Battle at the Bottle Depot

Surviving that most dreaded Saturday chore

There’s no point trying to look cool when you’re standing in line at the bottle depot. It just can't be done. This truth occurs to me in a blazing moment of clarity as I observe an upscale soccer mom trying to sip nonchalantly on the tip of her sunglasses while guarding a cart load of pristine empties. I decide to drop my own pretenses – out goes the belly and slouch go the shoulders.

How do celebrities manage this? They have to be environmentally conscious because of all the benefit concerts and sanctimonious tweeting they do, right? But talk about taking a belt sander to the glossy image. Can you imagine Celine Dion in line at a bottle depot, hovering over a hefty bag bulging with empty Molson Canadian cans? The dressing down of the ego is harsh enough on us normal schmoes.

Can I get a mop? We’ve got a spreader out here!
— Cory Hare, bottle depot hero

So it's a Saturday afternoon and I'm doing that dreaded Saturday task of schlepping all our empties down to the dingy, sheet metal garrison that is our local bottle depot. Glancing around, I’m struck by the broad sampling of society that's represented. There are people who belong behind the wheel of a Kenworth and others who should be at a PTA meeting. The place should be crawling with sociologists.

There's one dude, who I mentally dub Scruffy Homeless Guy, who's the only person in the bottle depot who isn’t acting like it’s the last place he’d rather be this afternoon. Right behind me in line, he’s got a twinkle in his eye like a class clown scanning for a victim.

“Hey, where’d you manage to find so many bottles,” he asks. His eyes are on my heaping cart.

I pause momentarily before responding.

“Well, I usually buy them full at the store,” I say, “then I go home and empty them. It’s a system.”

“Oh,” he says, “I’ll have to try that sometime.” There are giggles. The guy has about eight empties in an old plastic bag.

About half a minute passes.

“My girlfriend kicked me out,” the man continues.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, but she said I could come back if I took a bath.”

“Oh yeah," I respond. "So which way are you leaning on that?”

“I’m still thinking about it,” he says.

The tedium of long, slow lineups tends to make a fellow’s mind wander, and on this occasion, I find mine poking around a particularly heavy existential question: Using items readily at hand, how many different ways could I kill the guy working wicket five?

At the moment, this individual is the only sorter on duty because wicket three shut down for lunch a few minutes ago. But instead of efficiently processing empties, Wicket Five Guy is pausing regularly to dazzle his grim-faced audience with Marx brother-eque mannerisms. I’m talking about devilish eyebrow action, theatrical posturing and spontaneous bursts of song.

In my mind I see the extension cord that I know is curled up in the back of my car. That there’s a strangling cord, I think. Hmm, there’s a tire iron back there too. That's two killing methods and I'm just getting started.

They say violence only begets violence and I think they’re right. Here’s some more that I thought of.

If Wicket Five Guy and I were to “square off," as they say, what clever and catchy title would a fight promoter assign to the bout, along the lines of the Thrilla in Manilla and the Rumble in the Jungle? Given our current location, the most obvious option would be Battle at the Bottle Depot. Another solid choice could perhaps be the Onset In The Quonset, I think. Or, digging deeper into the thesaurus, how about Extreme Irascibility In The Recycling Facility? That’s got a certain ring to it, no?

Just then my violent visions are interrupted by a murky ooze that's worming its way out of the back room. The mysterious sludge advances steadily along the concrete floor toward the line of innocent bottle sitters, threatening to mire the lot of us where we stand.

Knowing that none of the harried employees will be able to help, I scan my fellow patrons for a possible saviour. I pin my hopes on a tall, thin-haired guy at the tail of the line. He looks like a responsible adult, like a dad or a teacher. Why isn’t he getting a mop?

To my dismay, Tall Respectable Guy remains inert, as does everyone else in line. Meanwhile the sticky blob is getting bigger and blobbier. I feel a twinge of dread, which is quickly replaced by resolve. I know what needs to happen – I’ll have to go all Bruce Willis on this thing myself.

I abandon my place in line, poke my head into the back room and bark, “Can I get a mop? We’ve got a spreader out here!”

Once armed, I secure the perimeter of the substance and get it all sucked up, displaying an embarrassingly high level of proficiency with the mop. Within moments, another wicket opens and hope returns to the rank pavilion like sunshine flooding a dusty tomb. My confrontation with Wicket Five Guy doesn’t happen. Instead, my bottles are whisked in a song-free, perfunctory fashion through wicket one.

A few minutes later I’m zooming toward home, feeling free and deeply satisfied, for my pockets now bulge with enough cash for a tasty order from the local Pizza Barn, and maybe even the optional six pack of cola.

But there’s an even greater reward produced by my hour at the bottle depot: the knowledge that I don’t have to put myself through that hell again for at least six months.