Returnable Kindness

A man with the look of living outdoors sat on a lawn chair in the asphalt parking lot of the Seaside recycling center. He was organizing his returnable cans and bottles with meticulous care. His bicycle leaned against the fence and was rigged up for heavy transport. I came over and said hello and offered him my beer cans. He thanked me and called me brother. I asked him how he’d fared since the amount of deposit doubled from five to ten cents. He told me he’d doubled his wages to $50-$75 a day and that his standard of living had mightily improved: better food, medicine, clothing, etc. I told him I used to collect cans and bottles as a kid growing up in Oregon City for movie and candy money. He wondered if there was a single kid left in Oregon picking up cans and bottles for candy and movie money. We both had our doubts. I asked him if he knew anything about the Bottle Bill, Oregon’s visionary 1971 law, the first of its kind in the nation, that mandated a five cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles. It was the very law that now employed him. I mentioned it was signed into law by legendary Governor Tom McCall (the tall man pictured here). The man didn’t know anything about the bill or McCall but he did now and seemed utterly delighted with the new historical knowledge. It’s fun being a continual part of something historic and visionary! (I feel that way every time I visit one of Oregon’s free socialist ocean beaches.)

I said goodbye to the man, walked away, got in my car and started the engine. I saw the Kindness and Gratitude publication on the passenger seat. I picked up and brought it over to the man. I explained its origin from an Astoria-based writers’ group called The League of Intertidal Writers. He handled it with care as he perused its contents. He looked up to me and said, “I’m a writer, too.”

“Join us for our next workshop,” I said. “You can even haul away the cans and bottles!”

He said he’d consider it. He said thanks for the publication and called me brother again. I got called brother twice in the space of ten minutes. That was his gift.

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