I guess I never gave much of a single thought about cashing in my bottle returns at the local grocery store until the world decided to stop spinning on its axis last year. The shutdown and the long multi-month wait to return the 10 cent Michigan deposits became a most daunting task to find the adequate space to collect, store and tuck all my empty cans and bottles into a vacant dead space corner of the kitchen, garage and or the back “she shed.” 

I became, literally, the equivalent of a hyperactive, jimmy-legged caffeinated squirrel searching for the fallen acorns in the side yard to filch and store for the upcoming long winter solstice ahead and oftentimes, that stockpile of aluminum and glass empties became sort of like a real world game of Jenga, systematically every night the practice of stacking (with precision) into a collection tower of this leaning, unstable and maxed out makeshift mountain to tall and fragile that I would feel compelled to tiptoe a 3-foot radius when anywhere around it, just not to disturb the very integrity of my creation.

Then, when word came around that bottles could be returned again, it became a celebration in tribute of the happy dance that would put Snoopy to shame; but my first thought was, as if the coyote finally caught the road runner after all those chases, “so now what?” I never considered I would have to transport, in my small Buick, the thousands of returns that were collected over these past few months (yes folks, I may have a problem but that’s a whole other story). And because of the $25 limit per visit-per day, the plan of action was to stagger the return of my bounty over several trips to a certain superstore, although that was easier said than performed. 

It started with my extensive, exhausting effort to fit one 45-gallon plastic leaf bag chuck full of aluminum cans into the backseat of my car. The over plumb bag had very little flexability to contort or fit snugly on the car seat without a fight for the possession of my very soul, and no remorse for the laws of inertia or relativity. Certain cans would find their way out the top of the bag to jump from the car into a brisk, stiff wind to frolic freely under the car or down my driveway, with their natural born talent to roll away just as I bend over to pick them up.

With my recyclable bounty stowed on board, and the car door closed, the actual transport to town was riddled with a few free spirited rebel cans that would joyfully spill out of the bag to join me in the front seat to listen to 1970s music on the radio

Since early Neanderthals rubbed two sticks together to make fire, the revelation of the human being as an intelligent, thumb bearing primate never had to endure the process of cashing in Michigan returnable during a worldwide pandemic. So, the struggle continued upon my attempt to gracefully extract this 45-gallon behemoth bag from the back seat of the car while in a 30-acre parking lot without those ever-demonic cans trying to make a break for freedom. This time the ante has increased with oncoming and outgoing traffic all around me...then it hit as I approached the front entrance of the store, THE REST OF THE WORLD ALSO HAVE THOUSANDS OF BOTTLE RETURNS TO CASH...great mother of Zeus! 

The wait line went on forever, plus there was a head count limit once a person made it into the bottle return room itself, but I was now in it for the long haul and as I was standing in line outdoors as a drizzle rain decided to join in on the fun I came into earshot of an ongoing conversation between a young “Gen Y” couple ahead of me in line (albeit the face masks drooping off their chins)...and then the entertainment of being educated about the latest rose episode of “The Bachelorette” and whether the gal speaking to the guy wanted to add another Hello Kitty tat to her “favorite” shoulder blade hence with the line slowly creeping along about 45 minutes later [or maybe more like month], it was my turn to finally belly up to the bottle return machine and reap my reward of dimes.

But these automated “crusher” return machines have a devious, unrelenting way to mess with one’s last string of patience, to the extent to find and fester one’s pressure point to even make a devout preacher swear; feeding the cans into its clutch will either be a smooth productive process of man co-mingling with machine or a hair pulling curse spewing chore of pure will power vs. mechanical mayhem. Nothing became more frustrating than being at the mercy of these godforsaken contraptions, whether it will accept just two cans at a time then spit out the deposit slip on its own, or spin the can about internally just to repeatedly exclaim on the video screen “barcode cannot be read” then toss it back at me, or to blare out this screeching warning siren to indicate that the bin is full and needs to be emptied –maddening hell just to return a measly 10 cent can!

But over time, my bountiful collection back at the house was finally exhausted, a teary moment for sure, and a true life lesson learned that it is pure human nature to adjust and adapt to any adversity thrown in our direction, to prevail and conquer and the next time I think I’ll just donate all my empties to a worthy charity, a dime at a time.


Editor’s note: Be sure to check out Frank’s new humor column, to be featured every month, right here on the opinion page.

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