Cultural learnings of Bottle Rat Nation for make benefit glorious nation of Bougiekistan: work ethic edition

Much like the celebrated vocation of pimpin’, my very marginal side gig of scavenging for deposit bottles ain’t easy. It’s a lot of work for a dollar or two. In a good hour I clear more hustling cans than I would picking blueberries, but we’ve long ago established that bush pimpin’ ain’t easy, either. Actually, the can hustle is intrinsically harder. Granted, I have yet to have an acutely symptomatic manic depressive yelling at me in front of some trash can and threatening that I may never be allowed to scavenge deposit bottles in this town again, but reaching into garbage cans is plenty strenuous, definitely dirtier than picking berries, and less predictable. In a berry patch, the fruit is on the bushes. Like, duh. In a can patch, there may be a totally bitchin’ vein of Ephesians 3:20 gubbyment gibs in a given trash can, or there may be a single Dasani bottle repulsively smeared with actual trash.

Of course I wouldn’t go near that shit if there weren’t money in it. I also try to keep an eye out for cops, who might not appreciate my efforts, and for civilians giving me the hairy eyeball, because bitch I did not come here for the shade. Plying a side gig that is inextricably associated with the homeless feels bizarre, but then again, I quite often am homeless, and every time I think about the ethics of rustling through the trash for deposit bottles that no one else is trying to retrieve, I am unable to come up with anything objectively dishonorable about it. It has an absurd look and feel, but state governments pay people to redeem deposit bottles, and Joe Dirtbag doesn’t pay me to do farm work. The math here is 0 + (>0) = more than nothing. Right, Nash? Wow Much maths Such beautiful None mind. I’m $24 in the hole and two or three hours sitting around in a room full of rat shit trying to eradicate Joe Dirtbag’s rat colony, so yeah, cans are a good deal. This Independence Day, I grossed two dollars hustling cans in Lake George Village and Crandall Park (which finally had some trash lying around; it was about time). I found bottles already bagged and boxed up by the half dozen. Self-employment by hacking deposit federalism in the pursuit of gimmedat seems a fitting observance of my country’s 240th anniversary of not paying anyone to dress like a fucking Mountie. So was throwing a Canuck water bottle back onto the rest area lawn because there wasn’t any money in it. This is the same rest area where I saw a hatchback the other day with Quebec tags and a Don’t Mess With Texas bumper sticker. Y’all vous souvenez aussi, eh. At least the Francosecesh weren’t sporting some dumbass fucking white oval with an airport code or some shit, like the Eurotrash wannabes who have colonized the North Country.

It takes a hell of a gaslighting to keep questioning one’s own work ethic as a committed bottle hustler. The optimistic way to look at it is that it’s a way to get paid a little something to get some exercise, emphasis usually on little. Taking a break means not making any money. Not taking a break means making a nickel here and there,  or maybe not. I tend to doubt that people who repost that shopworn old Thomas Edison saw about opportunity being missed because it’s dressed in overalls and called hard work have ever swiped a single obviously abandoned water bottle off a park bench for the deposit. It’s probably because preaching about work is easier in the American cultural context than actually doing work. I demur because I’d feel like an ass for carrying on like that, especially in anything that could be construed as public, but I guess it’s lonely up here on the high horse.

We are so fucking propagandized as a citizenry. If America actually rewards hard work, why was I making as little as $2.70 or so an hour and regularly heading for broke as a berry picker? Oh, and unpaid internships? Seriously? At what point do we lay down our arms and stop fighting the moral hazard? It’s cheaper for all involved to hang out in one’s childhood bedroom instead of having mom and dad pay one’s rent for the duration of an extended in-service bribe to the likes of Arianna Huffington. After all, she’s the one who’s been on the radio lately, banging on about the importance of sleep, and since your parents probably haven’t taken your childhood bed to Goodwill, it might be a good place to get some. Culinary school graduates, I’ve read, are generally expected to take on unpaid externships in high-end restaurant kitchens after graduation. Bear in mind that they have already been extensively trained in and tested on gourmet cooking in culinary school. Staffing the Burger King fry line pending a legitimate offer from a fancier joint would be a “resume gap” interfering with one’s “career,” so they make less money cooking in Michelin-starred kitchens than I do sticking my arm into a trash can. What the fuck else can I say? These are the services that someone either values enough to pay for or, in the case of the bitchin’ kitchens, doesn’t.

As I’ve said before and might as well say again, BottleDrop is bae as shit. The State of Oregon feels for your efforts to make a meager living and compensates you accordingly. Chaka Can Chaka Can. Yes, I’m staying up too late again. This is what happens in the absence of bedtimes. It’s still work, though. If you’ve watched the homeless scavenge for deposit bottles, you’ve probably noticed that they really focus and really work, even if they manifestly have drug problems or major mental illness. This is because the work is impossible in a state of true laziness, physical disability, or disorientation. A bottle scavenger can be a shambling alcoholic mess and swear that he’s Jesus come back to whoop a sinner’s ass, but he has to be have basic hand-eye coordination, be somewhat ablebodied, recognize deposit recyclables well enough to distinguish them from everything else, and pay attention.

All this is necessary for earnings that are usually shit. Most people from my native class would probably wonder why the fuck I even bother. Many of them, I’m sure, would make fun of me. Admitting to one’s involvement in this line of work in the wrong circles can turn a person into a pariah. Nothing will stop a prejudiced dipshit or a bigot from recognizing hard work and opportunity than knowing that the work and opportunity in question are equally available to some of the most troubled and vulnerable people in their society. They wouldn’t want the equality to get out of hand, now. Next thing they know, the surplus college-educated whom they’d rather humiliate again for being out of work will be in line at Walmart instead, talking shop about the bottle hustle with their fellow homeless, citizen to citizen. All Toqueville and no Bernays makes Jack a very sharp boy, and they don’t want that.

By the way, I’d guess that maybe a quarter of the students I met at Dickinson could say a thing about either of those crackers, and that a heavily overlapping third or even two thirds would scold me for wasting my education. If your position on Lincoln was that you “thought that nigga was made up!”, learning that he wasn’t (or else was fabricated with extreme skill and coordination) is the first step to maybe learning some other things about him (for example, that he and LBJ would have gotten along quite well, and for all the dismaying reasons you might hope they wouldn’t). Being an international studies major who has sort of maybe heard of Hamid Karzai in the fall of 2001 or an economics major who can’t place the median household income of his native country within $60,000 is another matter entirely. In my experience, these ignoramuses are much more likely to be bothered by the thought of the well-bred touching yucky trash for money and generally being low-class than by the realization that they’re pig-ignorant in their own declared fields of study.

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