Dancing with Earthquakes
LOS ANGELES—I first came up with the idea of collecting glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans to make money when I was 12. One of my goals was to own a Nintendo Entertainment System with the coolest games. Another was to purchase a life-size poster of Lion-O from the "ThunderCats" and hang him on the door of my room. “I’m going to get rich from recycling and I’m totally keeping this brilliant idea all to myself!” I shrieked at my older sister, who raised her eyebrow at me.
So I immediately told my younger brother about my plans (like I said, I was 12). As expected, he was far more elated about my plans than our big sis.
“Yeah,” he muttered, yawning. “That would be a cool idea.” He shrugged. “I guess.”
Over the next few weeks, my brother and I collected and saved enough recyclables to cash in at our local recycling center.
“Tell’ em we got $50 worth of cans, but they’re all smooshed,” said my brother.
I called the center, following his instructions.
“Smashed?” the woman on the line asked.
“Smooshed,” I corrected, watching my brother smash a beer can against his head with little success.
The following year, after our parents divorced, my father, brother and I moved into another house in the community, while my mother and sister moved into an apartment outside of the district. Not long afterward, my father began to see the prospering brilliance of my campaign, and wanted to be part of it.
“I’m so glad I thought of this!” he shouted at my brother one evening. “We’ll be rich!” They jumped up and down, as elated as they were when the Clippers were defeated.
“You…guys understand this is originally my idea, right?” I asked, chuckling nervously by the time they went into the car, driving away into the sunset. “Well, at least they might share the profits with me,” I muttered, as a RIIIIP! tore a hole through the seat of my pants.
“It wasn’t me,” I said, as two boys rolled by on their bikes, laughing. “I mean…it’s just a tear in my pants…I mean, shut up.”
“Okay, Fatty!” one of the boys shouted.
“I’m not fat," I said, "my dad just doesn’t buy me clothes.”
This sent them into further hysterics. “At least my butt doesn’t hang over the seat of my bike,” I said.
“At least I have a bike!” the boy shouted.
After they rode away, I thought of smashing —smooshing —my brother’s bike, to turn in the aluminum it could be recycled into. That way I could grind it into my father’s gas tank. Or at least inside his beer cans, I thought.
But over time, I saw that my father and brother were grateful to me for having introduced them to such a fun family activity. While we drove around town, they collected recyclables, throwing them towards the rear seat of the car.
“Will I ever get a chance to sit in the front, fellas?” I asked, while a can of soda bounced off my shins.
“Stop fussin’,” my father said, tossing a beer can at my knees.
“I’m not. Actually, I think this is the funnest day I ever had with you guys. But can you at least hurl the bottles at the side I’m not sitting on?”
My father snickered, and told my brother. “I think you should have all the money from recycling, because she HATES those cans.”
“Grrrrr….” I said, as a piece of glass from a broken bottle crept in through the hole in my left sneaker, which was soaked in five flavors of Crush. I had a feeling I shouldn’t have worn my best shoes, I thought.
Before long, my brother had a Nintendo Entertainment system in his room, along with a desk, a television and tons of video games. At the orders of my school guidance counselor, I chose to be grateful that at least I wasn’t one of those starving kids in Ethiopia. After all, my father always made sure to wash what clothes I had. Further, he had the graciousness to pile them neatly on the floor outside of my room, just outside the doorway, whose actual door he had removed many months before. (Envisioning a life-size Lion-O was enough to replace it.)
In addition, he made sure I ate well enough. Once, while I was in my room, my father walked over to where my brother sat in the living room sofa, and gently laid a sack of sandwiches in his lap.
“Thank you, Daddy,” my brother said.
“You’re welcome, Sonny Boy.”
He looked at me through Lion-O’s hologram just as I finished hurrying, (actually, squeezing) into a pair of shorts, (which I think were actually pants) after I took a shower (the main valve not turned off in the middle of my rinsing my hair this time), while my brother watched me and snickered.
Walking over, my father laid a sack of food on the floor, just outside my doorway.
“You wouldn’t believe what she did!” my father told my mother the next day, after she called to ask about me the second time that year. “I gave her a beautiful submarine sandwich, and she kicked it like a football!”
My brother turned on the brand new flashlight our father had given him while our parents engaged in a conversation that illuminated my brother’s straight-A-making self-righteousness, in contrast to my rise towards seasoned criminality. As my brother flicked the flashlight on and off in my face, I thought that I had to agree with them.
Two years and a Hundred Flavors of Smooshed Beer Cans on the Wallflower later, I packed a backpack (with holes in the corners), and left home, walking to a phone booth to call the local runaway shelter.
“Absolutely malicious!” shouted the counselor on the line. “Utterly inhumane and sadistic! I have never heard of horrors so unspeakable!” He coughed and cleared his throat. “But, enough about me and the time I waited in line for that movie for two hours. I gather you called here for something important…so what did you want to share with me?”
By the time I told him about the time my father had kicked me down the stairs when I was eight, he yawned, made a prayer for me, and told me to just be a good girl and stay out of my daddy’s way. (“You’re not one of those starving kids in Ethiopia, you know.")
When I went back home, neither my father nor brother spoke to me. I walked back to my room, backpack bouncing on my shoulder, wondering what the catch was.
“Why did you run away?” my sister asked me the next morning, chuckling, when she picked me up for school the next day.
“Couldn't stand the sight of those gorgeous submarine sandwiches, anymore,” I said, watching my father pack my suitcase in the driveway and speak to my mother about all of the atrocities of raising a degenerate like me. My mother looked at her ex-husband with compassion, and glared at me as if she wanted to reach into one of our bags of recyclables, smash down one of the beer bottles, and advance me with it.
So these are still the reasons I adore caring for the environment. I love Santa Monica’s commitment to recycling. I also take into account the sobering fact that many of my community’s homeless residents recycle as a way of living. I am always grateful that I am not one of these unfortunate individuals, who have proven much worse off than I am. (I often see homeless children riding atop a shopping cart piled with plastic as their fathers push them along, having a ball.)
And if I were to one day give my dad a buzz, at my friends' orders, ("Some people don't even have fathers, nut, and besides you're not one in those starving kids in (fill in the blank") I might thank my father for having knocked me on the side of the head that didn’t have that big, glaring pimple. After I've slashed all of my friends' tires, that is. (I think
it might make them grateful that they have cars.)
it might make them grateful that they have cars.)
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