A petite, antiquated Chinese woman used to have first dibs on the refuse tossed out by the building across the street from me. Once upon a time this venerable old lady patiently waited for the building's super to cart out the recyclable trash each week. For years, I handed over my deposit-worthy cans and bottles to her. The super christened her “my lady,” and asked only that she neatly close the bags she rummaged through, which she always did. On multiple occasions, this tiny spitfire exhibited real chutzpah, literally hissing at interlopers who dared trod her hard-won territory. She chided me in a sign language of sorts one time—I don’t think she spoke a word of English—for using brands that were being tossed back to her in the local Stop & Shop supermarket’s redeem machine. But this wretched economy—coupled with her super friend losing his position—conspired against her. She was driven away by a dog-eat-dog competition that is no longer willing to play by the former gentlemen’s and gentlewomen’s rules of street. Under the new world order, no turf is ceded to anyone or anybody.
Really, it seems that nothing is sacrosanct anymore. A ragtag army has replaced the little old lady who most certainly could. And they are unwilling to accept that curbside garbage belongs by right to one individual and only one individual. It’s every man and every woman for himself or herself. My can and bottle gal thus disappeared from sight and sound. For a brief spell, I turned over my loot to a pleasant elderly woman from the area who, very tragically, got killed by a drunken driver while on her rounds.
I am nonetheless happy to report that the little Chinese lady has resurfaced, older but apparently undaunted, even in these less forgiving times. I’ve spotted her on several occasions recently. It appears she has found other very fruitful locales to scavenge. Her shopping carts are always chock full of gargantuan black garbage bags brimming with cans and bottles. Somehow these sightings always remind me of the Grinch’s sleigh after he pillaged Whoville. This lady, who probably weighs no more than eighty pounds, and is well into her eighties, pushing an overflowing shopping cart up the steepest hill around in a place called Ewen Park, is downright surreal. But then again, we live in downright surreal times.