Joe may be one of the hardest working people I know. Several times a week, I see him sitting on a milk crate in front of his weathered, yellow Cutlass station wagon under the bridge next to my office. He spends hours stripping copper wire from its insulation to sell at the local scrap yard. He works efficiently with a just a few tools. Some days he works feverishly with small engine parts, digging through their housings for a scrap or two of copper like he is trying to shuck an oyster.
“Three Forty-One a pound today. Highest it’s been in a long time, “ he tells me as I look at the carefully wound brick of wiring at his feet. It’s shiny, and reminds me of gold. To him, it is.
“That’s a lot of work,” I tell him.
“It sure is. Tougher now that the price has gone up so high. These damn garbage men, they take all the good stuff – appliances and what have you. Before they go to the dump they detour to their buddies garage or some damned thing. So they are getting a pay check from the city and making money scrappin.” He neatly slits a length of red insulation and effortlessly removes another two feet of wire.
“You see that hockey game last night? Vancouver could not get a shot off.”
This was not an entirely surprising conversation starter from Joe. Scrap may be at $3.41 a pound, but that is not enough to pay for cable – not even basic. Therefore, Joe relies on the one channel he can receive on his television for all of his entertainment and news. It just so happens that the station Joe gets is our local NBC affiliate, channel 11, which had the game on last night.
It seems unfathomable to me the dire prospect of living without cable. But I wonder if for Joe this provides some sort of freedom. Maybe he is the new American – the anti-media-magnate. No more channel surfing, no more worrying about a misplaced remote, no Blackberry or email. I’ve checked Facebook three times just writing this – who’s crazy?
Joe goes home, his pockets filled with a few dollars from a very honest day’s work, turns on the TV (probably, GASP! from the button on the set) sits back in his faded recliner and relaxes. Whatever is on NBC is good enough…it is only television, after all. I just fretted for five minutes looking for a radio station to listen to on the TunedIn Radio app on my iPad for Chrissakes! I ask again, who is crazy? I feel like I am making a hundred decisions a day just to satiate my media fix.
Joe and I chatted for a few more minutes. Finished with the wire, Joe pulled out a brush and swept up the remnants of the insulation and scooped the debris into a cardboard box that he put into the back of his station wagon – a trait that speaks volumes about the kind of guy he is. Me? Well, I walked across the street, jumped in my car, checked my Blackberry, started the engine and started to flip through my satellite radio stations. Really, who is crazy?
(Joe has one very quirky trait. He has an interesting and conspiratorial view about the issue of stink bugs that are the bane of us here in Western PA. I need to do a little more digging on this with Joe – I’ll get back to you.)