He approached me at the self-service gas station while I pumped gas into my old Ford half ton. He wanted sixty-three cents for a bus ride downtown but I could see he needed much more then that.
“Why sixty-three? I ask trying to see his eyes through his thick glasses. I can smell his lack of a bath and move slightly to a more up-wind location. His clothes are in good repair but have not been in a washing machine for some time.
“I have thirty-seven cents. I found seven bottles. The man down there.” He pointed south. “He takes anything; milk bottles, water bottles, anything plastic.” The words didn’t come out all at once but in short bursts. He tilted his unshaven face to the side and waited for my reply.
“How do I know you’re not going to go inside and get something to get yourself drunk with?” I ask realizing I’d just committed sixty-three cents.
“If I get drunk my sister will beat me up again. Last time I got drunk and my sister beat me up.” He rubbed his chin like he could still feel her blows. “She says, don’t get drunk Clark. She won’t let me pick-up cans if I get drunk.”
“You drink Ripple? I ask.
“They don’t make Ripple anymore.” He said with a satisfied smile. He knew he was getting the sixty-three cents.
“So when your sister’s not around what do you get drunk on,” I ask. Now that we were just friends talking Clark relaxed and his speech slowed down a little.
“They have T-Bird here.” He points to the station’s store. “He doesn’t like me hanging around here. He says, you get out of here, he says.”
“But you’re here.” I point out. Clark just gives me the sideways questioning look. I’m hard to understand sometimes. How much does a bottle of Thunderbird cost? I question.
“Four dollars,” said Clark without the slightest pause. “If I drink two bottles my sister will beat me up. I can go over there if I drink one bottle.” He pointed somewhere into the East.
“How much money do you have?” I asked.
“Thirty-seven cents.” Clark said without having to stop and think.
I dug into my front pocket and came out with three quarters. “Here.” I said and gave him the hard earned change.