Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Man With the Cans

As anyone in LA can tell you, there is a thriving sub-economy driven by the homeless and illegal immigrants. We have one such guy in my neighborhood. He and his shopping cart are a fixture on my street. He patrols the neighborhood and picks over our recycling bins thereby scraping himself a living. Over the years, we've developed a...well not a friendship but an acknowledging connection. We always say hello. He asks about my dog who gambols over to be petted. He tells me it's a beautiful day and he's doing well.

The neighborhood likes the cart man. Many people leave their bottles and cans out bagged separately for him so he doesn't have to dig in our deep bins. He has a calm, kind energy about him.

Then last week on a long dog walk I saw him - the interloper; a new kid with missing front teeth and a battered pick-up. The kind of truck held together by twine and duct tape. He was scooting quickly from house to house, leaving the truck idling while he dumpster dove. I didn't like it.

Now I am not really up on how things work in the world of recycling scavengers. I'm not sure about the rights and rules of territory protocol. But something about this new kid and his truck rubbed me the wrong way.

This morning, I saw his truck blocking my driveway as he rattled around in the bin across the street. I went out for a dog walk and saw him speed around the corner. Up our hill trudged our regular shopping cart guy. He nearly turned down our street but his shoulders sagged as he saw the kid and his truck and he went straight instead. I walked up to him.

"Who's the new kid?" I asked as he petted my dog.

He shook his head and said he didn't know but that he was ruining things for him. I looked at him, an old man, pushing his heavy cart up the hill.

"But that's not right. This is your street. You're our friend." I was hoping he'd tell me about some kind of scavenger protocol that was about to handle the kid. I was aware of how bourgeosie my concern was.

"Yes. There's nothing I can do though. No respect from the kids. Maybe the people here can tell him."

He left if hanging there. A dignified plea for help. I was, as it happens, the people here.

I continued on my dog walk and before long I ran into the kid, jumping from his idling truck again. Just then the man with the cart trudged into view at the bottom of the hill. My territorial nature kicked in, this time including the cart man in my territory.

"Hey. Who are you?"

The kid was startled. "I'm getting the bottles," he finally smiled.

"No. This is his street. It's been his street for years. You have to respect that." I pointed at the cart man looking into a picked-over bin down the hill.

"Well no, it's mine. I'm just over here..."

"No, it's not yours. This is his street. You have a truck, it's easier for you to find another street. He's our friend here. You go."

He hesitated, still grinning his toothless grin at me, the crazy Gringa. Was I serious or just a pain in the ass?

"Go. Now." I teach self defense for a living and when I want to command intimidation with my words, I can. He went.

I kept walking up the hill and saw he had not stopped again. Turning back down the hill, my dog and I ran into the old cart man again. He was passing an untouched bin.

"Wait! He didn't stop here," I told him. He looked at me in confusion.

"I told him it was your street and you are our friend. I told him to go."

He finally smiled a soft smile. "Thank you."

I wished him a good day and went home. I have no idea if I wrongly interfered in a scavenger turf war or if I actually helped. For all I know the kid has six babies at home and the cart man is single. But I felt like someone had to stand up for the 'hood - for this man who I had called friend. I don't even know his name. But as heard his cart rattle by again outside, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. Middle-class Pollyanna and all.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Helping the can man. I find myself rooting around for cans in my car to hand to can people sometimes. It's a rough life, but I'm glad they aren't begging.

Part of our urban lives....

12:10 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Jed Hammel said...

That's what I'm talking about!

Keep it up. The strong are meant to stand up for the weak.

It is a social contract that not enough people have the guts or compassion to actually "sign."

"Not On My Watch" is what you said, and more importantly, what you backed up with action.

I'm proud of you.

-Jed

7:36 PM  

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