On New Year’s Day, as I arrived with my car packed with evidence of our “family activities,” he emerged from the building, putting on his gloves. A quiet man of medium height, with shoulder-length hair, a stubbly beard, and an earring, he oversees the town’s recycling efforts. Recycling here is a community habit. Only ten states still have “bottle bills”. Half of those are in the far northeast, where you pay a nickel deposit for soda, beer and wine bottles. Because stores long ago stopped accepting returns, local governments established recycling stations with separate dumpsters for cardboard, plastics, glass, paper and metal. The Boy Scouts set up bins for redeemable bottles and cans, which is both a source of revenue for them and, I imagine, a peephole into grown-up life.
I initially resented this recycling czar, as he instructed me what went where – “this is plastic; paper bags go with the cardboard” – thereby dragging out what had seemed to me a pretty uncomplicated operation. So I’d try to go when I thought he wouldn’t be there. Like New Year’s Day.
“You’re working today?” I heartsinkingly asked.
“I work almost everyday,” he said. “I took Christmas off.” He added as an aside, “I don’t get paid for the holidays.”
But wait. Where is the stereotype we are endlessly fed – the arrogant, apathetic public employee, mindlessly punching a clock until he can collect his budget-busting pension? He takes his work seriously. He believes it’s important.
"Thank you," I said.