It is a post-apocalyptic type of contraption. Bags tied to bags tied to a grocery cart with several amendments made to its figure. It has the presence of a ramshackle tank as its owner slowly pushes it down the shuttered alleys of the Ohio State campus in search of… something. And whatever. It’s a bit open-ended. But mostly the setup is for gleaning a bit from the plentiful crop of beer cans.

The man behind the bags is John Scott, or Leroy as he asks to be called. One of his “road dogs” is working a dumpster nearby, his upper body plunged deep within. His name is Popeye.

Scott is middle-aged, perhaps a bit more. He retired from his state job a few years back after being moved from the fairgrounds to the markedly more uptight atmosphere of a downtown office building. As he explains,

“We shoveled shit…you basically know what the fairgrounds does. You got cattle, sheep and all this; you take care of the buildings and everything. In the summertime we cut the grass and painted and all that. Then they sent me down there and I started to have to wear a white shirt and a tie… Oh no man. And no tennis shoes.”

But the retired life has worn thin for him as it does for many. Scott often complains, in a comic tone, of living with his children. “I’ve got 30 people in my house, and most of them are kids. I don’t need it.” Collecting cans is often his excuse to get out and enjoy the day.

And it is good he gets enjoyment out of collecting because it has become increasingly difficult to get any money out of the practice. Recycling centers give out less than half of what they did last year for Aluminum scrap, down from the halcyon days of 80 cents to just 30-35 cents on the pound. This reduces the value of one can’s worth of aluminum to something less than half a cent.

“I can’t make ten dollars with it,” Scott says in reference to the 30-40 bags he accumulates on a good day.

But there are other benefits to cleaning up after buckeye debauchery. “I go up there and get a chance to look at the pretty women, good conversation, they give me beer and things like that. After a good party, if you come out here at night time, hey, they leave you the rest of the beer and alcohol.”

And as far as the “culture of rioting” and “drunken orgies” that former OSU president Karen Holbrook infamously derided, Scott doesn’t mind. “It’s college. If I went to any other college it would be the same. I’m an old man now but you guys are still young.”

And it seems the arrangement works out for the students on campus as well. William Nelson, a junior majoring in Communications who lives on W. 10th Ave. is quite familiar with some of the 30 or so regular can collectors on campus. After describing several of the more colorful characters (“Cornbread” “the guy in the suit” and “the guy with the hair”) Nelson explains: “We’re that house. We always party. But it’s one of those things that, like, if the bums didn’t pick up the cans, we wouldn’t throw them in the yard. But as soon as we notice the bums picking up the cans, it’s like why not?”

Nelson goes on to say that they are don’t mind the collectors until they begin to ask for beer. And usually he and his roommates don’t even know at what time they come.

“We wake up and the yard is clean. Who knows?”

Nelson feels the relationship to be symbiotic. “We’re giving them money, they’re doing something for us. So there it goes.”

For Nelson and his roommates, who are all transplants from suburban enclaves throughout the state, living at the house has been their first interaction with the underground economy that Scott thrives on, or at least finds enjoyment in. And accordingly their attitude towards the situation comes off a bit cavalier. But to Scott, that’s fine.

“That’s how I get cans.”

No comments: