Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I was being a good citizen and returning my returnables a short while ago. I figured not too many people would have the same impulse on a Wednesday evening, after yet another day in the humid mid-90s.

Turns out everyone had the same brilliant idea.

Well, I was hardly going to cart all of those bottles back to my car. The last time I did that, they stayed clanging in the trunk for a significant fraction of eternity. I decided to hang in there.

One of the two bottle machines was broken. The second was being fed by a woman who, I dunno, had smeared grease on her bottles? Picked at her labels while drinking? Whatever, the machine was rejecting each of her bottles two or three times before relenting and accepting them.

To make matters better, there was a kindly old gent behind her. After suffering in silence for a while, he finally erupted into his Grand Theory of Bottle Machines. This had mostly to do with the idea that the machine doesn't read bar codes, but instead "takes a picture of the bottle's label." According to this theory, proper orientation of the bottle is key -- you must lay it on its side with the label facing almost left or almost right, but not exactly.

Could be. There's no obvious laser scanning going on, the way the can machines and plastic bottle machines work. I don't know how the glass bottle machine works, but it does work, and after a year of using this kind of machine (previously, I lived in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, where the idea was to hand the bottles to another human being), I've never noticed a preferred orientation. I've even tried systematically placing the bottles in different positions, to see if one way won't work, and have never noticed anything.

Back to the guru and the neophyte: it being about a hundred degrees, it being a cramped and smelly room, there being several sweaty people with carts full of bottles emanating serious vibes of "I'm not really going to scream … I promise … Not for another five minutes at least …" the neophyte lost what little grasp of spatial relations she might ever have had, and failed completely to carry out every suggestion that that guru offered. This did not stop him from continuing to coach her.

By some miracle, I was able to suppress chiming in. I wanted to tell her "counterclockwise" when she seemed unable to understand "turn it to the left," but I just kept quiet.

Eventually, she got done. The guru stepped up, fed the machine with his boxful of bottles without drama, and announced smugly, "It's all in the wrist!" Then he put his cardboard box in the bin marked "Plastic Bags Only."

You'll be wondering what alien has possessed me, but I managed not to say anything about that, either.

I fed my bottles through without excessive false rejections. No orientation seemed better than another. Tough way to make six bucks.

Either I'm going to have to start returning my bottles more often than quarterly, or I'm going to resurrect the grand old American tradition of hurling them out the car window as they become empty.


Kathy said...


Anonymous said...

Brendan, Your post are just to long for me. carol

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree.

Sornie said...

I assume your state is one of those wacky ones that require a deposit on bottles. Thankfully, here in Minnesota we can just recycle them.

bjkeefe said...

Y'all missed a chance to diss me: I said: "there being several sweaty people with carts full of bottles emanating serious vibes of ..."

You could have made fun of me for the grammatical error whose name I know not (misplaced modifier?). In any case, I was attempting to speak of people emanating vibes, but my prose suggested the carts were.

Sornie: I have believed for decades that one of the main reasons we see so much less litter in the way of cans and bottles is the deposit thereon. Recycling is all good for us comfortable middle class whiteys, but for real returning, the nickels work.