Pedestrian Can-Man
Fredrick Linnabary

I’m the guy who collects aluminum cans in Defiance, Ohio. Maybe you’ve seen me this winter—a big guy in a black trench coat, wearing a backpack, maybe with a plastic grocery bag in one hand, maybe bending down to scoop some shiny object off the ground. Maybe you’ve seen me coming up out of a ditch with an armload of multicolored cans. If so, you’ve seen a fellow just going about his business.
Some of you seem to find me immensely interesting, and you gaze placidly out your car windows in my direction, or you stare in either apparent puzzlement or in seeming disgust. That’s fine: I’ve noticed you and noted your reactions, and I’ve given you something to look at in your daily travels.
Every now and again, I pass someone on the sidewalk. I nod, or I even say “hello” from time to time. I rarely get a return nod, and I even more rarely get back any of my “hellos.” Of course, not many people in this town actually use the sidewalk, and so even my opportunities to nod or say “hello” are rare. That’s fine, too: it’s all noted in my little, mental book, and I’ve given you an opportunity to interact with me.
A few times as I’ve walked along the highways near my home, folks have called the highway patrol or the county sheriff’s office to report me. A big white guy in a black trench coat and hood walking along the highway at night. That’s also fine: my encounters with the constabulary have been cordial and pleasant enough, and I’ve given you folks something to keep you alert in your nighttime journeys.
I get the impression that many of you think I’m a bum, and maybe a little lacking in faculties. I had an encounter recently with a business owner and one of his employees. Someone had dumped a bag of trash in the approach to his loading dock, which was outside and right next to the street, and I zipped in to snag, crush, and sack the cans for myself. He and his man came quickly out, and he said, “What’re you doin’ in my dock? I saw you yesterday walkin’ . . .”
“There’s trash in your dock,” I replied. “I’m getting it.”
His underling asked, “Are you gonna get the rest of it?”
“Heck, no!” I replied. “I can’t get paid for that.” The other stuff was plastic, and my apartment doesn’t have a recycle bin.
The employee smirked a little smirk, and his boss said, “You just get along outta here.”
I don’t know if this business owner could see the amusement on my face. The idea that he was so proprietary that he felt the need to rush out and confront me, and then, in the fashion of a landed lord, to command me to go made my soul smile. He seemed to bear a look of satisfaction as I turned to go on my way.
The motto of Defiance, Ohio, is “A Great Place to Live.” I can see this motto on signs along some entrances to the town, and at the entrances to our modest parks. The motto used to be painted big on a building next to the Clinton Street bridge that spans the Maumee River which flows out of Fort Wayne, through our town, and on to Toledo, emptying into Lake Erie.
I often wonder about this motto. It’s kind of trite, and not very descriptive. In what ways is this town great to live in, and for whom? You see, despite the law that levies a heavy fine on littering, there’s a lot of garbage flying about, lying about, and even crushed and ground into our streets, our parks, and our lawns.
What does this mean? What does it mean that at least three-quarters of the cans I collect are beer cans? (One person drinks a lot of something alcoholic called The Best Damn Root Beer—and throws out his or her cans, lots of them, along a road that I patrol.) I snag these alcohol cans off lawns, I pick them out of bushes, I dredge them out of ditches, and I pry them off pavements. Many of these cans are old, one side scrubbed by sun, wind, and precipitation to illegibility. How great a place could this city be, at least for some, to live in?
Well, these are some observations. And, just so you know, I don’t need the cans for money. Picking them up was originally just a motivation for me to get outside and walk; I lose a little weight and gain a little pocket change. Now the cans are an obsession; I’ve learned so much from them.