Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Please toss that can, my kids need shoes

The autumn sun, just beginning to sink politely behind the trees, reflected off something metal in the grass.

My wife and I were on our afternoon walk with the kids. I pushed the Toddler and the Baby in the stroller SUV – a stroller so big other walkers laugh at its crappy gas mileage – as my wife scanned the terrain for aluminum cans.

“Stop,” she said, putting out her arm. Had she seen a snake? Rabid squirrel? Rebel flag in someone’s window? “There’s one over there.”

She snatched a plastic grocery bag from our Stroller Utility Vehicle, left me and the kids on the sidewalk, ran across the street, stuffed an empty can into the bag and walked back toward us. And yes, she was grinning.

My wife is a bag lady. When we go for a walk, she brings a bag for the aluminum cans she picks up along the way. “It’s environmentally-conscious and it helps make our city more beautiful,” she said on our first can-hunting expedition. I made fun of her for a few days. Then she took a load of crushed cans to the recycler and brought back $7.50; now I help.

Earning money from aluminum cans is a college dream come true. My roommate and I once decided – I imagine after a lot of drinking – that if we saved our aluminum beer cans, we could cash them in and use that money to buy more beer, then when those cans were empty ... Well, it was a brilliant cycle that would keep us swimming in beer until graduation. So we started tossing our empties into a closet.

We just didn’t anticipate the smell; the sweet, stale smell of Natural Light gone bad; nor did we consider the invasion of gnats so great our dorm room hummed like a weed eater.

Thinking back, maybe we should have rinsed out the cans.

My wife stuffed the bag of beer cans back into the stroller basket intended for diapers, snacks, toys, or in the case of some kids, shock collars. We were ready to go again … the hunt was on.

Our route, once park- and occasionally Baskin Robbins-friendly, now usually takes us by apartment complexes and rental houses – we live in a college town, after all.

“More cans there, please,” the Toddler said, pointing from his seat. Oh, great, my wife’s turning our kids into bag people. Environmentally-conscious? Makes our city more beautiful? Yeah, those reasons sound good, but what American, other than old hippies and brainwashed environmentalists, really cares?

Oh, yeah, my wife. But I think she’s honestly in it for the money. Maybe if I drink more beer, we can afford to send the kids to college. It’s worth mentioning.

She walked to where the Toddler was pointing and came back with a handful of aluminum.

“I don’t ever want to hear anyone talk badly about college students,” she said, dropping the Keystone Light cans into the sack.

Hey, I won’t. Just wait until homecoming – we might be able to buy a new car.

Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt

Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me State’s Most Spirited Spots,” is available now. Order it from, or Visit Jason’s Web site,, for his other books.