The monthly meeting of The Bronx Board of Directors of the Council of Bottle Collectors (TBCBC) was nearing an end.
As in New York City’s other four boroughs, this Council was formed in the early 1980s in the wake of New York's Bottle Bill Returnable Container Act. The Act allowed people to redeem plastic and glass bottles for five cents each. The overall goal of the bill was to create a healthier, environmentally friendly and cleaner New York.
In the years following the implementation of the Act, however, there had been an assortment of disagreements between those who collected the empties, who eventually came to be known, as “collectors”. Unfortunately, some of these confrontations had gotten physical, with two proving to be fatal. Therefore, among other things, the purpose of this and similar Boards throughout New York City was to ensure that “collectors” did not trespass into each other’s territories.
Each of the nine people in the room was assigned to one of the nine regions into which The Bronx had been divided. As the majority of the “collectors” used supermarket shopping carts for their efforts, separating New York City assorted geographical territories was jokingly, but appropriately, called, “cart-ography”.
In addition to other things, the Council’s members kept the “collectors” in their districts informed about the various public indoor and outdoor events taking place where there might be an abundance of discarded bottles.
The members of TBCBC met in a moderately-sized warehouse in the Hunts Point section of the borough, which was owned by the Board’s Vice-President, Oscar Garcia’s cousin, Willie Rosado. Rosado also owned the delivery company that operated out of the warehouse.
Marlene Fowler, the Board’s President, who along with Oscar and its Secretary, Henry Nass, sat at the top of a group of rectangular-shaped folding tables. They, along with other members, were listening to Board member Donald Baxter explain a problem some of his “collectors” were having with the superintendents and porters in buildings on Marmion Avenue. Donald, who was several years younger than the rest of his fellow Board members, was a bit nervous. Sensing this, Robert Watkins raised his hand; Marlene asked him to stand and speak.
“I know the people who manage those buildings,” said Robert. “I’ll talk to them tomorrow to see what they can do and get back to you by Wednesday. You still work at that supermarket on Southern Boulevard, right?”
Donald shook his head affirmatively, gave Robert a thumbs up and said, “thank you.”
The two men took their seats again.
“Finally,” said Marlene. “Oscar wants to give an update about collection at shelters in the Morrisania section. Oscar.”
Oscar stood and using a yardstick, began pointing at a large map of The Bronx pinned to a corkboard.
“Given the incredibly close proximity of these shelters, I believe we should alternate the days on which our people can collect in the vicinity. ¿Me entiendes?” said Oscar. ¿Me entiendes? is a colloquial Spanish language expression that basically asked, “Do you understand what I mean?” Therefore, it wasn't actually intended to elicit a response.
The Board members nodded their heads in agreement.
Oscar, a tall, dark-skinned Puerto Rican was in his early sixties, had been a member of a street gang, Fearless Familia in the early 1970s. During that time his nickname had been “Chilly O”. He had a charming, outgoing personality and was a bit of a ladies man. Moreover, his ability to dance salsa was still well-known throughout The Bronx.
“So, for example,” continued Oscar. “From Monday through Wednesday, Frank’s people can collect here, here and here,” he said, as he pointed at places on the map. “Then, from Thursday through Saturday, Maria’s people can collect from here, here and here.”
Charlotte Green raised her hand. “Yes, Charlotte,” said Oscar.
Charlotte stood. “What happens on Sundays?”
Oscar smiled, pointed towards the ceiling and replied, “That’s the day He rested, ain’t it? So, perhaps our folks should do the same thing.”
The Board members, including Charlotte, laughed, as she sat back down.
Paul Johnson, who himself had once been a “collector” had been invited by Oscar to join the Board three years earlier.
Unlike Oscar, who was born and raised in The Bronx, Paul was born in Harlem, and moved to The Bronx when he was eight years old. He and Oscar had become close friends when they were teens and members of Fearless Familia. Like Paul, Oscar had also served in Vietnam. They often joked about how it was ironic that going to a war in a foreign country, may have saved their lives by removing them from some of the most dangerous streets in their own city in their own country.
Paul, a light brown-skinned, black man, was also in his early sixties. Except for a well-kept, salt and pepper moustache, he was clean-shaven on head and face. He lived with his sister, her husband and their two children in a two-story private house on Colgate Avenue. After giving up his bottle collecting three years earlier, Paul became an employee at a car detailing garage, Sunshine Detailing, on Jerome Avenue.
As the meeting drew to a close, Paul looked around the room. Most of the other Board members, excluding Donald and another member, Lisa Lamont, were all in the same age range as he and Oscar. As they also had previously done, their “collectors” did bottle gathering for basic needs, such as purchasing food for themselves and their families.
Redeeming the discarded bottles also allowed cigarette smokers to purchase these items; this was done either by the pack and/or individually, “loosies”. Some “collectors” also supplemented their other incomes with bottle redemption. Additionally, there were those who did it to support their assorted drug and alcohol addictions. Nevertheless, Paul made no judgements about any of the “collectors”. They, like he, found themselves in particular situations in life resulting from an assortment of reasons. In far too many instances, they were reasons over which they had little or no control.
Paul also thought about the dumb and dangerous things he and Oscar had done as teenaged gang members. So, now, he felt that it was great to be able to give back to The Bronx in some kind of way.
Finally, Marlene stood and said, “This concludes this meeting of The Bronx Board of the CBC. Everyone have a good night and get to your destinations safely.” She banged a plastic water bottle on the tabletop three times.
The Board members stood and began folding the chairs and tables, as they quietly chatted. They then carried the items to and placed them against a wall.
After putting large, empty pizza boxes, napkins and paper plates into a large garbage bin, Henry Nass gathered and put the now empty plastic water and soda bottles into a blue recycling bag for Marlene. This was the only perk of being the TBCBC’s President.
The seven Board members began heading for the entrance/exit door, followed by Oscar, who was walking towards Paul.
“Good meeting, huh?" asked Oscar.
“Yeah,” replied Paul, who had already put on his hooded sweatshirt. “Not like one of those other long ass meetings we’ve had before.”
“I told you this would be a great way to give back to the Boogie Down, considering all of the dumb shit we did in The Bronx tryin’ to be tough guys.”
“You were right, said Paul. “All of that stealin’ an fightin’ an’ shit. Now we’re problem solvers.”
Oscar laughed and asked, “By the way, how are those three problems in Districts Four and Five?”
“The knuckleheads who were robbin’ an’ beatin’ up our ‘collectors’ and other people? asked Paul.
“They won’t be bothering anybody anymore,” answered Paul, with a solemn face.
“Good. Good,” said Oscar, as he put on his New York Yankees jacket.
The two men began walking towards the warehouse’s entrance/exit door. After he and Paul stepped outside into the cool, early spring air, Oscar turned and padlocked the warehouse's door. Both men put on wool hats to cover their heads and ears.
“I’m sure those guys’ll have fun in Pelham Bay, Crotona and St. Mary’s for all eternity. Amen,” said Paul.
“Yeah, I guess they’ll be like us in some respects. Giving back to The Bronx, too,” replied Oscar. “Even if it’s just pushin’ up daisies in some of its parks.”
Oscar and Paul began walking up the empty, silent streets of Hunts Point.
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