Cleaning Cans and Bottles ToplessbySusanJillParker©
Bag lady earns more money on bottles and cans on Earth Day than she ever imagined she would.
Walking with her head down and avoiding eye contact while trying to remain inconspicuously anonymous, the bag lady pushed a wobbly wheeled shopping cart down the alleyway. With the noisy cart heralding her approach from one hundred yards away, as if moving a canon to a frontal position on a battlefield from the rear, the sound of the noisy wheel echoed louder against the brick buildings in the enclosed alley. Temporarily belonging to her, her cart until someone else commandeered it or until it was reclaimed by the store and returned, she confiscated the shopping cart from the local supermarket to carry her bottles and cans while wandering the dirty, city streets of downtown Harrisburg.
Never knowing what she'd find, every day was as much of a crapshoot as it was a new adventure. Alleviating some of the boredom of picking up bottles and cans, scratch tickets were her favorite things to pickup and double check. With someone thinking that they were a loser, nearly every day she found a winner. Mostly finding two dollar winners and free tickets, sometimes finding five, ten, and twenty dollar winners, a couple of times she found a one-hundred-dollar scratch ticket winner.
With her in the role of head scavenger, every day was a treasure hunt. She hoped to make her day by finding a lost treasure, something more of monetary a value than of intrinsic value and something worth much more than 5 cents for a bottle or for a can. She always hoped that the city streets would cough her up something really good to make her constant surveillance of the dirty ground worth her while. Whatever she found, instead of thinking in terms of dollars and cents, she thought more in terms of cans and bottles. Finding something worth ten dollars was better than expending the time, effort, and energy necessary to collect and redeem 200 cans and bottles.
Always imagining she'd find gold jewelry, a missing earring, a lost chain, a gold charm, or a dropped pendant, bracelet, or ring that a woman dropped when emerging from one of the clubs and too drunk on alcohol or too high on drugs to notice, she's found gold jewelry before. When she does find something of value, something worth much more than five cents, she sells her find to a jeweler for the gold content. With the price of gold hanging around sixteen hundred dollars and ounce and silver around thirty dollars an ounce, it doesn't take much gram weight to make her day and her surveillance worthwhile. Only and unfortunately, most of the jewelry she finds is cheap, stainless steel and nickel alloy costume jewelry from China.
Hoping beyond hope in the way of hoping to win the lottery when she doesn't even play, she always hopes to find a wad of cash, a thick stack of hundreds worth thousands of dollars misplaced by a drug dealer, something she's yet to find. She's always looking to find that hidden or forgotten briefcase filled with cash and left behind before the owner can retrieve it. Whenever she finds a gun or a knife, and she's found more than a few, she never touches it for fear that it's part of a crime scene. Not wanting to get involved in a felony investigation for fear of gang retaliation, and not wanting to waste her time to go to police headquarters to fill out paperwork, she'd rather use her time collecting bottles and cans for food enough to feed herself. When she does come upon a weapon, she flags down a passing patrol car or tells a passing cop patrolling the neighborhood where to find it. If the detectives need to question her, they know where to find her.
Nonetheless, still looking for a little while always hoping for more, she's content in finding enough bottles and cans to feed herself. In the way of hitting her own personal street lottery, finding anything else than bottles and cans is an unexpected bonus. Finding enough bottles and cans gives her the money she needs to buy the food she requires to survive for another day, albeit just barely. Been there and done that, finding enough bottles and cans for food gives her a sense of self-satisfaction that she's able to support herself and provide for herself without having to work at a job or being dependent upon the kind, generosity of a man who'd use her as a household slave for chores, to run errands, and for sex.
Yet, part of experiences of living on the dangerous city streets, after what happened to her in just one day, she's always careful and mindful of all those lowlife, small time criminals around her. If only they knew what she goes through in the course of a day, maybe they'd feel bad enough for her to leave her alone but they never do. Her typical day is a nightmarish day for any other, young, attractive woman. A man flashing her his penis, another man trying to steal her shopping cart filled with all of the bottles and cans she collected, and another man hoping to pull down her sweatpants or lift up her sweat shirt for some quick free feels. Too common are the minor incidences. As if she's a Japanese woman molested on a subway train or on a bus, desperate men run up behind her to grab some quick gropes of her breasts and her ass before running away.
The ones she fears the most are the men who are out to hurt her, beat her, rape her, and possibly kill her. She carries a heavy piece pipe with her for protection. One quick, hard blow to the head is sufficient enough for her to run away and make good her getaway. Nonetheless her street smarts, commonsense, and self awareness, tall, blonde, busty, and beautiful, even in her disheveled appearance, she's a constant target for men looking to have their wicked, sexual way with her.
As if a street cop, she's always aware of her surroundings. A real back alley brawler, never an easy target or a willing victim, she knows where and when she can safely go. Her one rule is to never get in the car to allow them to take her somewhere more remote. She'd have a better chance of surviving an attack by making her fight there in the alley, a place she knows well.
There's always more chance of trouble early in the morning and late at night. During the rest of the day, there's plenty of people out and about. If it wasn't for her noisy shopping cart wheel, with most people too busy going to work and heading home to notice her, they'd never hear or see her. She'd rather remain beneath the radar anyway. Weekends are relatively safe as lots of people use the alleyways as a cut through when retrieving their illegally parked cars. For someone who had nothing and expected nothing in return from no one, she was relatively happy, so long as she was left alone. Starting from the time she was an 18-year-old virgin, a Post Traumatic Stress victim from all of the sexual abuse she survived early on between her uncle, her cousin, her brothers, and even her ex-husband, scratch the surface and this bag lady becomes a wild cat.
* * * * *
Going from alley to alley and trying to beat the trash trucks, as soon as she turned down one alley to check the dumpsters for cans and bottles in another, she heard a car slowly coming up behind her. Nothing new, even though she wore baggy clothes, sweat pants and a sweatshirt, her blonde hair was a beacon as if she waved a sexual flag and men were always checking out her shapely ass and long legs. She could only imagine how interested in her they'd be if she had her hair and makeup done and wore a short skirt while flashing them her white, bikini panties by bending at the waist to pickup cans and bottles. Not wanting to scratch his car, she moved her shopping cart to the side and as far out of the way as she could. With the alley so narrow, there was room just enough for the car to get by her without her scratching his new car with her shopping cart. As if glowing in the light, she could tell it was a new car by the new car shine that she saw in her peripheral vision. A shine that lasts a year, only a new car shines like that.
"Hi there," he said as if she was walking down the dock towards him standing on the gangplank and he was welcoming her aboard his yacht.
"Hi yourself," she said bowing her head, cocking her chin, and turning her eyes just enough to look at him through his open, passenger side, car window.
Not very trusting of strangers, especially men, and suspicious of everyone who approached her, better safe than sorry, even though she couldn't help but smile by his friendly greeting, she still gave him a hard stare. He was a man in his early 60's and a good twenty years older than she was. Looking a bit like John Voigt in his better days, he was a good looking man nonetheless. If he looked this good now, she could only imagine what he must have looked like thirty years ago. Someone's dreamboat, he must have been a real hunk.
A pleasant enough looking man, he had a happy face and a pleasing countenance that made her smile when seeing him. Yet, should things turn ugly quickly and he turn perversely violent, she was ready to whack him in the face, dent his car, and crack his windshield with her pipe. Unafraid to defend herself, she's done that before when a man wouldn't take no for an answer. Moreover, after getting a good look at him, if she had to pick him out of a police lineup and give a description of his car, she could and would.
Yet he wasn't like the other men who roamed the alleys looking for drugs, criminal opportunities, and trouble. Friendly and affable, he had a kind face of a man of God. If he wore the white collar, she'd think he was a reverend or a priest. He looked like someone's father. Other than the men passing out food at the mission, there weren't many men down here who looked like that. Everyone she saw looked hard, depressed, and ready for a fight. Always wearing her street face, all the men she saw walking down the alley had the same angry look on their faces that she had but he didn't. She wondered how different these troubled men's lives would be if life had been kinder to them and if they had the opportunities afforded to them that most white folks take for granted and have for a college education and for a better job. Even with holding down two jobs, it's hard to pay rent and feed a family working a service job at McDonalds and/or Burger King.
She figured he was just someone cruising the back alleys looking for sex but, sniffing around the wrong woman, she was no prostitute and in the way she needed a shower, she wasn't in the mood for sex or for anything sexual from anyone. More interested in a hot cup of coffee and a warm meal, sex was the last thing on her hungry mind. Sex was the last thing she was interested in giving him or having with anyone. Craving the necessities of life, a hot meal, a hot shower, and a good night sleep, was more important than rolling around in bed sweating and screaming while faking yet another orgasm for a man who was only interested in sexually satisfying himself. Without doubt after being homeless for so long, food replaced her sexual fantasies and she dreamed of fresh fruit and vegetables in the way that others dreamt of fancy cars and big houses. Picking it every time, if she had her druthers, she'd rather have a hot meal, a hot shower, and a good night's sleep in a clean, bedbug free bed than to have hot sex with a strange man.
If only his poor wife and embarrassed children knew that Daddy was out looking for sex with a bag lady, wouldn't they be surprised but, with a mind of her own, she was no one's whore. She was just a poor, unemployed, and homeless woman out collecting enough cans and bottles to feed herself for another day. Sometimes unable to judge a book by its cover, even she gets fooled and played, but being that she's been on the street for several long, cold months, she's better than most at sensing danger. With a trained enough eye, evil was easy to detect but she sensed that he wasn't evil or dangerous. If anything, he seemed like a nice guy, if there still was such a thing as a nice guy. Reading his sorrowful expression, if anything, he looked sad and lonely. Even though he had a fancy, new car, life has, no doubt, delivered him a few blows to the head.
For all that she knew, he could be some weirdo wanting her to get in his car to drive her somewhere and to force her to have sex with him before killing her. For all she knew, he could have a gun or a knife and be a total nut job. Ted Bundy was a good looking guy with a kind face and a good personality. For all she knew, he could be Ted Bundy's nephew. Not allowing her guard down to be distracted by the conversation, she kept her wits about her when talking to him. Besides, if he didn't want a scratched car, he'd better behave.
"What are you doing?" He looked at her and talked to her as if she was a normal person, someone other than a homeless bag lady.
Curious by his interest, she was nonetheless embarrassed by his stares and offended by his leers. Much like the rats and roaches that inhabit the alley, but for her noisy shopping car, she'd rather stay hidden in the shadows of the doorways and dumpsters while going about her business collecting cans and bottles. Staying invisible by staying in the shadows afforded by the dim light of the alley is how she survived on the streets this long without being jostled by the police, bothered by men looking for trouble, and molested by some sexual offender. Unless they were looking for sex and for trouble, few noticed her going about her business of picking up cans, bottles, and scratch tickets.
"What am I doing?" She gave him a hard stare. She already had an attitude with his dumb question. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"I don't know, which is the reason why I asked," he said with a pleasant enough smile that made her want to bitch slap some sense in him for asking such a stupid question.
Always revealing her attitude when just scratching her surface, she tossed a can and placed a bottle in her bag before giving him an attitude filled look to show him that she was the wrong person to fuck with in case he had something other than making idle small talk on his mind. She looked down at her dirty fingernails and was embarrassed by them. If she could afford them, she'd wear rubber gloves to pick up her bottles and cans from the dirty alley but eating up too much in her profits, she'd rather buy food than to waste what little money she has on rubber gloves.
"I'm selling Avon. Do you want to buy some lipstick," she said with a laugh.
"Avon? Lipstick? No, I don't wear lipstick," he said with a laugh while giving her a long look. "I've never seen an Avon lady who looks like you," he said.
She didn't know if she should take his comment as an insult or a compliment.
"I'm picking up cans and bottles," she said deciding to take his comment as an insult.
"Oh, I forgot. That's right. Today is Earth Day, isn't it? Save the planet and light a candle instead of flipping a light switch. Think green. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, I get it. Well, Happy Earth Day to you," he said pausing in his conversation to stare at her breasts. "You're not one of those Greenpeace environmentalists looking to save the whales, help the tigers, and protect the bird sanctuaries, are you? Not that there's anything wrong with being a Greenpeace environmentalist."
"Greenpeace environmentalists? Do I look Irish to you?" She laughed at her own joke. "There's nothing green about me. I'm Czechoslovakian and English," she said with another laugh while flirting with him.
"I didn't mean to say that you were Irish. Greenpeace is an organization--"
"I know who they are Mister. I'm not an idiot. I was just making a joke," she said giving him even more attitude with her hard stare when he failed to get her subtle humor. Thinking again that he insulted her with the Avon comment, she looked at him as is he was making fun of her before she let him have it with her verbal assault. "Happy Earth Day? Who the fuck says Happy Earth Day anyway?"
"I guess no one," said the man looking a bit nervously embarrassed by her lambasting him.
"Not even Al Gore says Happy Earth Day and he's the biggest dweeb on the planet," she said positioned high on her soap box now that she had an audience. "Showing yet again that one doesn't have to be cool to be a multimillionaire, after he sold his movie rights to Al Jazeera for half a billion dollars, which makes me wonder about the loyalty of my elected public officials, excuse me, I mean public servants, especially one who wanted to be president. Now that I think about it, with his share of the half a billion, one-hundred-million dollars, I guess that's the going rate to forfeit the presidency and not legally fight for a recount when losing by only a few hundred votes."
"Are you saying the Republican's bought Bush the presidency...again?"
"Bought and sold with deferred payment hitting the books now to make it so that no one notices," she said. "Papa Bush is the one who had the contacts with the Saudis and with Al Jazeera."
Al Gore was a sore point with her. She hated the man. Matter of fact, except for Ed Bates and Bill Nye the science guy, no celebrities that she's aware of is green enough to say Happy fucking Earth Day to her. As if she was out of step with the planet when instead with being homeless, she was more in tune with the Earth than he was, for some reason, his Happy Earth Day salutation offended her. Because she was out here walking the streets while he rode around in his new car, as if Earth Day was her secret club, he wasn't a member but just another uninvited interloper.
Maybe because she's living the reality of Earth Day by collecting bottles and cans on the dirty city streets was why she found him saying Happy Earth Day so offensive. As if because it was Earth Day, she was supposed to be happy. She wasn't happy. She was sad. She was tired, hungry, and needed a hot shower. For what reason should she be happy when Earth Day was just another retail shopping day used as an excuse to sell shit, cars, appliances, and furniture?
Other than to give her life by giving her gravity for her to keep her hold on the planet and not be launched into outer space, what has the Earth done for her? Is she supposed to be happy for being unemployed, homeless, and poor? She's not happy. She's angry. Maybe if she had the money that he obviously had to afford a new car, she'd be wishing him a Happy fucking Earth Day and wishing Happy fucking Earth Day to everyone she saw. Why the fuck should she celebrate her misery in picking up bottles and cans to save the planet when she was picking up bottles and cans to feed herself?
"Happy fucking Earth Day my ass," she said.
He's lucky she didn't spit on his new car or accidentally let go of her shopping cart to give him his first scratch.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't making fun of you or trying to offend you," he said.
"No," she said with a little smile while not giving a shit about Earth Day, Arbor Day, Labor Day or any other fucking pretend holiday other than that today was Monday, April 22nd. "With one day falling into the next and all of my homeless and hungry days morphing together, I had no idea that today is Monday, never mind Earth Day, and I'm not one of those Greenpeace environmentalists and ecological conservationists."
"C'mon, you can tell me. Don't be so modest," he chided while smiling up at her. "Is that who you are and is that what you're doing? Are you an undercover environmentalist? Are you a stealth conservationist? Are you helping to clean the planet for Earth Day? Is that your dirty, little secret," he said noticing her dirty hands and blackened fingernails.
She realized he was just trying to be friendly but he was hitting her the wrong way. Instead of making her laugh by his attempt at humor, he was making her angry. Just by the frightful way she was dressed, unless he was an idiot, she imagined that he couldn't help but notice and know that she wasn't an environmentalist or a conservationist. She was just a smelly bag lady walking through a dirty alleyway with her noisy shopping cart while picking up bottles and cans to redeem for her to buy enough food to keep her alive for another day.