Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blog the Fifth: I Am Aluminum Man


Yeah, I know.  Doesn't quite sound the same.  Ironically, though, when I go out scraping...which I'm about to do in a bit...iron is the last thing I want, unless it's cast iron, and even that's not very valuable...maybe a penny a pound 'round these parts.  

What am I looking for?  

Well, the treasured jewel of the lot is of course aluminum, hence the blog title and really bad Ozzie-rip off.  It's the most valuable per pound that's USUALLY the most plentiful, also.  copper and brass are the most valuable, but unless someone gives me some intentionally, I usually don't find a whole lot of it on my own.

Yes, that's right kids.  This writer-author hopeful-wannabe is a dirty-rotten can picker and scrap metal scrounger.  Helps pay the gas and car rental bills back and forth to Cons.  Usually pays a big chunk of our vacation every year, too.  See, some folks have a vacation fund at the bank.

Mine's usually in my back porch garage.

Now, doesn't THAT make you want a writing career?

Actually, the can picking thing has roots in my childhood.  Yes, I'm one of a sainted few: a child of the '80's.   Back when Pepsi came in glass bottles (and tasted infinitely better because of it) and the Rubick's Cube was King, New York created the almighty can and bottle refund.  Believe it or not, it was all the rage, and LOTS of people picked cans, my family included.  

Even better, we grew up next to a motorcycle race track.  Now, while individuals scrounged cans like crazy, organizations hadn't yet caught the idea that THEY could collect cans too and get a little extra cash for their stores. 

What did that mean for us?  Races were on Saturdays.  Every Sunday afternoon, after all the drunken bikers had brushed aside their hangovers and took off in their campers, anywhere from $20 - $40 lay scattered all over that track.

That basically became my allowance.  Later in my teen years, it helped pay my way through several summers of high priced (but worth it) basketball camps.   I didn't do a whole lot of can collection in college (though there were a few dumpster raids when my phone bill needed paying) but the concept fascinated me and stuck there:  I could get free money by walking around and getting exercise, too.

May not seem like a big deal, but I come from a long line of walkers.  We love to walk.  So the walking is a big bonus. 

But I come from a long line of...well, scroungers doesn't sound quite right.  Makes it seem low down and cheap.   Here's the deal: my grandfather quit school and got a job during the Depression at age 16.  That's the kind of man who raised my father.  One thing about Dad that's always impressed me is his work ethic, which may be the only thing we really have in common.  I've watched him do this for so many years; and I've learned several things from him:

1. If you're not afraid of hard work, good things come to you.  Sometimes even tangible things.  For free.

2. When times are tough, you swallow your pride and do what you have to make ends meet.

Because of #1, Dad has managed to get TONS of stuff literally given to him.  Point:  one summer after suffering a bad accident, Dad's neighbor asked him if he'd been willing to clean out his hay loft for him.  In exchange, he offered Dad a construction-grade electric cement mixer that had been sitting up there for years.

Really.  For a few hours work, Dad now has his own cement mixer that probably retailed over $1000 bucks at the time.  

Or, the time same farmer asked Dad if he'd be interested in tearing down a trailer and the wooden addition built on it from one of his lots.  Said Dad could have whatever he wanted.

Dad took all the lumber - prime quality lumber, mind you - and built a stinkin' barn.

For just about free.  He got the rest of the lumber when the neighbor up the road asked him to help tear down their 150 year old barn, which then became part of HIS barn.

I could go on.  The point is, working hard doesn't always need money attached to it.  Hard work has value itself, and usually, good things come of it.

Number 2 I saw as Dad got crunched in the late 80's rush for engineers to have MAs in Engineering, and that become the sole requirement for an Engineering job, not little piddly things like experience or knowledge or actual skill.  

Anyway, he's gone through lots of patches over the years where there were no engineering jobs and too many out of work engineers were competing for all the jobs that weren't there.  So, I saw him do just about everything to get by:  work jobs he hated, do odd carpentry and electrician jobs - rewired a whole stinkin' church once - and, scraping for cans and bottles and scrap metal.

So, the thing stuck.  I discovered very soon into marriage that I lived next to a highway and interstate.  Folks toss lots of cans and bottles, I love to walk, and there's also tons of "road garbage" to found: aluminum, hubcaps, tin, you name it.    Every summer, that's what I do: hit the roads weekly, scrounge for everything I can.   Last year, we started saving all our tin cans - stripping the labels, washing them, setting them aside.  All our aluminum, too:  the Juicy Juice concentrate cans, aluminum pie pans, aluminum take out trays....even aluminum foil.

It's actually been profitable, relatively speaking.  Last three-four years, the cash from cans and bottles and scrap has given us nice buffers on vacation, which made vacation comfortable and enjoyable, not stress-inducing budget nightmares.  This year, it paid for repairs on the van before NECON, and will pay for gas and the rental car for Context and then Horrorfind.

I walk.  I scrounge.  I scrap.  Next year, I plan to advertise my services.  Lots of old farms out there with tons of junk and folks who don't feel like sifting through it all.

How does it all work?

Next week.  This post is long enough.

Time to go scraping.