Above is a picture of Ronnie dumpster diving in the alley behind our condo.
When Talulah and I came outside for Talulah’s daily fetch routine, Ronnie looked up at us as we walked through the gate. He was throwing cans out onto the ground, which I assumed he was going to retrieve and take along. He had also found a pretty good sized box of KFC, which he was removing things from and putting them in his mouth.
In a very friendly way, he said, “Hi, how are you doin’?”
“Pretty good,” I responded. “How about you?”
“Okay.” He responded.
I crumpled my nose and eyebrows a little after I asked how he was. I mean, he’s obviously not great if he’s digging through our trash.
But he seemed unfazed. I was carrying a plastic baggy of Talulah’s vomit that she threw up on our deck earlier that day. I decided to throw it in my neighbor’s trash can so that I wouldn’t disturb the research he was doing in our can.
“Don’t worry. I’m going to clean all this up. I’m not going to leave it like this,” he told me. Empty pop and beer cans were strewn all over.
“I’m not worried,” I said. “I hope you have good luck.”
“Thanks!” He said. “I just moved here from Jacksonville, Mississippi. Um, you wouldn’t happen to have some spare change? I could use a cup of coffee.”
I patted my pockets and said, “Man, I’m sorry. I just came out to walk my dog. I’m going to be leaving here soon. I can bring you some money later.”
“No problem,” he said. “God bless.”
I continued up the hill to take Talulah out. From where I stood, I snapped the picture above. That’s him, hoisting his body up on the can reaching deep inside. Soon after, he pulled out several cans and what appeared to be an entire carton of eggs. You could tell by the way it bent that it was at least partially full.
My heart sank for the guy. This is what drives me to be humanist first. It’s guys like this who encourage my lack of faith in higher beings and support a more natural, level-headed understanding of the world.
I can’t financially support all the people I want to help. But I like to live in a city where there’s a bit of help for these guys in social ways. We live in symbiosis with the homeless people who dumpster dive.
While it angers me that he is forced to dig through trash to find food and pick up a bit of change from trading in cans, it’s a penetratingly deep shot to my spirit when you see someone stick what trash into their mouth.
Later, the guy walked by Talulah and me to retrieve some bags he left further up the alley. He looked over and said, “That sure looks like a nice patch of grass to play with a dog. She’s having a great time.”
“Yep, we love it. It’s like having our own back yard.”
“Yeah, she’s a good looking dog, too.”
After Talulah tired out, I took her in and the guy was too far away to wave to and say I’ll be back out.
When I got upstairs, I told Tina all about the guy I met in the alley. Her heart of course melted too.
So when we got in the car and started down the alley, I pointed him out. “I’ve got a dollar or two,” she said. “Stop stop and give this to him.”
I lowered my window and he walked over. “As promised, here’s some cash.”
He was so grateful.
I asked him why he moved here from Mississippi. “My auntie was sick and I came up to see her. She passed away a few weeks ago. But I decided to stay.”
“I’m Jeremy and this is Tina,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Ronnie.”
Ronnie went into a story that he’s applying for his own apartment. But there’s a 30-day processing time. He told us that he’s got income from the state, a check that he gets and can access the money via a debit card. Until he moves into his place, he’s staying at a church, but he doesn’t like staying there, because the other residents are all on drugs. “And I’m too old to get caught up in that stuff,” he said. “It’s not a good scene.
While Ronnie was talking, we noticed a big globule of brown ooze that must have landed on his finger while digging. It looked like KFC gravy, maybe.
Ronnie kept talking about how until he moves into his place, he needs to keep busy. He applied for a job doing maintenance and he’s going to go to school for heating and air conditioning. But if he doesn’t do something, he’d be bored. So dumpster diving passes the time.
When we left, he said, “God bless” again.
Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m dumb, but Ronnie’s a great mother fucking guy. He’s almost a role model. He hasn’t given up. He’s doing things to stay alive, and he’s not a big jerk about it.
He’s happy. And even if he doesn’t realize the irony of saying “God bless.” Blessings come in different ways, I know. And you can have nothing and feel blessed. But there’s a unique irony to that kind of thinking … one that is perpetuated by thought police in this country who have too much and don’t understand that some people make omelets from eggs you threw out.