Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reminiscing: Every Can For Himself

When I was a kid, New York State decided to institute a bottle return law on pop cans and bottles. I think it was 1982 or 1983 when the law went into effect. As a kid this meant that we could get some extra money by simply picking up bottles that we found around the neighborhood. There were always a couple bottles tossed on the side of the road by passing cars. We’d make just enough money to get some candy at 7-11. For those who were willing to work a little, there were plenty of opportunities for making some money at a fairly young age. Even before I got my paper route, I generally had a dollar or two to spend.

There was always competition for the bottles. I’m not sure if they were homeless or just winos, but they were not to be messed with. If they had the bottle, we just let them have it. Trust me, there were plenty of bottles around. We didn’t need a lot anyway. Candy was pretty cheap when I was young. Besides, when we hung out at the creek, there were always bottles floating down the waterway. At the grate by the UAW hall, piles would pile up with the rest of the detritus.

There was a summer that my cousin, Matt, and I decided to collect the beer bottles from the motorcycle races in Medina. It was a good thing we had a pickup truck to get our haul back to his house. We filled that truck bed with bags and bags of bottles. It was amazing how many people just dumped them in the garbage cans. We weren’t the only ones collecting that day, but we probably had the best numbers.

We had to dump all the bottles on the ground at Matt’s house after the races. They all had to be cleaned before the store would accept them in exchange for cash. By the end of the day, we stunk to high hell like stale beer and syrupy cola. It was not pleasant. And we couldn’t finish all in one day. Matt finished later and returned the bottles to the store. I made about $20 that day. Matt brought more than that home. He did the extra day of work, and took them to the store. At 11 or 12 years old, we considered ourselves to be rich.

Today, my kids collect bottles for some extra cash. I bring home a bag from work and the girls take them back to the collection center. Then we put the money aside for use as petty cash when we go on vacation. Well, that’s the intent anyway. Seems like whenever we need a couple of dollars, that’s the fund that gets robbed.

We did a lot of scrounging when we were kids. At the end of the season, the cemetery in Lyndonville would collect all the stuff left behind at the graves, like small flag poles (no flags on them) and wood from crates. They had a huge pile ready for burning. We would raid that pile before treasures went up in flames. I had hundreds of those little, wooden flag poles before they got burned. A lot of them were broken. I took them back to grandma’s house and stuck them in the yard as a sort of obstacle course through which to ride my bike.

Back in Lockport, there was a house down the street from me that backed up to the creek. I called the backyard a junkyard. There were cinder blocks, pallets, and other building materials. My friends and I would raid that backyard in order to try to build a fort down at our end of the woods, by Mott’s Field. We didn’t mean any harm. We were just having fun. We had some great fun in those woods and around town.

I’ve written before that we used to collect golf balls and try to sell them back to the golf course or to golfers coming in for a round. We made enough money for candy or Slurpees. We were resourceful. These were golf balls that were in the creek, or sometimes found on the sidewalk on the west side of Davison Road. We never stole them from the course itself.

We were resourceful. We weren’t going to be handed money to go spend at the store. If we wanted something, we had to get the money ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with a little hard work to get something you want. It’s better than simply being handed it. Earning it means the reward is that much more gratifying.

Craig Bacon has four kids who want to borrow money, so he’ll probably be out collecting cans to make sure he has gas money this week.