soon as she said this, some repressed tool on a remittance mission came up, punched her in the face, and stole the molybdenum battery and combusting engine block out of her compact hybrid.

Talk about better living through chemistry! Unfortunately, it’s as American as cherry pie.

Needless to say, I immediately took her to a women’s shelter after that free-for-all. The day I came to bust her out, after she had spent 28 days recuperating, she turned to me as we were about halfway out of the home and, leaning heavily on her walker, she started crying, buried her head into my shoulders, and said she was done driving and recycling in the U.S. So, once she got on her feet, she decided to leave her clunker behind for some reprobate to rebate, and proceeded to take a rhenium powered expatriate zeppelin to Brazil to be amongst the Zabbaleen.

Like most health-conscious alternatives, it’s not all couscous and post-sky current colors. It seems like they’re making it increasingly difficult to recycle. It takes a lot of time and burns a lot of energy. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it, especially when everyone says it’s ridiculous, and since half of what we wastrel warriors painstakingly manage to recycle supposedly winds up in Holocaust-like ashtrays anyways.

A lot of people have given up their human right to recycle fight, but our back slinging silver scrapping guerilla army’s numbers remain strong.

We try to recycle every little thing, but paradoxically wind up becoming part of the problem, because the cogs wind up clogging the machine. We hate waste, but many of us were, are, or will be perfectly okay with throwing away our hellish lives at the drop of a dime bag of angel dust.

Plus, there are many steps to the process, even for reduced defect people who’ve completed 12-step work and have sorted out their lives. There’s the collecting, the cleaning, the OCD donor kabob organizing, the bagging, the schlepping to your heap, the Jason Statham-esque transporting, and then once you haul it there—the process repeats itself.

*

Sorry if all of this alloy allegory is annoying and sounds like a bunch of bullshit. I’m just anal-retentive about waste disposal initiatives.

Right after the rough and tumble with the old woman, a much more brash, arbitrary, garbage bodied lady with a New York-like, northeast coast asshole accent and overly confident gait started a cut-up technique for people in line who had wandered elsewhere to pass the time during the wait. She was obviously new and knew nothing about our lack of a pecking order—there’s no rhyme or reason, but we come together as a team, usually through telepathy, and sometimes sign language, since many of us are contaminated foreigners from distant lands. She said, “If they don’t want to linger like everybody else, fuggedaboutit! Their bottles are now completely out of line.”

I told her to can it.

But it wasn’t all totalitarianally tenebrous. Below the drone of the buzzing WASPs, apiformes, and turkey vultures, amongst the mudlarks and lithium-fueled magic fungi on the ground, stood a short, skinny, Milk of Magnesia, laissez-faire-skinned honey who shone like the angel Gabriel. She was wearing a white tank top and blue jean cutoff shorts, and I felt like God was giving me a sign. Would we find love in this hopeless place? The whole thing seemed surreal, as this bombshell stuck out like a sore hitchhiking thumb, and only had a few bucks worth of recycling with her. It confused me that this quiet labyrinthine young lady would lull in the Californian sunshine with her colorless complexion while the tent pitching people complained about being burnt. Just then, a drudgery big rig driver who probably did speed bumps off the back of rest stop toilets came flying around the corner and almost flushed our lives down the drain. After scurrying out of the way, it seemed the perfect time to break the ice—especially since a man in a pallet (his recycle hustle of choice) loaded forklift was now coming down the road, ready to impale someone at a moment’s notice, or at least goad them in the right direction.

“Geez, Goddam guy drives like an animal, huh,” I offered. “What a day. This whole thing is crazy.”

The trashion model just awkwardly stood there and said nothing, probably taking me for a creep. So I surrendered and decided to mind my own beeswax.

But doesn’t she expect such a thing? I’m still puzzled.

Back to the bees, who are keeping the planet afloat above the rising tide. It’s interesting that no Puerto Rican Latin King amidst the smell of warm stale beer and festering artificially flavored soda is scared of being stung. I suppose it’s because their end of the dope rope hung sprung rhythm creates a dystopian white noise that hypnotizes everyone. Plus, we realize that they’re just fighting sweet tooth & dirty fingernail to liquidate every avoirdupois drop of the recyclable remnants via single-use straws to help offset our ever blossoming, non-genuine, saccharine grin county.

For the past due, pseudo-second EPA recovery act of this shitshow, I want to switch gears on the retread burnout and talk about the beauty of the reusers. Some of them have honestly been the most courageous, hospitable, long-suffering, savvy people I’ve ever met in my life. One person of note is an atonal, flat-faced, Schweppes drinking Wall Street dustpan man who shows up every day with nothing but his broom to sweep up the debris of the dysfunctional industry. However, his janitorial efforts are not Janus-faced—he acts with the sole interest of keeping us safe and preserving our dignity. For all intents and purposes, he’s my teetotaler role model, and what I aspire to be when I grow up.

Another noteworthy person is a tender, elderly, wishfully idealistic gentlewoman, whose only genie-in-a-bottle dream is of a day when bottles and cans are the sole currency. She said that on her way to redeem the deposit on her bottles, she got a flat tire, and really wished she could have just given AAA the sum of the recyclables in her Tin Lizzie as a tip for services rendered. She has a great sense of self-deprecating humor, such that people started making, and having, fun with her. One man asked if she thought she’d clear $15 worth. She said, “I beg your pardon, but there must be at least a Jackson here!” I joined in on the festivities by asking her if she was planning on going to her accountant afterwards. Before we knew it, she was a whirling dervish bantamweight bag of banter.

We all share a common bond—we wade through trash, but ultimately get clean in the end—especially when the sanitation engineer magnanimously gives us a generous, refreshing squirt of grapefruit-scented isopropyl alcohol after we cash out. And we also tend to accidentally launder our meager wages along with our clothes when we get home. But who am I kidding, I probably won’t be clean of this world until someone shovels dirt over me. One thing’s for sure, it probably won’t be my offspring, unless I wind up adopting one of the many neglected children in need, or nature finally tricks me into reproducing. In all likelihood I’ll do the honorable thing and get sterilized, especially since I wasn’t even allowed to donate sperm recently, due to failing every required category. Hopefully the faux-eugenics, non-profit Project Prevention organization will give me my $300 for doing so.

At least recycling doesn’t discriminate. The other day I saw a man pull up in a Lamborghini packed to the gills with bubbly bottles, to which we all raised our freak flagons high, much like the patrons on the 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, because it was truly a cause for equal rights celebration.

So if you see us in a boutique booth at your local, organic, Non-GMO, sustainable, Fair Trade for Life, animal rights farmer’s market, walk up and say hi…unless, like us, you have crippling social anxiety, or are recycle shy.

Just remember—no matter how invaluably decrepit your condition—someone and/or something, somewhere, somehow, at some point, can and will still redeem you.

P.S. YES. YOU. CAN!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charles J. March III is an INFJ, neurodivergent Navy hospital corpsman veteran from the South Side of Chicago, who is currently trying to live an eclectic life with an interesting array of recovering creatures in Orange County, CA. His avant-garde poetry, prose, and visual art has appeared in such places as Literary Orphans, Stinkwaves, Fleas on the Dog, Harbinger Asylum, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Writing Disorder, et al., and is forthcoming from Angry Old Man and Free State Review, among others.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 23rd, 2020.