My life ground to a halt during the pandemic. Our home, back patio and front porch became a fortress against uncertainty. Venturing out for a carefully distanced walk with a good friend was like a beacon of sanity. Warm weather was a symbol of hope.

But you know you’re slipping into dangerous waters when the highlight of the week is plotting to outsmart The Bottle Guy.

I blame a neighbour for this escapade: Had we noticed a guy in a red car plucking wine bottles out of our blue box? this neighbour asked one day.

A post-Thanksgiving treasure trove, bagged and ready for action.

Sure enough, next garbage night we spotted him as we munched dinner on the porch.

In fact, he was hard to miss. A red SUV wheeled to the curb and out jumped a well-dressed, grey-haired guy who quickly snatched our three empties and loaded them into his trunk before peeling off to the next blue box. A man on a mission.

“Brazen old geezer,” I muttered before my husband, ever helpful, pointed out he was probably my age.

Now I want it on record that I did test kindly thoughts for a few weeks. Maybe he was younger than he looked and had just lost his job. Maybe he was an Amazon gig worker who needed to have a car – and needed the extra money. Maybe the car was borrowed.

Still… there was something about his purposeful movements that didn’t say desperate, not like the others we sometimes see on garbage night in our downtown neighbourhood, their rickety carts and tattered bags making foraging a challenge. Watching their rounds, it was clear we weren’t the only household arranging our blue boxes for easy pickup.

Then one evening, I spotted a grey car wheeling to the curb on garbage night. What’s this? A competing collector? Nope. It was The Bottle Guy.

The Bottle Guy has two cars??? Kindly thoughts be damned.

This time I pictured him getting together with a couple of buddies, toasting his Thursday-night cleverness.

 “I collected enough for a $50 bottle from Vintages!” he would chortle, drawing murmurs of approval as he passed around Raincoast Crisps and old cheddar. “Those downtown residents are such chumps.”

One garbage night I was finishing reading the day’s newspapers as I sat on the porch. So much strife in the world. So much nastiness. My heart ached even as I was grateful for my own blessings.

The wine bottles were still in the blue box, so I vowed to take a new approach if The Bottle Guy got there first: I would smile at his resourcefulness and at my own ridiculous annoyance. Sure, I would rather the bottles go to someone in obvious need, but who am I to judge? Maybe garbage night gives The Bottle Guy an essential sense of accomplishment. Maybe it makes him happy. And maybe that’s not so bad.

Wait… Is that a red car?

5 thoughts on “You know your life has shrunk when …

    1. Always wise, Joan! And you know this is as much about me as it is about him! Still, I have to add that one evening I did go down my porch steps just a few paces from where he was picking up the bottles. In my mind I was quite visible, but I thought shouting out to him would seem rude. He grabbed the bottles and scooted back to the car. Maybe he thought I was scary!
      The irony is that when we’ve been nearby when others have picked up the bottles, they often nod and say thank you.

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  1. Lol, I love your voice, Kathryn! And the shape of your stories too. But I guess that’s to be expected, you having been in the industry and all. I just knew from the start that this was someone who cared about their craft. This particular piece was almost David Sedaris-esque. Thanks for sharing (even though I’m late to the party one this one)!

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