I hope (with possible prayer included if my knees will tolerate it) none of you will hold me accountable if hell freezes over or the world begins to end (again, as it seems to do regularly as warned of recently with the year 2,000 and again with 2,012. Now I’ve mentioned it I think two near misses of world chaos and global extinction in two years explains how exhausted I feel at times. Survival is tiring work.) But I’d better get back to what I shouldn’t be blamed for before this turns into a fiddle of Harry goes weaving about without the benefit of drink. My point – I am not to be held accountable for any catastrophe looming. No tidal wave, volcano, meteor, or peace bombing (the dead are known for being peaceful) can be traced to me and I publicly deny any connection of causal power whatever. I didn’t do it.
The cause of my warning and denial of any culpability is simple. Planetary doom or the icing over of Hell are, however, possibilities following when the impossible has happened because I found immediate and ready use for a piece of scrap tucked into the Drabik store for god-knows how long. The other challenge to fate and the stability of the universe is the mere fact of finding the bit of stuff at all instead of, as usual, buying what I need acting as a trigger to find the one I had but was unable to locate despite long and careful searching. That particular working-of-the-world explains why I have spares of things. After looking through my own junk for what I could not find I purchased them, so there they are; more of this or that than I could use in an added lifetime. (If my span on earth was doubled I’d need a warehouse and employees to hold and keep track of it all. An earlier demise seems a lot easier.)
The habit of perpetually saving stuff was injected into veins and being as a city child where back alleys were full of treasures. I’m fairly confident my father put me up to it. Firstly, he was very much a saver of stuff himself. (In my early years living in Hovland my father came back from the local dump with half the things I’d thrown out of the garage the week before his visit.) I also have high confidence believing father and mother were most happy with anything that kept little Harry busy and out from underfoot. Hour on hour sitting cross-legged on the basement floor to take apart an old radio or other item was perfect for keeping me busy and (probably best of all) quiet as I concentrated on clipping resisters and sorting nuts and screws into appropriate cans according to size. The stuff I dragged home to be taken apart was mostly junk of no value other than its ability to keep me busy while getting small unsteady hands gradually more accustomed to tool handling. By age ten I could gut a full size Philco Radio to component parts in a half hour and, like a predator, begin hungrily licking my lips for the next meal of old parts to be consumed by harvest.
The bulk of what I gathered up was slyly tossed out. Its object of keeping me out of trouble done, the stuff could be thrown. When I was younger we’d gone on a car trip to California. Along the way I gathered rocks at every place we stopped. (In the past a highway gasoline station didn’t sit in acres of concrete. A boy of six could easily find rocks a short trot from the car. Well I did anyway and loaded them onto the backseat floor for father to eventually store in the truck. Badlands, Wyoming, Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Grand Canyon, and enough mission churches to see a child ordained all gave new material to load into the car. At the rate I collected we’d have needed a dump truck, but as I could not see into the trunk I believed all was there until back home at the end of the trip father handed me a handful, all that remained of my collecting. Rock after stone was thrown without my awareness. It was a sorry realization to think that adults bore constant watching of they’d trick you. Years later I was accustomed to adult wiles and accepted as par that parts for seventeen non-working Edison players were far more than anyone needed. I bore the disappearances with grace knowing there’d be more room for the fruits of future chases.
All that alley hunting and part salvaging sounds an awful lot like recycling, doesn’t it? There is, on the part of some, the notion that recycling is a recent addition to a previously wasteful history. In fact, many individuals were rarely wasteful of resources. They were needed to survive. Urban Chicago had recycling specialists when I was a kid, as well. Ours were called Gypsies, but other ethnic groups did much the same thing. Following a route that took several months to complete the Gypsy drove his wagon down alleys to the call of “Rags-owl-iron.” If you didn’t hear him a block away a flurry of kids racing about delivered the message that the Gypsy was near so you better get out any rags or old iron you wanted to sell. Of course the Gypsy bought other things, but the hallmark was rags and old iron and meant copper, aluminum, and other usable wares could be sold. Gypsy recycling had another side as well. Like Tinkers of an earlier time Gypsies were, within limits, repairers. A grizzled Gypsy saying “Can’t fix that, Mam,” meant repair was hopeless. Our Gypsy, an expert knife sharpener, was as welcome to neighborhood women as the Good Humor man was to kids. My mother didn’t use the Gypsy sharpener unless her son snuck off with a knife and used it ill. Only then would she trust the Gypsy with one of her knives and afterward tell me “Next time cut off something you don’t need.” I never understood that.