He crunches cans like cereal every morning. While the rest of the neighborhood sleepily struggles to fill coffee mugs and shakes  kibbles into bowls, he has littered the sidewalk with corpses of aluminum cans.

Sometimes he is on the left side of the street; other days he is on the right. Different street side, same measured strike of his foot. Can down, foot up, aim steady, strike. Can after can transformed from hollow cylinder into flat disc.

He appears to be in his sixties, but age is just a number. His face says more about his life than a numerical symbol ever could. He has stories, this I know. If I was ever brave enough to get closer, I could read them in the cursive written on his face.

His clothing speaks of pride in his appearance. He may be just crushing cans, but no sweat pants and ratty tee shirt for him. He wears a blazer and a collared shirt.  His boots are sturdy and no nonsense. No need for a mallet or fancy can crusher. His boots will do just fine.

The flattened cans spread out over the sidewalk, creeping towards the street. Bulging bags of cans patiently wait their turn. He is their gravity, keeps them from scattering across the street and into traffic. They orbit around him, smattered to the ground.

I drive by him every morning. Every morning I resolve to ask him his story. Every morning I chicken out.

I want to ask him where he gets the cans. Does he scavenge for them in dumpsters during the wee hours of the morning? Does he haunt parking lots? Does someone collect them for him? Where does he take them once they are compressed? Is this his main income, or does he fancy himself a good Samaritan saving Mother Earth? What do these cans mean to him? Why does he do this?

But I don’t stop. I drive on, watching him, but not looking, because it’s rude to stare.

In my mind, the cans are hopes and dreams. He is the janitor of failure; he takes those empty shells, and ruins them so that they will not tempt again. He tidies up after us.

Dream down, foot up, aim steady, strike.

But see, the dreams don’t die. They get turned over, recycled, reformed into shiny new cans, to be filled with effervescence, refreshment, life.  They are given sparkling new labels, sexy and alluring. They entice and beguile all over again.

They are bought, emptied and tossed. New label, old dream, same result.

Dream down, foot up, aim steady, strike.

And I drive by, once again without stopping.



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