Pay Day

Jericho was certain that it always purposefully rained on him during his Friday morning stroll through one of the more affluent areas of town. Lots of waste in this area. Small green garbage bins and, more importantly, large blue recycling bins filled to the brim with plastics, papers, cardboard, and anything else these people believed could be recycled because of some subconscious guilt for their part in humanity. There was even a bucket specifically for glass next to each set of cans. The trucks didn’t usually come until the afternoon, so this was Jericho’s best opportunity to swoop in and strike. Most of the residents were either still asleep or on their way out. Awkward encounters with homeowners and their receptacles were far less at this time.

Jericho’s bad leg ached as he pushed his shopping cart up the first hill of his expedition. He had found a way to hang five or six large garbage bags from his cart, for convenience. Only two or three had anything in them currently, and barely half full at that. But, Fridays were what he called his “pay days.” These bins were like none of the other areas he hit. A plethora of recyclable capitalism at his finger tips. Soda cans and bottles of every color imaginable, each sporting a fresh hip logo and a chance at a prize if you looked under its cap. Glass bottles of varying wineries and local breweries with artsy logos and fancy fonts. That’s where the big money was. Those were more rare, but worth the hassle.

Today, he began on the north side of Monterey Boulevard. The cans were brimming with possibility. He glanced around and carefully opened the lid to the first one he approached. He began grabbing plastic and aluminum objects one by one and placing them according to material into the corresponding garbage bags. Sometimes if there was a hefty enough chunk of cardboard or a collection of vintage magazines, he’d throw them in the belly of the cart. Once he was finished, he carefully replaced the lid and did a scan of the area around it. No glass bucket. What a bunch of prude assholes. He continued down the road, his cart becoming heavier and louder after each can and bucket he rummaged through.

Over the years, Jericho had developed his own system or “guidelines” for a successful outing. First, never hit the same streets too many times in a row. After a while, the residents become a little more aware of the sound of clinking glass and a rickety old shopping cart if one frequents their neighborhood at the same time every week. Jericho had come up with different routes that he rotated through for each different neighborhood and area of town depending on which day of the week it was. He had six different routes he switched between for Fridays alone.

Second, switch back and forth across the street on a varying basis. Sometimes he’d hit a stretch of houses with only crusty pizza boxes, moldy cheese still dangling from the edges. Hardly profitable. And, people were less likely to start a ruckus with his head in someone else’s can besides their own. Good to keep a look out and switch sides when there was a string of activity in houses.

Third, if someone forgot to place his or her can on the curbside, try to avoid trespassing. Too messy. There seemed to be an invisible barrier between the sidewalk and the edge of a person’s yard/driveway. Most people were a little disgruntled by Jericho’s actions with their cans on the curbside, some would even passively aggressively mutter something. The possible consequences of trespassing on their property were much more frightening to Jericho. The fear of some kind of loud scene in the serenity of the morning was enough to keep him on a conservative diet of risky behavior. No reason to mess up a good thing. There’s always another house.

Finally, rule number three can be broken, but only under certain circumstances. Some neighborhoods seemed to produce fewer goods at different times of the year, and especially during unfavorable stretches of shitty weather Jericho was forced to disobey his own rules in hopes of even scraping together enough for a cheap pack of smokes. When this was the case, he was sure to be quick and efficient in his process. He only grabbed what he could carry from the house back to the cart and then moved on. Every once in a while, someone peeked out the window in the aftermath but Jericho always seemed to hobble away before they could get the nerve to confront him. It obviously wasn’t a perfect system, but it had served him well for quite a while now.

Near the end of Monterey Boulevard was his favorite residence in the whole city. It was a giant fraternity house with immaculate pillars and sculptures that stood on a perfectly manicured landscape. Well, perfectly repaired each week by the cleaning service after being trashed by the tenants. They had a minimum of four to six large comingle bins filled up every Friday. And, they were an all around good group of dudes. They never had their cans by the street, but Jericho had frequented enough that anyone who was up at that time had no problem him digging through their waste. They’d even throw him a light beer or joint for the road sometimes. What nice young gentlemen. The problem was that Monterey Boulevard was a windy uphill trudge of death. He used the sight of the frat house towering on top of the hill in the distance as his motivation to get to the peak. The upside was that after he made it to the top, he would take a left and follow Huntington Avenue all the way down the other side of the hill. This was one of the longest stretches of road in Desolation Springs and led him all the way down to the bike path by the river a few miles south. His resting place for the day. The recycling plant was also located near there, making it that much easier.

Then current rainstorm slowed his progress up the incline. He treaded lightly on the slickened concrete, also making sure to not lose his grip on the shopping cart. It was on these sort of days that the hike seemed all the more challenging and wearisome, bad leg throbbing with pain. It had been an alright day so far, and he decided to skip the last few houses before the top so he could concentrate more energy on not sliding back down the hill. He also wanted to save space for the goodies at the frat house, so he had purposefully left one bag completely empty. Shit, most times he could probably just fill up his whole cart at their place.

Once at the top, he stopped for a moment to catch his breath and rest his aching legs. The fraternity was still, no lights permeating from any inch of the house. Not even one soul blacked out on the front lawn like usual, probably a result of the stormy weather. Jericho limped over to the large blue cans, his body shaking from the cold weather and a little bit of excitement.



All of them.

What the hell? Jericho’s jaw drooped slightly and he stood staring at the cans for a few moments. Where the fuck were these little shits? Must be on some kind of break. Damn. Easy to lose track of the months. This was supposed to be his big cash out, keep him afloat for the next couple days. He looked back down the hill and thought of all the houses he had purposefully skipped and lamented that this block was so steep. Kris Kringle and the boys would certainly have a laugh about this later. He hobbled back to his cart and took a left down Huntington Avenue. He would have to hit a few extra houses now, maybe take a few extra risks. This was not how he had envisioned starting his weekend. Gravity helped guide him back down the slope toward the river. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle, clouds in the distance parting to let some sunlight infiltrate the gray scene. It made him think of an old children’s hymn. He sang the words as he continued toward the horizon below. Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, To shine for Him each day; In every way try to please Him, At home, at school, at play.