The Human Vacuum Cleaner

This guy used to drive me nuts back when I was doing the recycling gig.  I called him “the Human Vacuum Cleaner.”  Because if he was ahead of me on my route, he’d clean out ever can and bottle for a 20 block radius.

But I tremendously admired his work ethic.  He did recycling just like a 9-to-5 job.   And he worked non-stop all day long, 5 or 6 days a week.  Which can be grueling labor, recycling.  I think he’s Vietnamese, a little guy about 5 foot tall, probably in his late 60s.  Don’t think he speaks English.  Shows up every morning in a car, probably from Oakland — just like a commuter going to work —  parks it on a side street, and then he buzzes up and down every street on the Telegraph scene.    Walks countless miles, and always moving fast.

The load he’s got right now is probably worth 25 or 30 dollars.  And it probably took him several hours to collect it.  Working hard and fast and relentless.  Just to give you the scale.   Nobody’s getting rich recycling, that’s for sure.  The average recycler would be happy to amass a load like that in a day or two.

The Human Vacuum Cleaner has got such a lust for cans and bottles . . . one time I was pulling some cans out of a garbage can, and he came buzzing right at me like a torpedo.  He couldn’t help himself.  He’s like a machine.  I turned and snarled at him.  Like:  “BACK!  BACK!  This garbage can is mine!” . . .  He only grudgingly turned on his heels and sped off towards another garbage can.  Ha ha.  And I swear, his facial expression was just like a shark.


We had a friendly competition for several years, since we both worked the same area.  We’d pass each other constantly.  Both grumbling at the sight of each other.  GRRR!!  Sometimes I’d beat him to the punch and score all the cans.  But many times I’d hit a couple of garbage cans in a row that had been stripped of every last can and bottle, and I’d know the whole area had been stripped clean.  I’d say:  “Curses!!  The Human Vacuum Cleaner strikes again!!”  All the garbage cans in the area would be like a forest that had been completely clear-cut.


The Telegraph/Berkeley campus area is so congested, it’s one of the prime recycling areas.  There are usually a dozen different recyclers working the area at any given time.  And each one of us would develop our own special niche.  For example, Hate Man attracted all the alcoholics to his Hate Camp scene, because it was a great place to hang out and get drunk.  And after we pounded our beers, we’d toss him the empty can or bottle.  Hate Man would amass a big bag of recyclables just laying there on his ass under his blanket, smoking his Virginia Slims.  Ha ha.  Crafty old fuck, that Hate Man.

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