As 2017 goes out on a perfect note

Twelve people, three dogs, three cats and a 25 pound turkey taking up the entire oven.

We did Christmas on Boxing Day; as children become adults who pair off, it can sometimes be tough navigating colliding schedules. I’ve always been of the mind that my kids should go where they need to go and stay put. I don’t want them spending hours in the car dashing around eating double dinners to make someone happy who has deemed that it isn’t Christmas unless all are assembled under one roof — theirs. I also think people with little kids shouldn’t have to travel at all, because transporting little ones in the grip of Christmas hysteria is enough to make anyone want to punch Santa in the snout.

When I bought the house from Mom and Dad, I’d had the fireplace in the living room walled over. I know. Stop saying it. But I had little kids and it needed repair, and it was May. Don’t make fireplace decisions in May. A few weeks ago, out came the power tools, down came the drywall, and I went hurtling back in time to my childhood. A mason who promised to have it totally done by Christmas never came back or even answered our calls, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get it cleaned and made safe enough for a fire. The living room wall looks like a giant took a bite out of it, exposed brick and concrete being less than festive in appearance but more than adequate in utility.

Everybody walked into the house, greeted by a roaring fire. We pulled the couch around, moved a table, and hung decorations on Dad’s wine press in the corner.

Ari and his girlfriend Taryn were first over the threshold, their dog Shelby making a beeline for the snow laden backyard that had once been her domain. Ari handed me a giant bottle of wine, frozen near solid.

“Sorry, I left it in the car overnight,” he explained. I put it on the counter, laughing. He trundled off to hook up my computer in a new location, and I was reminded the best gifts are those that save my sanity.

Shelby came in shaking snow, and immediately plopped on the couch. Mark the cat remained in the cat perch, not even blinking. A fire was enough to make these two, usually mortal enemies, declare a truce.

As my niece Kat started lighting candles on the table she’d set for 12, Roz and I debated the annual turkey to wine ratio: how much can we drink while still being on turkey duty? We’d waited for Gilly to arrive because you have to hand off responsibility like a baton in a relay race. The men were just trading beers like hockey cards, stoking the fire, cranking the music and marching around with chairs. By the time Christer and Pammy arrived, three dogs were making sure nothing hit the floor, one cat was hiding in the basement, one was hiding under a bed, and I believe one had called for a cab and left home.

I looked around the table. Twisted paper hats in various states of disrepair perched on the heads of a dozen people knit together by blood, love and tradition. Three vegetarians, one kid with his nose in his phone with a girlfriend who’d had to work, and Gilly’s husband announcing New Year’s bowling plans — a surprise to everyone, especially Gilly. The three dogs were snoozing on the couch in front of the reclaimed fire.

So many of the pieces can change and yet still, the song remains the same.

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If you build it, they will poop … maybe

“I’m coming home on Saturday. I have to build something,” said Ari, 23.

He lives an hour away now, but he builds things like desks and tables — which means trips back home to visit his tools, if not his mother.

“No problem. What are you building?”

“A box for the litter boxes,” he said.

When he and Taryn moved out, they took JoJo, our old black cat, with them.

JoJo got along well with Shelby, their dog, and JoJo was also getting attacked all the time by the feline Terrorists, Mark and Cairo. When I asked JoJo if she wanted to move out, she had a small suitcase packed by the front door within 10 minutes.

A few weeks ago, Ari and Taryn added Franklin, a wee orange tabby, to their menagerie. Which also meant adding another litter box.

“Stupid Frankie, he takes his hands and pulls the litter out of the box, then rolls around in it,” said Ari.

My sons have had the advantage of growing up with cats while never having to scoop litter. Until now. In true cat owner fashion, Ari has decided he can invent the perfect litter box.

His friends Jesse and Emerson came over to help, though from what I could tell, they mostly just drank beer and watched him. I heard crashing around in the garage, and then Ari stuck his head in the front door.

“It’s really cold out here. Is it OK if I do this in the living room?”

I shrugged. When the kids were young, I reasoned anything that kept them occupied for more time than it took me to clean up, was a win. The same rules still apply, though I no longer have to clean up.

“Don’t bring a mitre saw in here,” I warned him.

Jesse started laughing.

“He already dumped a thing of sawdust all over himself in the garage. He’s done with the saw,” said Jesse.

The boys started hauling two-by-fours, pieces of plywood, hinges, a drill and an extension cord into the living room.

“Do we have long screws?” asked Ari.

I pointed to the basement. When he was down there he yelled up asking if we had short ones, too. “Somewhere,” I yelled.

As he started figuring out how to best assemble his creation, I raised an eyebrow.


“I just don’t see how that’s going to hold two litter boxes, is all,” I told him.

“Sure it will. Like this, and this. I measured.”

“And you’re going to put walls on all sides of it, and have two cats go in through some little opening? Will JoJo even fit?”

“If she wants to poop she will,” he reasoned.

Anyone who has trained a cat to do anything but what it already has decided to do will recognize the futility of that statement.

The drill blared to life, and my cats scattered. Three young men hemmed and hawed, pulling out tape measures and blasting screws through wood forming a box that when finished, I worried, would be too heavy to lift.

Ari’s perusal of his project grew grimmer at each step.

“Emerson, do you need a coffee table?” he asked.

Emerson raised an eyebrow. “You mean that? No, I’m good.”

“You don’t have to tell anyone it was supposed to be a litter box,” I said, helpfully.

I pictured this thing remaining in my living room forever.

I watched Ari screw two big hinges onto it. I watched him back out the screws and do it again. When it finally appeared finished, he stood back and took a measured glance at it.

“When is bulk garbage day?” he asked.

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You light up my life — a little too much

Six months ago, a large local retailer had light bulbs on sale.

They were the spanky new LED bulbs, and they were basically giving them away. Deciding bulbs that used less energy were the way to go, I stocked up. I ran around my house replacing all the old, terrible, wasteful bulbs with ones so environmentally friendly they were almost vegan.

At a dinner party the other night, a guest sat blinking in my dining room. The fixture in there sports six of my new bulbs. You could do surgery at my dining table, if you were so inclined. We sat discussing changes the house has been undergoing since I pretended to move and then didn’t.

A new fridge is now neatly tucked into the place it was meant to be, instead of the behemoth standing in the middle of the room that is now a beer fridge in the basement. Slowly, pictures are going up and a style is emerging. I asked for input from those at the table; I can use all the ideas I can get.

“You know,” said the guest, “there are softer bulbs you can get for this fixture.”

He looked like he wanted his sunglasses.

“These are ones I had a coupon for,” I explained. “They use less energy. Can you believe they were only a dollar?”


A few days later, Christopher asked why the porch lights were so bright.

“They’re energy efficient!” I told him. “I have lots of extras if you want some.”

“We’re good,” he said quickly.

I have a cupboard full of these light bulbs. Every time I try to give them away, the kids accidentally forget to take them home. My parents used to do this: give us the things they didn’t want but couldn’t bear to throw away. Unlike my children, I learned early on to just take whatever was offered and ditch it later. Breaking my mother’s heart was not an option.

It took a while longer, but I finally realized that everybody in my life has been quietly changing out my new light bulbs. Or wishing they could. From the outside looking in, it apparently looks like I live in a jack-o-lantern.

Fed up with being surrounded by people who value their retinas over the environment, I thought I’d finally found a like-minded individual in a friend of mine.

“The kids are complaining that the porch lights look bad,” I lamented.

We were walking up the front steps, squinting.

“When they’re older, they’ll finally appreciate that you need proper front lights for the ambulance.”

I said this with a certain amount of authority. As I get older, I consider each situation I encounter with a worst-case scenario. The kids made me promise if I lived alone out in the country, I would get a dog so if I died, the dog would go for help.

I didn’t move to the country, but my compromise is lighting up my front porch like a carnival midway so emergency rescue crews can find my house if I’ve fallen and can’t get up.

An hour later, I opened the front door. Something was wrong. The bulbs were now little tear-shaped ones, not even close to my “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” LED hydro savers.

I yelled over my shoulder for the “friend” who had pretended to agree with me about the importance of front porch safety.

“Why did you change the bulbs?” I demanded. “How is the ambulance going to find me?”

He started laughing.

“Ambulance? I thought you said ambience.”

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Hit the gym, not the trainer

I have started working out again, after a long dry spell and a stern warning from my doctor.

“It’s about your bones,” she admonished me.

It’s funny how, as we age, we go from thinking “how does my butt look in these jeans?” to “why isn’t there a railing here, do they want me to break my hip?”

I sat in front of a trainer who had been highly recommended to me. Lying to your trainer is like lying to your dentist about flossing; one minute into the session, the truth comes out.

“When was the last time you worked out?” Mike asked me, poised to take some notes.

“One year and four months ago,” I responded.

He raised his eyebrows. “You know that specifically?”

“Yup. I had to get in shape for some pictures, and the second they were done I ate a pizza and stopped working out.”

In fact, I ate many pizzas. My abs looked like somebody had stacked a bunch of those quilted moving blankets on top of them. I told Mike he had to fix those. I also told him I didn’t want my arms to blow in the wind.

Mike started to silently curse the person who had recommended him.

A first training session is much like a first date. You’re both very polite and you both want to know pertinent information without looking too weird. Mike had to find out how much of a wreck he was taking on. He had me do a series of exercises as I pretended not to hear my knees making noises like somebody driving over broken glass.

All was going well until he handed me a skipping rope. I looked at him blankly.

“I don’t skip,” I informed him.

“Come on, everybody skips! Just give it a shot, see what you can do,” he said.

Most trainers are part cheerleader, which makes you want to simultaneously admire their optimism and punch them. I held the ends of the ropes, and carefully stepped over it. I swung it over my head and it stopped at my feet.

“Uhm, you have to jump,” he said helpfully.

I hopped over the rope. I swung it a few more times, managing to jump over it once, in a double bunny hop. I did it twice more, out of a dozen attempts.

Mike was looking at me. I’ve seen that look. It’s the “come on, everybody can skip” look. Only now it was saying, “wow. I thought everybody could skip.”

“OK, you know what? We’ll come back to skipping,” he told me.

I shook my head. We would not be returning to skipping.

We ran through a bunch of other things, mostly to my liking. If it involves weights or sit-ups, I’m happy. If it involves running, jumping or anything requiring coordination, forget it.

Mike brought out a big ball, and demonstrated how I was to sit on it, and then do some exercise. I wasn’t listening to him; I was busy telling him I can’t sit on balls.

He began his skipping pep talk again, so I sat on the ball. And fell off. I got back on, finally got balanced, when he proceeded to tell me what the exercise was.

“I though balancing on the ball was the exercise,” I patiently explained.

“You know what? We’ll come back to the ball,” he told me.

I didn’t say anything, but I mentally placed the ball beside the skipping rope. A few minutes later, a box step Mike thought I would be hopping onto joined them in exercise equipment limbo.

Something tells me one of us is going to get more of a workout than they bargained for.

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Wine, women and bad, bad art

Super_PortraitI met up with a bunch of girlfriends the other night at a bar in Toronto.

It wasn’t the usual meet-up: we were there to take part in a Paint Night, which is now a thing. You pay a few bucks, have your own canvas and smears of paint on a plate, and commence to recreate the masterwork which is displayed on a table. You have the actual artist there to direct and help.

Or in my case, to drive crazy.

I can’t draw or paint, at all. I was a few minutes late, glanced around at what my friends were all doing, and grabbed a brush.

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “They’re painting ocean at the bottom. I can do that.”

I ordered a glass of wine and slapped a few colours together and made wavelike brush marks across the canvas. My wine arrived. I made some more swoopy brush marks. It seemed to be nighttime in the original, so I put in more black. This wasn’t so hard.

The original had a big moon with a tree silhouetted against it. There might have been some birds flying to the right, but I never got that far. It seemed to be a night sky, which made sense with the moon. The artist was explaining how to make a purplish sky. I mixed together some colours on my plate that looked decidedly more like mud than purple, but used it anyway. It looked sad, so I threw some white on top of it. Now my brush was all gobbed up, but then I discovered another brush at my place setting.

I drank some wine.

I made more bold strokes for the sky, pleased with myself for capturing the moody quality of the painting that all the others seemed to be missing. I cleaned up a brush and started poking at the canvas with yellow paint to make a moon.

As I immersed myself in the artistic process, I vaguely heard the artist explaining that to achieve the right dimensions for the moon, we were to trace a paper plate.

Wait. What? I looked up.

I’d done my circle freehand. It was wobbly. I’d put so much white in the sky, my moon looked more like a sun. Sort of.

I pondered how to add the foreboding tree outline, then realized that trees can’t grow out of the ocean. I asked my friend Jenn why we were trying to paint trees growing out of the ocean.

“That’s not supposed to be water,” she replied, carefully tracing her paper plate moon. “It’s ground.”

I decided to forgo the tree all together. What is art if not free expression?

My right hand was getting tired with all the big, swoopy motions so I switched to my left. It made little difference to the end result.

I asked Jenn if she would like me to demonstrate my stabby technique to help her with her moon. She politely declined.

I could hear the artist giving advice to everybody as their creations began to look more and more like the original. Mine continued to look less and less like the original.

She stood behind mine, and paused.

“I like it,” she lied.

I decided I was done and proceeded to mingle with my friends while my masterpiece dried. A guitar player tuned up, and started playing Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”

“Oh! This is the perfect song,” I told a waiter who brought me more wine, as I nodded at the paintings.

“Well, we do karaoke every Wednesday night. You should come then,” he replied.

“I sing like I paint,” I replied.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t,” he smiled.

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If you buy me gadgets, I will throw them away

The Halloween decorations are finally down (they went up in August), which can only mean one thing: it is officially gadget season.

You thought I was gonna say Christmas? No, though it’s understandable why there could be some confusion. This is not about seasonal festivities; it is about the purchasing of tonnes and tonnes of useless gadgets because everybody feels obligated to buy something — anything — whether the intended recipient will want it, need it, or use it. It’s when gift giving goes from being from the heart to running down a list. It’s why we have singing bass on plaques, corkscrews as big as anvils, Patty Stackers, ThighMasters, Pet Rocks and Chia Pets.

One year, my sister got a Very Ugly Vase as a wedding gift. It’s the kind you see in the store window of a dollar store and think, who would buy a fake crystal Very Ugly Vase for five bucks? It was bad. I have a couple of Very Beautiful Vases that were wedding gifts, and while I have divested myself of nearly everything that reminds me of being married, even I admit these vases, that I rarely use, are beautiful and I like the way the light flicks through them. A little beautiful crystal goes a long way.

The Very Ugly Vase has gone a long way, as well, because for years, it kept popping up as a gift to someone in the family on some occasion. Whoever had it would hold on to it just long enough to let it slip from memory then, bam. You got nailed with the Very Ugly Vase.

Sometimes we filled it jelly beans. Sometimes we disguised it in huge boxes. The Sommerfeld sisters know how to have fun. The problem is that, like gadgets, the Very Ugly Vase is only a momentary joke and then someone is stuck slugging it around for years.

Maybe it’s because I just spent most of the past year tossing things out and stripping my home to the bare walls, but you can learn my lesson early. I’ve had to clear not just the accumulated crap of my lifetime but much of my parents’, as well. Tucked at the back of cupboards and closets, stored in boxes in attics and basements, stashed in crawl spaces and stowed in trunks — junk.

Oh sure, some gems popped out, like a few years’ worth of old magazines that made an artist who hauled them off very happy. That trunk itself, battered and bruised, is now my coffee table.

But for the most part, it was simply a burden of things. My mother arrived from England with almost nothing, and my father came from the prairies with even less. The things they accumulated had to be considered and saved for, unlike today’s Dollar Shop stockpiles amassed weekly, randomly, flippantly. I’ve often thought the fact I was so broke when I got divorced and the boys were tiny was a good thing; I had to watch every dollar and the only thing we could get for a buck was a movie rental from Six Penny Mini Mart on Friday nights.

I think gag gifts should have to serve two purposes, like something that makes you laugh and then you can eat it, or something that makes you laugh and then you can use it as kindling.

Give someone good socks instead of a Christmas CD; give them a new snow shovel instead of a Duck Dynasty bobblehead; a bottle of wine instead of a remote controlled flying shark.

I tossed the Very Ugly Vase this year.

At least I told my sisters I did.

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I will not scan my own things; I want to protect your job

Saint Lorraine, the champion of lost causes.

I know. There is already an official desperation saint – Jude, but my self-anointing act is for a very specific cause: we need to get rid of self-checkouts in stores and iPad ordering in restaurants. Every time I see new self-checkouts appear, I see real people losing their jobs.

Home Depot has done it for years, but their system is so hopeless they have to have someone oversee each transaction anyway. Ikea’s checkout area reminds me of a cattle drive, and half the time I’m not sure what chute I’m standing in. So I leave, my Bostrom candleholders (that’s my private inside baseball Swedish joke; you can Google it) stuffed in a bin, having checked out with neither a real person nor a machine — no doubt assembled with an Allen key and much swearing.

I noticed a McDonald’s last year sporting kiosks so you could order your own, but I also noticed the strained looks on the faces of the staff who knew their hours were about to be cut as well as their numbers. Shopper’s Drug Mart installed a row recently, and I resolutely ducked them like I do the others, though I know it’s pointless.

Automation has rewritten many industries, and we don’t question that robots assemble our cars, our electronics, our food and everything else. It’s been happening for decades, yet as we decry the loss of good jobs on this side of the world we continue to buy ridiculous amounts of junk made on the other. The reason that television and those shoes are so cheap is because your neighbour didn’t make them. Hell, they’re so cheap, it’s not even worth having another neighbour repair them when they break; buy new ones!

And so we’ve watched job creation be mainly in service sectors, where you ask one person to supersize that before you head to the next place and ask another if those jeans make your butt look big. We don’t need anyone to build, it seems, though we do need to be served, and we continue to consume. Bricks and mortar malls are hollowing out, once meccas of consumption now leaving communities pondering what do with acres of … nothing. How many fitness places do we need? We order everything online, including the next computer to continue ordering online.

But now even those service jobs are under threat, in our quest for streamlining.

I can barely – just barely – remember when my mom’s groceries were bagged (in paper) at Steinberg’s by a separate bag boy. What’s a bag boy, you ask. Then checkers did the bagging, and you marvelled at the skill involved in creating the perfect balance by weight and volume; this one has your eggs in it, be careful. Now, of course, your groceries tumble down the belt askew, buttons pushed to hurry things along, those peppers you carefully chose mashing against the shampoo bottles like elevator doors encountering a hand or a foot.

Maybe you want to do away with those who take your order, who scan your merchandise. Maybe we’ve made their jobs so thankless, we believe we’re better off without them. Maybe we can quantify mistakes made; I worked retail for a decade and our mistakes were real, and counted, and sometimes caused a customer inconvenience.

But I also helped your youngster buy your birthday present, I lifted heavy things into your car, I called you when something came in that I knew you were waiting for and I suggested things that might work when what you wanted was sold out.

It’s called customer service. If you want it, you have to help protect it.

Not scanning.

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You paid for my breasts; I promise to take good care of them

BRA Day was recently held at Juravinski Hospital.

Breast Reconstruction Awareness is an apt acronym; the day is a chance for women to find out what’s happening in the medical field, ask questions and try to ascertain their best course of action. It’s also an opportunity for some of us who have already trodden this path to doff our tops and put a face and a voice to the experience.

I stood there wearing just jeans and boots, and I was not the brave one. My prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction had headed off a bad outcome. My experience is not a stitch on those who are forced into the treatment trenches, battling a vile disease that continues to take too many too soon, and forces the rest to scale mountains nobody is equipped to tackle.

The women I spoke with who thought I was baring my soul, as well as my breasts, will never know they were showing me so much more. In the midst of the swirl of uncertainty, fear and overwhelming damned sadness, they were revealing the core of who we are and how we move forward.

I stared into eyes of women young enough to be my daughters and I had no words. I wanted to hold them all, to fix them all, to swallow their fear and their pain and do that thing that parents do, that women do, of mopping up the broken glass, sponging up the spilled blood.

I looked at women my own age and wanted them to know if I could do this, they could do this. I looked at women older than I am and wanted them to know strength often comes from surprising places. We all have it.

Breast cancer, and the threat of breast cancer, attacks families but ultimately it is up to a woman to face it down alone. Your body. Your mind. Your emotions.

Doctors deal in the actual blood and guts and I’m grateful they do. To hear them speak about what qualifies as a good outcome and to know they’re considering a woman’s sense of self, her sexuality as well as her survival, is a tremendous affirmation that we are more than the sum of our parts.

We live in a country that gives us choices — overwhelming choices, at times — but choices. In other countries, including the one to the south of us, too many women must wither before they are allowed to take charge and decide for themselves. It is often too late. We suffer from choice; others suffer from no choice.

I spent too long trying to defend rebuilding my body as a vanity project. I could convince myself I was allowed to live, but it took far longer to decide I was worthy of living a version of myself that made me feel whole.

Surely breasts, long past their physiological need at my age, could be lost without recourse. I considered removing them and moving on. Some fabulous women have done just that, and they look amazing.

But the same way they could choose and celebrate that, I wanted something else. I wanted some semblance of who I used to be, even if I had no way of knowing what that would actually look like. Every woman is different, and surgeons can only guess at outcomes.

Two other women shared the room with me that day, both happy to show and share what some of those outcomes can be. We’re on the other side of the bridge, hoping only to reach out a hand to those beginning the journey.

No matter what we look like on the outside, these are warrior hearts beating beneath.

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Camo, you had one job

You would think a tendency to wear a lot of camouflage clothing would make me less susceptible to sporting noticeable gravy stains. You would be wrong.

I started dressing like a 13-year-old boy when Christopher was 14. I simply started taking things he’d outgrown and calling them my own. Kids’ clothing is expensive and they wear it for about 10 minutes before you’re off to the store to replace them — the clothing, not the kids. I am thrifty; not terribly stylish, but definitely thrifty. I’d always liked men’s jeans better than women’s, and now I had a reason to wear them.

On a recent trip, I emerged dressed for dinner and a fellow guest’s eyes widened slightly as he announced I had a very eclectic fashion sense. If I had more money, I’d be considered eccentric. I do not, so I have to stick with eclectic, which means weird, no matter how much your friends try to tell you it doesn’t. On this particular evening, it was my camo pants, though teamed with very darling boots and a snappy jacket, which led him to his declaration.

The thing with camo is, it’s cheap. I get my camo pants at Old Navy for about twenty bucks, in the men’s section. They put that stuff on sale all the time and as long as it sort of fits, I’m going to call that a find. I broke my own code on that same vacation, however, and found a camo jacket that was not cheap but was also too fabulous to leave behind.

While attending a fairly swank event the other night, I was wearing my new jacket. They had several food stations set up, the kind where they feature upscale versions of food you recognize. They had a poutine bar; I am not a fan of poutine, but it had the shortest line and I was hungry.

I decided I’d just take a few high-end fries and grab another glass of wine. As I waved off the cheese, the poutine-maker plopped some gravy on the fries. I think gravy on fries is kind of gross, but I reasoned it would be designer gravy and I was hungry. Whatever.

I ferried the fancy china scoopy bowl of fries back to the table, a fork and a glass of wine in the other hand. One fry later, and the fork was on the floor. I’d rested it in the bowl, and it had launched itself out.

The woman next to me said she’d done the same thing.

I stared forlornly at my little pile of high-end fries lying in their little puddle of designer gravy. I debated trying to eat them with my fingers, but heard my late mother gasp somewhere in the back of my head.

Someone handed me another fork.

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My trash is not just anyone’s treasure

I missed the “blue binners” controversy in this paper by a few weeks. I was busy having a binner controversy of my own.

I am startlingly lazy, which means I don’t return wine and beer bottles and cans to the store for whatever refund they nickel-and-dimed me for when I purchase them. I have no interest in building a stash until I lump them all to some place, usually managing to leak onto the carpet of my vehicle so it smells like a beer parlour. Instead, I put them out in recycling.

As a kid, gathering up beer empties was a source of income. I used to scour the local parks on Saturday and Sunday mornings, grocery bags swinging from the handles of my bike as I scored two cents a bottle and felt like a Pilsner princess. My father was immensely proud; he had no problem building a wall of beer empties himself and would add my grungy collection to his horde and, more often than not, let me keep the entire reward. The best day of my young life was finding a 24 case intact, and balancing it home on my handlebars. My father was bursting with pride; my mother ran and hid.

For several years now, I know a man has quietly come and retrieved my empties. This is OK with me; hell, this is a variation of what I used to do. I try to separate things out for him, even. He uses a cart and he is incredibly tidy. Have at it, Recycling Man, I say to myself.

At Christmas, there was an envelope tucked under the wiper blade of one of the cars in the driveway. It was a card from Recycling Man, thanking us. I took it as a sign he appreciated my thoughtfulness; my sister said it was a sign the household drank too much.

But a couple of weeks ago, a car pulled up outside my house. I’d put my blue bins out perhaps an hour before, and as I watched from inside, a couple rifled through them and also snagged a couple of 12 packs I’d neatly stacked beside the bins. For my Recycling Man. Not for some couple who were driving door to door. Don’t ask me why I cared who took away something I was chucking out; that is not the point. For some reason, that is not the point.

The other evening I was still out front when the familiar car pulled up to my curb, yet again. Out hopped a woman who immediately grabbed my bins and began to hand bottles and cans through the open door to the driver. I stared at her.

“I’m taking all your beer empties for you,” she said.

“I see that. But they’re not yours.”

I could have told her they are technically now the city’s, or still mine if they’re on my lawn. There is a never-enforced fine for people raiding blue bins, and the city has a return policy with a contractor for my empties. No, I wasn’t bothering to argue that she was breaking the law.

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