Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Parasites or Symbiotes?

For some years now I have lived in the flatlands of southern Eugene, Oregon, a community that goes out of its way to attract and retain a wide variety of people who are unable to support themselves through conventional means. Among these are a collection of more-or-less amiable drunks and urb-edge ne'er-do-wells who seem to make a significant part of their income from the collection of cans and bottles from the 12-block-long zone between the University of Oregon campus and the Albertson's supermarket, which has an automated can and bottle sorter that produces chits refundable for cash at the store.

I have always felt a faint revulsion as these draggletropes stagger past my house on their daily systolic rounds with big santa-sacks of cans and shopping carts of bottles. I have wondered why so many people in this neighborhood allow, even encourage, the collectors. At the same time, I have always grumbled to myself about the necessity of taking cans and bottles in for refunds myself. The refunds - at most a couple of dollars for a large paper bag of cans - are hardly worth the energy of taking them back.

I have started to wonder whether in fact the collectors are both a natural phenomenon, no more to be despised than politicians, and useful social symbiotes for we yuppies. Last week I decided to test myself. I took a large sack of cans that I didn't feel like dealing with out to the curb by my driveway and parked them in an obvious semi-public place where no one could fail to detect my intent to be rid of them. A few hours later they were gone !

I should have been outraged, as usual, that someone would live this way, on the frosty edge of theft, but I found myself all but giddy at the prospect of not having to deal with those cans. They were gone and could be removed from my list of things to do. The relative value of time and money has changed as I grow older, and the parasites of five years ago have become the symbiotes of today. In exchange for about $1.50, an inconvenience was painlessly removed from my life. The price is right.

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